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Child sexual abuse, incest and paedophilia

Paedophiles blatantly challenge the concept of consent. Paedophilia involves a few men who are sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children. Many paedophiles control their urges and avoid coming into contact with children. Others do eventually act on their urges by exposing themselves to children, watching naked children, masturbating themselves in front of children or touching children’s genitals. Oral, anal and vaginal penetration rarely occur.

Most paedophiles who act on their impulses, manipulate children by gradually desensitizing them to inappropriate behaviour. Then they escalate it. In about 60% to 70% of child sexual abuse cases involving paedophiles, the perpetrator is a person who has regular and open contact with the child.

Paedophilia is now categorised as an orientation. Paedophiles are born that way. Paedophilia cannot be cured. A paedophile’s dependency on children as a mechanism for sexual arousal is normal for him and cannot be changed by therapy or any other kind of treatment. Treatment involves preventing these men having access to children or ensuring that they are closely supervised. Paedophiles are typically attracted to children of one gender.

A paedophile is clearly attracted to a child as an object. A child does not remain a child for ever. So a paedophile is not attracted to the individual but to the anatomy, the immaturity and vulnerability of a child. Paedophiles try to justify their actions by insisting that a child acted seductively or enjoyed the encounter. This reflects the predator’s inability to empathise with the victim. Likewise men say they raped a woman because she was asking for it.

If a man is sexually constrained for some reason (he may be very timid or lacking in sex drive) he is more likely to prey on those who are less able to defend themselves. Some men prey on children not necessarily because it is their first choice but because they know they are more likely to succeed.

Men often consider genital exposure to be harmless because it is a natural male urge. Although there is no physical harm, a non-responsive person still feels threatened by the potential threat and uninvited intimacy. Some men who like to touch others are impotent. They may only want to hold hands. Abusers often start with innocent activity such as hand holding. The situation may seem trivial and so hardly warranting a complaint. A victim may be reluctant to report abuse. The victim may feel that reporting the activity will lead to public exposure over which they have no control. They are likely to feel embarrassed about talking to another adult in authority about such intimate activity. Pride may also cause them to prefer to remain anonymous.

Men rarely appreciate that they are the ones who generally have control in sexual situations. Men may start with pushing for innocent activity but inevitably this leads to a desire for penetrative sex. Children of both sexes and teenage girls do not have the physical strength or the necessary assertiveness to fight off unwanted advances from men. Many children who have been molested never recover from the shame of being involved (even though against their will) in sexual activity that they did not invite or enjoy.

There are sometimes bystanders: people who suspect that a child is being sexually abused but who may not know how best to intervene. Women may know about the abuse but feel afraid or powerless to intervene. They may not be aware of the abuse because they cannot imagine that such a thing is possible. Most women are intensely embarrassed by the crudeness of men’s urges and are either unable or unwilling to discuss sexual abuse. Some women even blame the child (a form of jealousy) for tempting a man into sexual activity that they themselves consider to be disgusting and obscene. Children are often silent because of fear or shame. This embarrassment contributes to the social taboo over sexual abuse and the suffering of victims.

When sexual activity occurs between adults and children in institutions, it is called sexual abuse. About half of all child sexual abuse victims are 12 to 17 years old so their abusers don’t fall within the definition of paedophilia. Experts estimate that only one in 20 cases of child sexual abuse is reported.

Men are not usually attracted to members of their own family. Incest may occur when men look to a daughter for the sex their wives withhold. There may also be sexual feelings between siblings. Incest is likely to be most common in communities where there is little education of any kind. Many young males do not appreciate that it is not always appropriate to act on their sexual urges, which provide a man with such pleasure. Men are typically oblivious to the fact that the receiver feels none of the same pleasure. There are more likely to be genetic abnormalities in offspring of close relatives. In most countries it is illegal to marry your parent, grandparent, child or sibling.

A few women do have a sexual interest in children but they represent only a tiny proportion of female sex offenders. Sex crimes perpetrated by men are crimes of power over the victim. Female offences can be control-driven but the need for intimacy seems to play a larger role than domination. Women who work as teachers of teenage boys may engage in a sexual relationship with an under-age boy without truly appreciating that it is an illegal act. Most women are looking primarily for an affectionate relationship. They may feel that they have more control over a relationship with an adolescent rather than with a grown man. A third of cases involving women are those who abuse children alongside a male partner. Some of these women have been coerced by their partners by the use of emotional or psychological pressure.

Many small girls reflect the public hysteria over the prospect of ‘being touched’ by a strange person. (Alfred Kinsey)