The existence of sexual feelings toward family members, friends or acquaintances does not signify a problem. However, the act of focusing on and then reinforcing these feelings create a compulsion to carry out sexual contact with another, including children and negates one’s sense of discipline and self-control. Thus, forming an arousal pattern. To act on this arousal pattern and the impulse the person has created, the person insidiously justifies his/her behavior to him/herself.
According to Finkelhor (Finkelhor, 1984; Araji and Finkelhor, 1985) there are four components that contribute, in differing degrees and forms, to the development of a child molester’s behavior. To explain the diversity of behavior of sexual abusers, there are four factors in a complementary process. These four factors are sexual arousal, emotional congruence, blockage, and disinhibition:
Sexual arousal: In order for an adult to be aroused by a child, there has frequently been cultural or familial conditioning to sexual activity with children: such as corporal punishment and/or sexual child abuse. The most recent study reveals approximately 50% of all sex offenders were victims of sexual assault (Smith & Israel, 1987; Johnson, 1988; Longo, 1982; Seabrook, 1990). 70% of child sex offenders have between 1 and 9 victims; at least 20% have 10 to 40 victims. Serial child sex offenders may have as many as 400 victims in a lifetime. Elliott, M., Browne, K., & Kilcoyne, J. (1995). Child sexual abuse prevention: What offenders tell us. Child Abuse & Neglect, 5, 579-594.
In my work with sex offenders in recovery the statistics reveal 85% of sex offenders were sexually abused as children. Furthermore, corporal punishment triggers sexual stimulation, thus inducing sexual arousal. As adults these corporal punishment and/or sexual abuse survivors use sexual contact to ward off the internal emotional pain caused by the sexual and/or physical punishment. It is a case of doing to others what was done to them. The acorn does not fall far from the tree. This explanation merely explains the behavior not condone it.
Accurate sexual child abuse statistics are difficult to obtain. Different definitions of sexual abuse and incest will result in different statistics. Self-reporting is only accurate if the victim accepts the same definition as defined by the researcher. Even more frustrating is the fact that many survivors do not remember their abuse.
Furthermore the controversy regarding the phenomenon of whether a person can ‘forget’ something as significant as sexual activity has long been debated. The Betrayal trauma theory has most accurately identified the child’s experience. “[The] Betrayal trauma theory suggests that psychogenic amnesia is an adaptive response to childhood abuse. When a parent or other powerful figure violates a fundamental ethic of human relationships, victims may need to remain unaware of the trauma not to reduce suffering but rather to promote survival. Amnesia enables the child to maintain an attachment with a figure vital to survival, development and thriving.” (E. Sue Blume, Secret Survivors)
Emotional congruence: There is comfort in relating to a child and satisfaction of emotional need through the abuse. This is apt to be due to arrested development through limited intelligence, immaturity or low self-esteem.
Blockage: Age appropriate sexual opportunities may be blocked by bad experiences with age appropriate adults, sexual dysfunction, limited social skills, or marital disturbance.
Disinhibition: The abuser may lose control through impulse control deficits, psychosis, alcohol, drugs, stress, or nonexistent family rules-coupled with sexual arousal conditioning.
Finkelhor suggests that examination of these factors can help explain why sexual abusers are predominately male. Rowan, Rowan, and Langelier (1981) studied 600 sex offender evaluations in New Hampshire and Vermont and found that in only nine cases (1.5 percent) was the perpetrator a woman. These nine incidents are reviewed in terms of Finkelhor’s (1984) four-factor model. In five of the incidents studied, the abuse occurred in conjunction with a dominant male partner; in four, the woman acted independently. The histories of several of the women revealed a history of childhood abuse and all had serious psychological problems or limited intelligence. The victims of the four women who acted independently were male. Of the five women who acted in conjunction with a male, three victimized females, one victimized a male, and one victimized both a son and a daughter.
The authors concluded that none of these incidents were true paraphilics according to the DSM-llI-R but that the female sex offenders did fit the model proposed by Finkelhor. Understanding what motivates a person to abuse children sexually does NOT excuse him or her, or remove responsibility for the choices he or she has made.
Albeit the perpetrator (sex offender) was abused as a child, he/she is still responsible for his/her adult behavior and for the denial system that allows him/her to continue the abuse. The adult is responsible for protecting the welfare of children; therefore, the adult is responsible for protecting children even from him/herself if necessary.
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