Thursday, August 6, 2015

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions, Myths, and Stereotypes

It is difficult for me to start something like a FAQ, but I will attempt to answer questions people might have about sex abuse, abusers, pedophiles, and the justice system. I confess that I am readily borrowing from Stop It Now and Virtuous Pedophiles for some of these topics, and forming my own answers based on my experiences and knowledge.
  1. What is pedophilia?
    • Pedophilia is the condition of being attracted to prepubescent children. In some cases, it is a disorder. Pedophile is a term misused by many news sources and popular culture to refer to people who abuse children. However, a pedophile is simply someone with pedophilia. Pedophiles usually deal with a number of mental health issues like depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts because of the stigma involved in their disorder. Most pedophiles do not abuse children, and many who abuse children are not pedophiles. Best guesses indicate that about 1-2% of all men deal with pedophilia on some level. Compared to known statistics of abuse, there are more non-offending pedophiles than there are offending pedophiles. It is difficult to ballpark these figures because of the stigma and secrecy involved.
  2. What is sexual abuse?
    • This is a very basic question, but a good one. Sexual abuse is anything that is sexual in nature and harmful or traumatic to a child done by someone at least a few years older than the child. This is not limited to touch or penetration, it can also include exposure and sexual conversations with children. If the same happens among adults, it is usually considered harassment or assault, but it is abuse just the same. 
  3. Don't all offenders reoffend and continue abusing children?
    • The short answer is no. The criminal justice system indicates that anywhere from 3-36% of offenders reoffend, and the majority of those offenses are nonsexual, such as not keeping up with their sex offender registration, violating probation or parole requirements, etc. Multiple sources have varying figures, but it is more common for other types of criminals to offend than it is for sexual offenders. On average, the sexual recidivism rate of sex offenders is around 11.5-13%.
  4. Is the attraction to children a choice?
    • The short answer is no. In the same manner that same-sex attractions or gender identity questions are not voluntary, attraction to children is something that can be described as an affliction or a sexual orientation (see next question). Like any affliction, those with it have a choice on what to do about it, in thought and action. Few seek help because of the stigma. Criticizing those with such attractions is just as unhelpful as saying someone with depression should just snap out of it. 
  5. Is pedophilia curable? 
    • No. No one can make an attraction to children go away, medically or therapeutically. Pedophilia is only correlated with child sexual abuse in around 30% of cases, so there is evidence that most people with pedophilia can manage it without hurting a child. 
  6. What about child pornography? 
    • There is a common belief that "child pornography" is less harmful than child abuse, or that viewing it is. However, I vehemently disagree with this belief. Think of your most embarrassing moment. Now imagine someone taped it and posted it on the internet, and that people not only view it, they enjoy viewing it. That is what a victim of child pornography goes through, in addition to the initial abuse, and those that view it participate in their victimization, and in the victimization of others because they create a demand for it. In order for "child pornography" to be in existence, a child must be abused and filmed. Whether one is the producer or the viewer does not matter to my mind. Creating the demand creates the product just as much as the person holding the camera. Children are abused in the creation of such imagery, even if they are forced to appear that they enjoy it.
  7. Isn't there pornography involving children that's drawn? Wouldn't it be better for pedophiles to view that so they do not abuse children?
    • Yes, there is drawn or 'virtual' pornography that is available on the internet. In some cases, 3D rendering is used, in others they take on a comic-book form. The legalities of these art forms are hazy depending on location. Such media can be helpful to exclusive pedophiles, but it is fair to say that such methods should be used with a therapist's guidance to assure objectivity and an actual benefit. There are some that would not benefit from viewing drawn material depicting children, and negative beliefs may form from viewing it. For some, the line between fantasy and reality can get blurred.
  8. How does sex offender registration work?
    • When one is convicted (not accused, convicted) of a sex crime, they are required to register their name, residence, vehicles, student status, pictures, fingerprints, and DNA with law enforcement. Some places require internet usernames, social media accounts, etc and have other restrictions besides. In most first convictions, like mine, they are assigned a level, which is to indicate the level of risk the offender poses. Most offenders, unless their evaluation (or charges, depending on the state) indicates a higher risk, start at level 1, which means that they are only 'visible' to law enforcement. They are not on community lists, and no one besides law enforcement is informed of their movements. Different states have different requirements for length of registration, but federal minimum starts at ten years. Multiple offenses, multiple victims, risk assessments, and other factors can lead to public notification, which is what most know as the sex offender registry. Different states handle registration differently. There is no set standard that every state or country follows.
  9. What sort of requirements are there for probation?
    • That is a difficult question to answer, because many counties vary in the restrictions given to sex offenders. In my case, any internet accessible device is monitored, and I must agree to a computer use document and be polygraphed for compliance. I cannot view pornography (yes, adult pornography). I cannot have contact- direct communication, indirect communication- with children, unless it happens in the course of my job. In the same manner, I cannot have contact with my victim or his relatives. I cannot vote or own a firearm- BB gun, airsoft gun, or gun. I know some offenders who must notify their employer of their SO status and cannot use computers at all. I cannot address parole, as I never went to prison. 
  10. What constitutes a sexual offense?
    • A sexual offense can be difficult to define in some cases. I have heard cases of teenagers dating, where one teen is several years younger, and they have consensual sex. By law, this can be a sexual offense. However, if no one is harmed or feels traumatized, it would not necessarily be considered a sex offense by therapists. The state would consider them an offender. Essentially, a sexual offense, as far as treatment professionals are concerned, is when one person's sexual behavior causes harm or trauma to someone else. The three huge factors are the law, those directly affected, and society. What matters most to answering this question is those directly affected: If they were traumatized, it is a sexual offense. 
  11. Don't sex offenders usually reoffend?
    • No, it is more common for them not to reoffend. Offenses like exhibitionism (exposing) turned up higher rearrest rates, while child pornography and molestation turned up lower rearrest rates, with more violent acts like rape being the median. It is interesting to note that more of the recidivism arrests were from other crimes, not sex crimes. Simply Googling 'Sex offender recidivism rates' will give you an idea of the difficulties involved in calculating reoffense rates. But in short, sex offenders have lower rates of recidivism than other criminals, and a Wikipedia article about sex offenders cited a 2002 study as saying 5.3% were rearrested for another sex crime. Generally, the longer an offender is crime-free, the less risk they present to the public.
  12. What is the purpose of this site?
    • This site began as sort of a journal, and a way for me to express my thoughts about how sex crimes can be prevented. In the early days, it was just me and my thoughts. More recently, I have been reading studies, other advocacy organizations, and take a more professional approach. The purpose of this site today can be found in its updated form in the mission statement.
  13. What can I do to help a victim of sexual abuse/assault?
    • Wait for them to say anything, and let them ask for what they need. The worst thing you can do is bring it up and ask how they are doing, unless they have already asked you to check in with them about it. At the same time, they need to know you understand, you care, and that they are not alone. The best thing you can do is work with a child advocacy center. Every situation is different, and you will have stereotypes about abuse/assault that can interfere with actually helping a victim. You can make the trauma worse by your reaction.
  14. What can I do to help a sex offender, or perpetrator of sexual abuse/assault?
    • Tell them that it will get better, there is help, and that they can live a normal life. Even if you do not believe that, they desperately need to hear it. They need to know that you care, and it will give them the hope they need to pursue the help they need. The issues and choices that led someone to harm another sexually are complex, and understanding them takes time and effort. I would wager that most offenders/perpetrators do not want to hurt people, and want to get help. The worst thing you can do is judge them and remind them of what they did. They do not need to hear it, unless they are making excuses for their actions or blaming the victim or others for their choices. If they are upset by what they did, they do not need any reminders about it.
  15. What can I do to help someone who has difficult fantasies and urges, like pedophilia or paraphilia?
    • The worst thing you can do is not ask how they are doing. Secrecy emotionally and with their thoughts is what steers someone struggling with their sexual feelings and thoughts towards acting them out. The more they are wrapped up in their head, the more desperate they feel. The best thing is to find someone who is familiar with abuse issues, such as ATSA or Stop It Now, and talk with a therapist. This blog has a resource for them as well. The more support you can give them, the better. They need to know that you care and that you want them to succeed. Think of all those movies where there is that touching friendship, where someone is there for someone, or where just spending time together means a lot. If someone dealing with pedophilia or a paraphilia has told you what they are dealing with, they need you to care and not judge. They do not need to hear that they are dangerous, they need to hear that they can get better and that you will stand by them. They will accept whatever realities come with regards to children's safety in their own time, and hearing it from someone else will not help them.
  16. How can you say that abuse must be prevented before it happens? How would we even spot a potential abuser?
    • My post about warning signs addresses this in more detail. First, there are always signs in someone with attraction to children that can be observed from the outside. I think it takes a great deal of compassion to approach someone showing these signs and honestly ask them if they need help with anything, or to explain what is being seen. Asking something like, "Help me understand... [this thing I observed]". Even if they are not dealing with attraction to children, they will probably appreciate seeing that you care enough about them to say something about something you do not understand. Currently, our method of prevention as a society is aimed at severe punishment so as to deter the crime. However, there are very few resources available to anyone considering abusing a child- or assaulting an adult. There is very little research available regarding these at-risk populations also, because of the stigma around the topic. Without that research, we cannot know how and where systemic primary prevention methods should be applied. What we do know is toted by organizations like the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, and other professional and academic organizations like them.

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