Saturday, November 28, 2015

How Being A Victim Affected Offending

Before I start this, I want to acknowledge the myth that victims of child abuse go on to abuse children. I want to acknowledge that it is a myth, and it is not true a majority of the time. The estimates I have seen put it around 40%- meaning that 40% of abusers were abused before. I also want to acknowledge that my choices, as I have said and will continue to, are my own. None of this changes that. The point of this is to continue processing how my own abuse affected me, affected my offending, and how I can grow and learn from it rather than let it hold me down.

The fact is, I was sexually abused multiple times. When I was three, I wet myself and a daycare provider took me into a room, pulled down my pants, cleaned me up, fondled me, and performed oral sex on me. When I was seven or eight, a local teenager exposed himself to me. It was also normal for my parents to bathe with me, and for me to see them naked- my mother in particular. My mother also applied lotion to my penis when I was 12. It was also common for my mother to tell dirty jokes- even when I had no idea what they meant. I heard from a young age how my tongue would make a woman very happy someday. The only bit of dating advice I got from my mother was how to hug a girl- to offset your legs to hers, so that her leg is rubbing my privates. All of those are considered child sexual abuse. They were traumatic for me, affected my beliefs, and messed with my idea of boundaries.

I believed for a long time, up until about two years ago, that it was good and healthy for a child- any child- who had wet themselves or wet a diaper, to have their privates wiped down. My belief was that if it did not happen, they would get a rash. I believed this because of the first time I was abused. I also got rashes whenever I wet myself, but in retrospect, I think that was due to my own response of scratching myself.

It was that very belief that played into my offending, and the first time I saw my victim naked. We had gone to a movie, and he had wet himself during the movie. I insisted that he clean himself up for fear he would get a rash. You might say that if I had never seen him naked, I never would have acted, but it is impossible to know if that is true or not. I think it is true, because prior to that, my sexual fantasies involved him as much as they did any other child I knew and they were just that, fantasies. I never had the urge to act on them until I saw my victim naked, and that first time also led me to seek out seeing him naked in other settings.

The lack of boundaries, which is what all of the other abuse involves, was far more damaging by comparison. What I heard growing up from my parents, particularly my mother, was that my boundaries did not matter. I could not say no. I had no privacy, and they modeled that they had no privacy. There were other things, like as a teenager having my door removed from my room as punishment for things- the remark being that privacy is a privilege and can be taken away. Combine that lack of boundaries with the lack of social awareness from having asperger's, and you have a recipe for me not even knowing that boundaries are healthy things that most people have, keep, and enforce.

It is hard for me to comment on just how the beliefs about privacy and boundaries affected me, because I am still in the process of practicing boundaries. The easiest way for me to practice them right now is at work, because it is easy and transparent: Hey boss, I need to be done at this time tonight. I think if I got input from my friends, they could identify many situations in which I ignored boundaries. I can think of a number offhand, also, like being unable to take correction in certain situations, or offending someone without having any awareness that I had done so unless they directly told me they were offended.

My abusing my victim was the clearest example of boundary violations: Not only was I touching him sexually, I was also spending time with him- even when he very clearly wanted and needed to be alone. I would hug him- even when he was not receptive to it. Asperger's or not, the lack of awareness around boundaries made these very asperger's traits all the stronger, and all the more difficult for my victim to endure.

These days, I am very clear with my support people that sometimes I need things spelled out and if I do something that upsets them, to address it with me directly. It helps me practice being aware of when I am stepping on someone's boundary or affecting people in ways I do not intend to. A big part of my history was the boundary and privacy violations, and they had a significant effect on me. The comments from my mother, in particular, had a significant effect on me and for years I considered them normal.

There are other things, related to the abuse, that I have identified: I used to say I loved working with children because of their innocence, and what I meant by that is that I thought working with children helped cleanse me of my lack of innocence. It was not that I was preying on their innocence or anything sinister, only that I thought I was making up for what I thought I lacked by working with them. It is difficult to explain the concept in words, other than to say I thought that working with kids saved me from myself.

I am also a perfectionist and I am very hard on myself, I blamed myself for normal childhood things and blamed some of the abuse on myself. I told my mother about my rash when I was 12 and asked her to put lotion on it- that does not negate the fact that she was the adult and should have known it was inappropriate, and I, being 12, could not have known better. Prior to entering treatment, I never took sick days, even when I had a job where I got sick days. Some time ago, I began reading through the book, "Victims No Longer: The Classic Guide for Men Recovering from Sexual Child Abuse", and I have yet to muster the courage to read the chapter on perfectionism. I will get to it someday.

Again, none of this is to say the abuse is the fault of my abusers. The point is for me to continue to identify the ways I was abused and how they affected- and still affect- my beliefs and attitudes. Hopefully, the point is also that a reader can understand more about what sexual abuse is and is not, and how something that is not illegal- like the sexually charged conversations my mother had with me- can still be sexual abuse. For most of this, awareness is most of the battle. I also never received any help with the abuse prior to treatment and after the offending, which was also a factor. That is why it is important to identify and help children who have been abused- because without it, the beliefs and the effects have no one to guide where they end up.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

How Sex Offender Registration And Notification Is Dangerous To Children

That Is A Mouthful

I do apologize for the long title. And you did indeed read that correctly: Registration and notification laws put children in more danger. The end result of these laws is a huge stigma around the word "sex offender". If anyone has that label, they are automatically an outcast. It does not matter if they committed their offense as a juvenile. They are modern-day lepers. All it takes is a single accusation, or a single mistake, and someone is slapped with that label. Sure, their prison term ends. Sure, they might get probation, or a little bit of jail time. But their punishment will never, ever end. Should you feel sorry for sex offenders? I have no idea. That really is not the point.

Label

Their punishment will never end, because of the hype and stigma surrounding that label. It does not matter what one has done to earn it. Not at all. Public urination? In several states: "Sex offender". Sexting? "Sex offender". Child pornography possession and distribution- sex offender. Touched a child- sex offender. Raped a child: "Sex offender". Had consensual sex that parents did not agree with: "Sex offender". Caught with pants down in public: "Sex offender". Streaking: "Sex offender". Skinny dipping: "Sex offender". If it is considered a sex crime by the penal code, there is absolutely nothing a judge can do to prevent the label: "Sex offender". All one has to do is be charged with and convicted of a crime that triggers the registration requirement: "Sex offender".

Is that list comprehensive? Hardly. I just picked the major ones. Of it, I can identify exactly two things on it that actually pose a risk to children, and even then... it entirely depends on the circumstances. You see, most people who abuse children are known and trusted by those children. I have harped on that fact many, many times because it drives home the point: Sex offenders, for the most part, are not a risk to children. That is what the facts indicate. The Department of Justice' own statistics back that up. You can click any number of the links under "studies" on the side for verification. Offenders typically do best when they are reintegrated and get treatment, according to expert psychologists in the field.

That means that the people you think of when you think of sex offenders? The child molesters, the child rapists, the rapists, and anyone else with the "sex offender" label? The majority are not nearly as dangerous as public hype and myth lead you to believe. But do not believe me just because I say something on the internet. Ask your local officials who handle sex offenders. Ask the therapists who treat them. Ask the Department of Justice. Look up the facts for yourself. That is why this blog has so many resourced linked on the side.

Dangerous Focus

The main reason that registration is dangerous is that it puts the focus of children's safety on a list of people who are supposedly threats to children. The problem is, the people on those lists, for the most part, never repeat their sexual crimes. The sexual recidivism rate, on average, is 11.5%. The general recidivism rate, for any crime that a sex offender is re-arrested for, is 33.2%. They get caught for not registering. For probation violations, like viewing pornography or being too close to a school. For owning a firearm (you sign on to a law enforcement hit list and then try to feel safe about it when it gets put on the internet). The majority if the time sex offenders reoffend, that is what their crime is. Not nabbing some kid off the street. Not molesting a child. For petty rebellious behavior against the authorities.

What happens when law enforcement has to weed through a huge list to find the 11.5% on it that are actually dangerous? What happens when the community is told that everyone on it is a huge safety risk, but only a minority are? Are children safer? Let me ask you yet another question: Say you are playing dodgeball... wearing a blindfold... will you be able to avoid the balls coming your way?

Disruptive To Offenders, Increasing Risk

You see, registration is disruptive to the registrant's life, in and of itself. It is not just a list that law enforcement use to investigate new crime (95% of which is committed by first-time offenders) Law enforcement can show up, whenever, to do 'compliance checks' to make sure you are where you should be. I have heard stories of cops showing up to workplaces to ask if Jimmy works here, because he is a sex offender and has to register. Of cops announcing to a waiting room full of people, "Sir, here is your predatory offender form." I have had police at our door three times already.

Think of the time it takes these officers to conduct their checks and waste their time making sure I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, when the statistics say I am already not likely to commit another sex crime. That is time they could be spending doing other, more important things. Like busting the morons who text and drive, or the people that shoot at protesters, or investigating the people in our communities we know and trust, but are actually abusing children.

The registry, the part that is only visible to law enforcement- is that much of a waste. Community notification, which is the part that most people think of- is far more harmful. You see, notification requires certain offenders to have their basic information- name, address, workplace, conviction- up on the internet and in the community for anyone at all to see. Oh, sure, there is a little disclaimer that the information cannot be used to stalk, harass, threaten, or harm the offenders listed (because you know, everyone reads and follows the terms of service on a website, right?). But there have been many instances of just that happening. People lose their jobs and cannot get employment because of notification laws. There are groups who think they are doing a service to the public by announcing who did what. Patch.com is notorious for that.

How can an offender rebuild their lives in a stable, supportive, and caring community with all of that going on? The current system is set up for offenders to fail, and for those struggling with any kind of sexually deviant attraction, they will want to keep it to themselves for fear of it being found out and being slapped with a label as if you can become a sex offender just because you are attracted to children (we do not police thought crimes yet, this is not Minority Report).

Not to mention that there are these mandatory reporting laws, that are supposed to result in increased reporting of sex crimes. What it really means is that the single mother who knows her 14-year-old son is abusing her 5-year-old son will never talk to anyone, for fear her son will go to jail. This means that the sons do not get any help. It means that the college student who knows they are attracted to children does not get help, because he knows that the therapist could report them to the police. And maybe he goes on to sexually abuse a child, or several, because he has no idea where to ask for help.

The Point

What it all boils down to is this: The laws create a stigma, the stigma creates an unsafe environment for getting help with any kind of sexual struggle, and then someone offends and the laws become active for them. And the American public believes that because they have the label with so much stigma, because they are 'monitored' by law enforcement, that they are safe in their homes. America believes that sex offenders are responsible for sex crime- when it is the Average Joe who commits the sex crime and then becomes a sex offender, not a sex offender who commits a sex crime. Not only is it a false sense of security, not only is it something all politicians refuse to touch in any rational, fact-driven manner, it actively pushes people away from the very help that could lead them to never committing any crime in the first place and managing their sexual thoughts.

For every one child that comes forward to report sexual abuse, another eight never will. And for every sex offender on a registry, there are many more who have committed sex crimes that will never be put on that list and we will remain unaware of them. And the list we have only distracts us from who the real threats to public safety are, the repeat offenders.

Our system of punishing people who get caught enables child sex abuse to happen by forcing the issues further into secrecy.

Life As A Pedophile

Um... What?

I think this is going to be a very difficult thing for most people to understand, so take a little trip with me. Imagine your crush, the person you would love to go out with. Maybe you already are- maybe you are married. Now imagine that their images are everywhere. They are on people's tee-shirts, on billboards, on television, on those annoying ads on your phones, computers, and tablets. Then imagine not being able to even date them because doing so would harm them.

That world is not very different from the life of a pedophile. Children are everywhere. There are ads featuring children, every time you buy your food there are children around, there are children at the worship service you go to, walking down the street, etc. You probably are completely unaware of just how inundated our society is with children because you are so used to it. But for a pedophile, someone attracted to children (I am not, and never will, use the word 'pedophile' to refer to someone who has harmed a child), that reality is very visible and very daunting. You can only avoid children so much, and you can never act on it.

Morally Unacceptable

Obviously, it is morally wrong, illegal, and socially unacceptable for an adult or older child to be sexual with a child. That is why I used the earlier analogy- to drive home just how unfair it is. A pedophile does not choose to like children, and no one knows, much like homosexuality, what causes the attraction. Some pedophiles are only attracted to children. Others, like me, are also attracted somewhat to older people their own age, or teenagers. Others still are attracted to children, and while it does impact their life enough to qualify as a disorder, they are equally attracted to people their own age. Others do not have the distress or interference that would make it a diagnosable disorder. 

Yet images of children and teenagers, and indeed children and teenagers themselves, are everywhere. Even a drive to the supermarket, I likely see at least fifty to one hundred images or people involving children or teenagers, even if I go at non-peak times. So obviously, I have to be aware of that, and I have to make sure that my thoughts towards it are healthy. I cannot afford to get wrapped up in just how unfair it is that I have these attractions, or how I should not have these attractions, or how wrong they are. I cannot get wrapped up in how unfair it is that I can never act on how I feel. The moment I do, I am at risk for spiraling into a fantasy of a child, which could spiral into other things. The only thing I can do is accept that I feel that way, and move on. If I dwell on it, nurture it, or get angry about it, I am in an unhealthy place. 

Management

Attractions to children can be managed, just like someone with an allergy can manage their allergy, or someone with anxiety can manage their anxiety. So pedophilia is the same as every other mental health issue out there: Treatable and manageable. That is why I often compare my pedophilia with my asperger's. But the difference with pedophilia is that the end result, much like alcoholism or drug addiction, of not managing it can lead to a significant impact on other people. It is unlikely to result in harm to a child for weeks or months, or even years, but the effects are still apparent. 

Typically, withdrawing, isolating, throwing themselves into community work or our jobs is the start. That can lead to going to things like pornography, or child pornography, which is already impacting children and harming people. That can then lead to abusing a child, which affects the child, the child's family and friends, and the surrounding community. At the initial point of isolating, it is already affecting others. Their friends and family wonder what is wrong, but cannot explain why. They seem lonely. If a pedophile does end up abusing a child, it is not a decision they come to easily or quickly. It is months to years in the making. They will be grooming the victim, the family, and the community well beforehand- likely without even realizing it. 

Stigma And The Bottom Line

The point that researchers make - and the point I make - is that anyone, regardless of who they are, can have pedophilia. Anyone at all, and the only way anyone can know is if they say something. Creating an environment where it is not safe to say anything will not allow these people to say something, will not allow them to get help. Secrecy is the greatest enabler of child sex abuse. Pedophiles that do not get help and need it can end up dead due to suicide, on the news for molesting a child, withdrawn, depressed, etc. It is in our best interests to enable them to come forward for help.

So, the next time someone uses the word 'pedophile' around you- ask them what they mean. The next time you express an opinion on child sex abuse- think of what led those people to that point of desperation. The next time you see someone who has an unusual interest in children- ask them if there is anything you can do to support them. Refrain from judging just because you do not understand them. Chances are, you will find someone just as normal as you are.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Stewards Of Children: A Review Of Darkness To Light's Abuse Prevention Training

This is a review of the "Stewards of Children" child sex abuse prevention training course offered by Darkness to Light. They had offered me a free course due to a dialogue I started with them about one aspect of the training- educating children. I am writing this as I am taking the training.

The Introduction

The training starts with two separate disclaimers, much like this blog has, for survivors of child sex abuse. A great place to start, although putting text on a screen and having the audio playing someone reading said text is a little off-putting. While obviously aimed at educators, their statement towards potential abusers is completely inadequate because the message is 'You should not, because it is harmful'. Someone at risk for child sex abuse will not hear that message, what they will hear is 'You are broken and you need fixing'. What they must hear instead is, 'You can live a life where this is not a big deal, where you can manage this'. The overall content of the videos and content is not of course aimed at a potential abuser, but if a potential abuser views them, they will not likely respond well to them.

Their stated purpose- a world free of child sex abuse- is much like my own. They introduce survivors: The first uses the word 'pedophile' to describe his abuser. I have discussed this in earlier posts, mainly the first item in my FAQ. This word will further alienate anyone who is struggling with pedophilia, because it equates their very real struggle- pedophilia- with acting out on their attractions.

The word 'pedophile' is loaded, and should only be used to describe someone attracted to children, never someone who has abused a child. There are better, less minimizing, and more accurate labels for them. I would never call myself a pedophile to refer to my crime, because it minimizes what I did to my victim. I would call what I did an act of child rape. I would refrain from using words like 'abuser' or 'molester' or 'rapist' because all of these words imply a state of being- I acted once, and I am committed to keeping it that way. So using a term that would define my entire being by a large mistake I made minimizes me as a human being. At the same time, what other words are out there?

Getting to the Point

The best part of sharing the victim's stories in the first segment is that you get to hear who the abusers are: People trusted by the community. Cousins, family friends, a firefighter, church leader, a father, and babysitters. Not strangers, thankfully: Not one of those stories was from a victim of stranger abuse. They then give essential facts about abuse: Examples in the news, how it makes us feel, who it impacts, how many it impacts (all of which have been covered before on this blog), and how we generally respond to news stories of those who have abused children. They give essentially what are impact statements: How the abuse impacted the victims, from the victim's point of view.

They also give a list of impacts on victims, and resources to access, which I will cover later. The interactive is a bit cheesy, but then I do not think I have taken any sort of interactive training that was not cheesy. They correctly identify the cause of child sex abuse as being about choice- ours, the abuser's, etc. They talk about getting support, upsetting the apple cart, and other barriers to reporting or otherwise making the 'right' choices.

Step One: Learn the Facts

How they start their first step is golden: "Child sex abuse thrives in an environment of denial and fear." They discuss the secrecy, and the impact on the victim's belief. They talk about the inability to break the spell of secrecy that is weaved by perpetrators, and the manipulative hold that abusers have over their victims and the other adults involved.

They go on to define child sex abuse as "any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors when one exerts power over the other." I disagree with this, because it leaves the loophole of denying the exertion of power to claim a mutual relationship- NAMBLA and other boy-love organizations exploit that loophole. They do go on to include non-contact actions, and they do discuss persuasion as being part of the definition of child abuse. For me, that still leaves the loophole- and from where I sit, there are none. Even if you have a child that is willing and not negatively impacted or does not feel coerced, it is still abuse.

They also discuss commercial exploitation, or prostitution. We might also refer to it as sex slavery. They also discuss child pornography and what that is- any image that focuses on a child's genitals, clothed or unclothed. Again, there is a huge emphasis on the impact on the victim. There is again a practical application of the information they present, and touch on the fact that 66% of all sex crime involves youth. They talk about the false illusion of stranger danger. They also talk about the fact that some women and young girls also perpetrate child sex abuse, not just men. They talk about the fact that 40% or more of children are abused by older children or youth. Unfortunately, they repeat the myth that abusers were usually abused.

Step Two: Minimize Opportunity

Of course, the biggest statistic is that 80% of child sex abuse happens in one-on-one situations. They talk about the grooming process, and flattering the victims. Unfortunately, there are abusers, like me, who are unaware of the grooming process. They talk about making things public and visible, making sure that any message sent to the child via digital technology is also presented to the parent. They talk about minimizing hotspots for alone time, like bathrooms, and the use of surveillance in or around some of these hotspots. They make a point to make things visible in these hotspots, like buses, shower rooms, bedrooms, camp cabins, etc.

They talk about transparency also, and making sure older children and younger children should be separate in these situations. They also talk about the internet being a hotspot for one-on-one time, and the presence of online predators, though I would add statistically, online predators are much more rare than the media makes them seem. Internet boundaries are great to talk about, but I think they need to be tempered with the reality that the internet is a daily part of life, and monitoring internet use by children can be challenging.

While there is technology to ease that burden, I think monitoring and being aware of a child's internet use can also be a violation of their privacy and their boundaries. There is also somewhat of a perception that those who have abused children in non-technology settings are prone to taking advantage of technology in future situations, but that is not automatic or typical. Typically, an abuser will have a set of patterns and what experts call a cycle by which they generally operate. It is atypical for most abusers to go outside that pattern.

They discuss screening out those who have already abused children by the use of references, interviews, prevention training, and background checks. Given the high potential for abusers to not be 'in the system', background checks can easily create a false sense of security. Discussing references and interviews is great, but the training already establishes that those who abuse children are typically trusted members of the community. So any of those four tools must be treated with caution. They talk about having a code of conduct, which is great because it sets a standard, and one of the boundaries they give is not having volunteer/employee contact with children outside the program, though that is an easy boundary to break.

Step Three: Talk About It

This is the step that is of primary concern to me, because it discusses how to educate children on the topic. Personally, I am of the opinion going into this section, that teaching boundaries, sex education, and other self-esteem and mental-health boosting interactions is great for children, but dismal in a conversation about child sex abuse. Again, they talk about the grooming process and who abusers use the lack of information to gain access to children's bodies. Abusers may not be aware of this process, and they may not single out a child specifically because of their lack of knowledge or awareness, or their lack of boundaries. For some, it may simply be enough for them to have seen the child naked and have the ability to spend time alone with them. That was true for me.

They again talk about the secrecy and the shame that children feel towards the abuse. They talk about the thinking that children use to justify keeping the abuse a secret, and the inability to overcome the fear of what will happen if they make the secret known. I remember the first time I abused my victim, because of how similar it was to my mother abusing me: Using personal hygiene as a front for having sexual contact. And afterward, I asked him... 'Do you think you should tell someone?' Not because I wanted him not to, but because I wanted to know what he thought about it. He said no. I asked why not, and he would not say anything more. It still baffles me that he would not tell me why he did not think he should tell anyone about what I had just done.

They talk about being attentive to what children say, and about the value of talking to children about sex and creating a relationship with the child so that they know they are cared for. They talk about the value of having specific conversations about sex and personal boundaries. Again, I agree, but not in the context of preventing child sex abuse. My victim had those conversations, and knew what good and bad touch were. And he chose, of his own free will, despite me asking why he did not want to tell anyone, to keep it a secret. Using specific terminology is also great, but again, not in the context of abuse prevention. While it can be helpful, I am very concerned that this sends the message, to us, society, and the victim, that it is the child's responsibility to inform an adult and stop abuse. It is an adult's responsibility, period, to stop abuse.

The interactive they give is a multiple choice, check all that apply question of: "Which of the following adult choices protect children from sexual abuse?" The options? Teaching children proper names for body parts (covered in the training, clearly click that), teaching children they can tell you anything without fear (again, covered, clearly click that), explaining what parts of the body others should not touch (again, covered, click it), teaching children to always obey adults (not covered, clearly avoid it), and teaching children not to share personal information on the internet (covered, click it). So, having paid attention, I got all of them correct. The problem I have is not with the options being correct, but with the question. None of those protect children. None of those create a concrete barrier to the child being safe. All of them will teach the child that their safety is their responsibility- and by implication, that it is their responsibility if they do not keep themselves safe.

The primary focus is on what the child knows and how this knowledge is going to prevent child sex abuse. And that, I have a serious problem with.

Step Four: Recognize the Signs

This is a rundown on the physical signs of child sex abuse, and the emotional and behavioral signs. Some might be more obvious, like bleeding, bruising or STD's, in private areas or the mouth. But most of them are not as obvious- these are the emotional and behavioral signs, like too perfect behavior, fear, withdrawal, anger, rebellion, and depression. The point being that if it is unexpected or unexplained, they are a red flag. They talk about acting out being a big sign of sex abuse, and that oppositional defiance disorder and ADHD being diagnosis that are often signs of sex abuse. The main point is that acting out is a sign that something is off. I was diagnosed with ADHD and I acted out a lot. My victim also frequently acted out a lot- he bit people, he grabbed people's genitals, would not do his homework, etc.

The checklist they include for concrete examples:
  • Nightmares (had those, as did my victim)
  • Bedwetting (had those, as did my victim)
  • Falling grades (had those, unsure of victim)
  • Cruelty to animals (had those, victim at times did as well)
  • Bullying and being bullied (both me and my victim were bullied)
  • Fire-setting (I did that, unsure of my victim, but he did enjoy explosions)
  • Running away (I did that once, and my victim often wanted to be alone)
  • Self-harm (I did this in certain forms, to the best of my knowledge my victim did not)
They also discuss masturbation, exposing in public, overachieving, perfectionism, playing doctor with younger children, knowing words or phrases that are not fitting of the child's age group, and similar things. 

Step Five: React Responsibly

In this section, they discuss the three reasons we must react to sex abuse: When there is a disclosure of abuse to us, when we discover it ourselves, and when we have reason to suspect that sex abuse is occurring. They talk about the reactions being to offer support, encouraging the child, and seeking professional help. I have discussed before about the value of therapy for potential abusers, and I would say there is just as much value for victims of child sex abuse. Finding the right therapist can be a challenge, and understanding what the therapist's credentials can be challenging, but Google it. Use the internet. 'How do I find a good therapist for child sex abuse' The internet can tell you anything you want to know, all you need to know is how to ask.

Supporting the victim and letting them know that you believe them, and that you will act on what you have told them is key. They must be supported. At the same time, I would add not to overreact. Let the child be the one to do the talking, and let the child inform what happened. Do not put words in their mouth, or ask leading questions. Get the details one step at a time- the focus is on them, not 'getting the bastard who did this'. Chances are, they may feel very strongly about that 'bastard' and may want to protect them. So letting your child talk about it, at their pace, is key.

I jumped the gun in the last paragraph, but the list they give for being supportive is:
  • Be supportive
  • Listen calmly
  • Don't overreact
  • Say, "I believe you. What happened is not your fault."
  • Praise the child for his or her courage and thank them for telling you
  • Encourage the child to talk, but don't ask leading questions about the details
  • Ask only open-ended questions like, "What happened next?"
  • Tell the child we will get the support we need
They also discuss the value in getting professional help- a therapist who has worked with sexual abuse victims. The 'help in your area' link on the side, while also being for potential abusers, can also be of great value to victims and their families. They talk about how to report it to law enforcement and to include details like name, age, address of those involved. They also talk about Children Advocacy Centers, such as Cornerstone where my victim was interviewed, as being great resources for victims and their families. They discuss what it means to discover abuse of having seen something and the obligation to report it so that the victim and their family gets help. The right thing, in this circumstance, is to notify the authorities. 

There is minimal discussion in the training about situations where the family and even the victim may not want charges filed, or to be interviewed, or otherwise have the situation reported to law enforcement. What I would say, as someone who has abused a child, is this: Report it anyway. I know that can sound harsh, but my experience with the legal justice system is that they care about the victim and their family. They get the option to make an impact statement in court, they have the option of pursuing a harsher sentence- but they can also do nothing. My experience in therapy is that my therapist, while having worked with victims and their families, also cares about me and my progress. All of the professionals I have worked with lead me to the conclusion that abuse should be reported to the police, period. They talk later about the fact that reporting means you are protected from retaliation, and that you are essentially saying, 'hey, this needs attention' to people who can investigate it. 

At the same time, there are laws that are not just and do not fit the crime. I have to register as a predatory offender for life as of right now. I think we will eventually realize the uselessness in having a registry open to the public, and the lack of impact it has on crime. So yes, there are injustices in the legal system and in therapy. But report it anyway. I have often wondered to myself, what would have happened if I had not tried to kill myself? What if I had not revealed anything, and gotten a lawyer? I probably could have avoided the legal trouble. But I do not regret my actions after the abuse came to light, even though they directly resulted in my criminal conviction. It meant that the victim got help. 

In talking about suspecting child sex abuse, they talk about setting healthy boundaries by identifying what they are doing that is not okay, asking them to stop, and moving on. I would reiterate what one therapist said: "What I've heard from people who abuse, often, is that all of the signs were there, but no one bothered to ask them about it." There was widespread discussion in my faith community that I like children, and what if I am a pedophile- someone attracted to children. But no one talked with me about it, and no one said anything to me, even while one leader in that community knew I was in fact a pedophile. 

Conclusion

The training recaps what the training covered, what everyone can do, and how those steps protect children. They give victims' stories of the value of forgiveness and moving on, which was very touching. Of course, they end off with touching images of the victims and their new families, and of songs. The idea, of course, being that of empowerment: You can do something to stop child sex abuse. I would reiterate that, even while I disagree with step three. They also give a list of resources, which I will review next. I think all in all, it is excellent training and great information for the average person, even if some of that information and how it is presented could use tweaking as I have outlined here. I would recommend this training to most organizations, with the caution that it does not accurately represent the issue of pedophilia and how that ties into (or rather how it usually does not tie into) child sexual abuse. It also does not reflect the reality of who the biggest risks to children are. What it does do is inform someone who knows absolutely nothing about the subject, and generates further discussion. 

Their Resources

The resources page accessible when you take the training is a great place to go for more information, but treat it with a degree of caution: Some statements are not accurate. For example, in question six, what is grooming, they state, "Most sex offenders actually look for victims." I have spoken elsewhere about how sex offenders do not typically reoffend, and how unaware one can be of the grooming process- how I was unaware that I was manipulating or grooming my victim, how I thought I was legitimately being helpful to him. Sex offenders do not seek out more victims- they typically want their lives back and will do what they can to stay healthy. Of the 20 or so people I saw in treatment, only two removed themselves or were removed from the program for not being complaint. One of those two went on to a different program, where he is progressing well. Additionally, at least 85% of sex offenders are one-time offenders with one victim, one conviction, one offense. 

So using the words 'sex offenders' in the context of answering questions about why and how children get abused must end. Sex offenders who are already known are not responsible for most child sex abuse. There are no established terms for someone who is at risk for sex abusing, or for someone who has committed an act but is undetected, and both of these groups make up the greatest risk to our children. One specific sentence is, "Children are much more vulnerable to sexual abuse because sex offenders rely on children’s innocence and lack of power." They could simply use the word 'abusers', not sex offenders. Using the term 'sex offenders' implies that registered sex offenders are responsible for child sex abuse, yet we know that 95% of sex crime arrests are of first-time offenders. We know already that spreading the myth that registered sex offenders will reoffend puts children in more danger..

They do correct the myth that those who are abused will go on to abuse, which is great. They handle practical application questions about one-on-one policies, babysitting, and what to do if a child discloses abuse. They also talk about how to talk to a child about sexuality and personal boundaries, and how some symptoms of abuse can be symptoms of other problems and that only a professional can tell the difference. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Parent's Guide to Pedophilia: My child has what?!

Why Should You Care About Pedophiles?

Do you want the nice, tactful version with statistics, or the frank truth?
  • Nice And Tactful Facts
    • Researchers estimate about 30% of child molesters are pedophiles, and from the statistics we know about, around 25% or less of pedophiles molest children. In other words, most child molesters are not pedophiles, and most pedophiles do not molest children. Pedophilia does not appear to be a condition that can change, and from our best understanding of it, it acts as a sexual orientation. Pedophilia is not a dangerous diagnosis. Current estimates range from 1-5% of adolescent to adult men deal with pedophilia, or attractions to children generally under 12, and it is unknown how many deal with attractions to older children. Conservatively, around one in one hundred boys will develop pedophilia, and liberally, one in twenty will (again, not counting attractions towards teenagers). 
  • Frank Truth
    • Your child could develop an attraction to children or young teenagers. It could be your child. And if it is, you should know what to do so that you can help your child and make fact-based decisions that will help your child live a better life- without overreacting. If you overreact, you can scar them for the rest of their lives and even ruin the rest of their lives. There are real stories of pedophiles being outed to parents, friends, employers, even teenage pedophiles, and horror stories of the consequences. Some of them get kicked out of the house, some of them get driven out of their communities by neighbors, and some of them can never find a decent job. Some commit suicide for fear of people finding out. And yes, some molest children. Your reaction to this issue has a real impact. You need to know how to respond to this issue, because chances are, it already affects you... you just do not know it yet.
Introduction

This is a challenging article for me to write, because I have yet to be a parent. But chances are, if you are reading this, you have taken a huge step in overcoming your aversion to this topic. You have acknowledged that there may be something different about your child's sexuality. Maybe their behavior seems off to you, or they are harassing others. Maybe there has been incidents between your child and another, and you are concerned about it. Perhaps they asked you a question that had you wondering, or maybe you have seen things that make you ask the question: Does my child have an attraction to children?

Considering the idea that your child may have something "wrong" with them is always difficult, and anything related to mental illness always seems like something is "wrong". As I said, I have never been a parent. But I know how strongly I feel about protecting children, and how I might feel if I had children. I would want the best possible thing for them, period, and to shield them from things that could harm them. I would spend hours hunting down the facts, if it were me. The biggest thing I can say to you is that you are not alone or without help. Contrary to what most people think, there is help for attractions to children, and most people with these attractions who get help do not hurt children. Contrary to popular myth, there is no certainty that someone with these attractions will act on their attractions. In fact, the evidence we have says the opposite.

Definition

Pedophilia, the proper term for an attraction to children not yet at puberty by someone older than the child, is not fun. It is an extreme challenge to handle with a support system, with treatment, and with the resources to know how to handle it. I felt lost, alone, and hopeless before I entered treatment and started developing a support system. I thought I had to go it alone and never tell anyone that I am attracted to children, because of how they would react.

I first began noticing something different and unique about sex and sexuality when I was 6 years old. I did not have the terms for it, but I loved looking at other boys in the bathroom. I wanted to touch them- especially those younger than me. In a few instances, I did so, but it was considered experimenting and normal by those around me. When researchers in these fields say that it can be detected and diagnosed early, I believe them because I was there.

Incidentally, the first thing anyone with any level of attraction to children must hear is that they are not alone in their struggle, and their attractions can be managed and typically can be diverted to more appropriate things. I think in most cases, people do not have a 100% exclusive attraction to children, even with pedophilia. But there are some people who do not have any attraction for peers or adults. Knowing that your child is dealing with such a loaded disorder has to be excruciatingly confusing. The easiest thing to do would be to deny it.

What You Must Hear

A disorder, like any of the paraphilias I am about to describe, is something that significantly interferes with someone's life. It is separate from sexual attraction. There are many kinds of disorders. Some people have things that seem like a disorder, but do not meet the criteria for a disorder because they do not significantly affect someone's life. Just because your child might have an attraction they do not understand does not automatically mean they have a disorder. A disorder is not a death sentence, nor are these attraction.

Even if this is repetitive, if your child does indeed have pedophilia- or its relatives, hebephilia (persistent attraction to early adolescent children, typically 11-14, that causes significant distress) and ephebophilia (attraction to older adolescent children, typically 15-19, that causes significant distress).  Even if they have any of these disorders, they are not 'predestined' or 'predisposed' or even 'inclined towards' abusing children. Simply having the disorder does not automatically make them a risk to others. They have a quirk, and choices about what to do about it. You can help them make the right choice to get help in managing their quirk, and in knowing how to take care of themselves so that their quirk remains a quirk and not a risk. The quirk itself is not the risk. Failure to manage it, letting it interfere, believing the lies people say about pedophiles... those are the risks.

I hate using "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" as an example for anything. But I have seen my fair share of the show. One episode that stands out is an episode where a teenager goes to the police and asks for help because he has attractions to children. The police essentially tell him that they cannot help him unless he has hurt someone- and his father finds out that his son spoke with the police about "something something children something something sexual attraction". He assumes that his son molested a child, and sodomizes his son with a broom handle.

I use that as an example of what not to do. First of all, the father gets arrested for a crime because he assumed his son did something to a child, for having attractions to children. Second, the police told the teenager that there is no help unless he has hurt someone: Not only untrue, but I personally do not think a real-life police officer would say something like that stupid. Finally, SVU perpetrates the same tired myths about child abuse and pedophilia that have been shown to be untrue over, and over, and over again. It is a very emotional topic- but you must handle it calmly with tact and a level head, not just for your sake, but for your child's sake.

A Parent's Concerns

Any parent wants the best for their child. I can speak to parental feelings because of the compassion and empathy I had and developed towards my victim, and towards other children. Knowing of my own thoughts and struggles makes me very aware that there are people who have attractions to children and have no resources, tools, or help- there are even some people who are so jaded that they do not care how their actions affect others.  Those people are like the 60-year-old coaches with multiple victims. Those people are not your child. Your child is someone you care about, and needs guidance with something they do not understand about their sexuality.

Your child is someone you care about and are concerned for. You may have misinformation about pedophilia, maybe from hearsay, maybe from the internet. To know what information is and is not true about pedophilia, please see the FAQ at the top of the page, or the resources on the side. The biggest bit of misinformation I can clear up right now is the idea that someone with attractions to children will inevitably molest a child. There are many people who have struggled with their attractions and never acted. Most people with attractions to children do not want them, and think that they are disgusting because that is what people tell them about pedophiles. The stigma is huge, and more than anything else it is the stigma that causes the interference with daily life.

You may be concerned about questions you have asked your child, and that your child may not have answered them truthfully. Know that most children are not prepared to deal with sexual abuse, either as a victim or an abuser, and will likely be honest if they are asked direct questions. It is more common for a child to withhold information that could hurt the adults, parents, and caregivers in their life than it is to withhold information that can help them. So if your questions have revolved around, 'What did you do?', they must be rephrased as 'I need to know if this is something you are concerned about so I can help you. I am worried about you. Can we talk?'

The Value of Therapy

Almost everything I know about how to manage my attraction to children came from therapy, and from applying what I know about myself. My biggest risks with my attraction are not the attraction itself, but how I react to it. The best course of action I can recommend to any parent is to get help from a sex-specific therapist. At the side of this blog, the second and third resources are two places you can go to for help in finding a therapist. Be aware of mandatory reporting, and learn what it is and what it is not. Click here, and go to the note about reporting laws, and here to learn what questions you should ask. I also have a post for pedophiles about the subject, which would be perfect for you to read with your child.

A therapist can help guide you through what it means for your child to have pedophilia, and how they can be helped. While therapists are mandated reporters, they are mandated to report specific threats to specific people: They will not report to the police unless they feel there is an imminent threat of danger to others, or unless they know of specific children who have been abused. The value of having a sex-specific therapist is that they will have experience in dealing with people with attractions to children and have a more accurate understanding of what an imminent threat actually looks like.

A therapist can also help your child understand their attraction: Whether it is something to be concerned about or just a passing phase, what their thoughts and attractions mean, and what disorders, if any, they actually have. Pedophilia is something that can be diagnosed in teenage years, sometimes earlier, and getting your child the help they need can mean the difference between getting help and resources and being able to manage their sexuality, and being where I was: Lost, hopeless, confused, depressed, and anxious about what I could do. Self-fulfilling prophecy is a real, proven phenomenon, and you do not want that happening.

A sex-specific therapist may have tactics you are not used to: At the beginning of my treatment, I had to role play one instance of abusing my victim. At the time, I was angry and scared. Sharing with a group of people what I did was traumatic for me, because it forced me to trust that they would not use the information to hurt me. It forced me to look at how my behavior affected others. But most of all, it forced me to experience, in a setting where I could actually identify what I was feeling during those events. I did not see the value of doing the role-play until I was almost done with treatment.

I share that because I need to make the point that the therapist will make your child uncomfortable, but that is a very good thing. Bear with it. For more information on getting therapy and why it is beneficial, click here. Just keep in mind: The therapists are the experts, and they are the best people in a position to help you with your questions, and your child with theirs.

What Your Child Must Hear

Your child must know that you care, and you want them to get the best help possible if they need it. They are not sick, they are not diseased, nor are they a risk to children. You cannot give them that message. They must know that there is help for their questions and fears, and that they can live a normal life. What they have no business hearing is that they are a pervert, they are a time bomb, or that they are a child molester in waiting. Even if you are concerned that they may have done something, let that kind of concern play itself out over time and do not ask them about it. Let the therapist be the one to ask the hard questions.

They must receive the message that you care about them, not just about their thoughts and the children they might hurt. Your concern, as with the warning signs, is that they are in a healthy place. If they hear that your concern is with anything they might do to someone else, you will shut them off from anything else you have to say to them and they will not listen to you. The worst thing for any parent to deal with is caring deeply about your child, but your child being unavailable to you. Do not let that happen.