Monday, December 14, 2015

Secrecy And The Dark

One of the biggest things I have never directly addressed in many posts, or written about, is how secrecy plays a role in offending. I have hinted at it, alluded to it, and cited statistics related to it- but not discussed it directly.


One statistic that typically blows people with no knowledge of abuse away is that 85% of it happens in one-on-one situations. Another that is closely related is that most abuse (81%) happens in the home of the victim or offender- particularly in cases involving child sexual exploitation material. In short, that means that the majority of abuse situations involve the victim and the abuser in the victim or abuser's home. It is also well-established that the majority of sexual abuse victims do not disclose the abuse immediately. For many, it takes more than a year after it occurs to disclose it. Some never do.


My own offending did not happen suddenly. It happened because I made dozens of poor choices that led to the choice of being alone with my victim. I never told anyone about the attractions I had to children after my first disclosure, because I was afraid of how people would react. Those two things- keeping my choices to myself, and keeping my struggle to myself- helped enable the decisions I made to abuse my victim. It happened in the privacy of my residence, or in my victim's residence. I never told him not to tell- not until I was knowingly, intentionally trying to manipulate him into telling.

My point is that some abusers do use threats, it is true. But the sad fact is that most of the time, it is not needed. The child is so shamed, humiliated, and scared of what is happening that they do not share it. This happens for many reasons- fear of getting the abuser in trouble, fear of their family or friends finding out, wanting to protect people close to them from the knowledge of what is happening.

Dispelling Myths

Child sex abuse does not typically happen in the scenarios we envision: Nabbing a kid off the street and raping them at knifepoint, warning them not to tell. Most rapes do not even happen that way, to my knowledge. It is typically not perpetrated by homeless people, nor by people in trench coats. The scariest part of child sex abuse is that it happens in secret, with no one knowing unless the victim says something- and most of the time, they do not do that. Nor does all abuse get perpetrated by old men- 35% of it is perpetrated by older children.

It happens when people who have an ongoing primary attraction to children do not get the help that they need to manage their attraction. It happens when the coach that we know and trust for years starts spending time with Suzie alone, because Suzie is his outlet for some challenge in his life. It is preceded by many months of decisions on the abuser's part before the actual abuse, and by boundary violations and desensitization- intentional or not- for what the abuser wants to do to the victim.

The Point

The point is that child sex abuse thrives on secrecy, in the dark from those that care about the child. No one knows until it is too late or already happened (unless they are very familiar with sexual abuse and how it happens, then they might notice the signs), and then the only thing is to stop it. Stopping it then does not undo the scars, the beliefs, the pain, and the trauma. And all it would have taken is the person with an attraction, or a struggle, or a major life event, to say "I am struggling with this and I need help." Yet ours is a society where if they do that, their career, their life, their reputation, their friends, and their family seem at stake. The stigma is so huge that people have committed suicide for fear of what they might do- I was almost one of them. The biggest thing that can be done to stop child sex abuse, before it happens, is eliminate the secrecy and darkness that enable it to happen at all. People need to be able to come forward for help.

Practical Application

I discuss in my warning signs post that the biggest red flag/warning sign is someone who wants to spend time alone with a child, and that the red flag is that there is something that the person is intending to say or do that they wish to remain between them and the child. This sort of secrecy is very, very typical of what most people call the grooming process, and it is that secrecy that can enable an abuser to continue abusing the same child, or continue on to other children, because the child is keeping their secret.

That is why experts recommend that you do not encourage children to keep secrets or encourage the use of 'silly names' for genitalia: Children should know and use the proper terminology for anatomy, and never keep secrets. The practical application is to ensure that children know the difference between a secret, a surprise, tact, and know the proper terminology for the various parts of their body. Not only is this teaching them that they own their bodies, it teaches them to be healthy people empowered to discuss sex without shame. And if someone is violating their boundaries and abusing them, they are more likely to say something about it.

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