Thursday, June 9, 2016

Humanizing And Dehumanizing Abusers

A Terrible Crime

No other crime operates or has the same effects that child abuse does. Any kind of abuse. Abuse twists the reality of the child so that the abusive acts seem normal, and normal actions on their part seem wrong. It changes the child's beliefs, so that they do not believe accurate things about themselves and the world. They may come to see the abuse as their fault, or they may come to think that they enjoy it, and that others would enjoy it. It is an act that dehumanizes children by making them an outlet for an adult or older child's frustrations, struggles, and desperation.

Sexual Abusers: Why They Abuse

When talking about child sexual abuse and how to prevent it, it is vitally important to know why it occurs. This is not so we can blame some systematic failing or the circumstances in the abuser's life. It is so that we can know how and why it happens, so that those how's and why's can be avoided. I have seen many, many researchers who study sexuality, sexual abuse, and work with sexual offenders state that people who abuse children (or rape, or commit other sexual offenses against other people) do so when they are at their most desperate for a variety of reasons.

For some, they recently went through a divorce, and the child abused was an easily accessible outlet for the frustration and pain the divorce caused. The abuse was a coping mechanism. For others, they seek out women to victimize because their idea is that the woman will enjoy the experience and think that they would be impressed with them. For some, the abuse or rape was purely situational: The opportunity to be alone with the victim was there, and they were struggling with some other issue and thought that taking the opportunity to victimize someone would help them cope.

It really does not matter what the reason for the desperation is. Divorce, marital issues, work issues, social struggles, undiagnosed mental health needs... the list could be endless. The bottom line is that these people made terrible choices that affected other people terribly.

The Media's Spin

The media loves to refer to people who rape people as rapists. They love to refer to sexual abusers as pedophiles. They love to refer to people who have kidnapped as kidnappers, regardless of the reason for the kidnapping (usually due to a conflict in custody, not some dark, evil desire to have a sex slave or whatever). Using any of these terms, including sexual abusers, implies that these people are what their behavior is. It unconsciously says to us all that these people, if given the chance, would do nothing but abuse children, or rape people, or kidnap people. That applies to other crimes as well: Robbery, thievery, murder, assault... if you did it, you are automatically defined as such, for the rest of your life. You are now a criminal.

The reality is flipped. Those that sexually abuse children are usually not sexually attracted to the children that they abuse. That is true in the majority of cases. Those that are in fact sexually attracted to children do not abuse children. That is true according to the estimates and numbers we have available. So referring to those that sexually abuse children as pedophiles, implying that their actions are the result of an unchosen sexual attraction, is totally inaccurate. Not only does it fail to describe those that sexually abuse children accurately, it minimizes the sexual abuse that was done to the child by making it seem like the result of an unchosen sexual attraction rather than a conscious choice. Such stigmatizing and inaccurate language must end.

Dehumanizing Criminals

The problem with this is that it dehumanizes criminals, and makes them seem like monsters. Only a rapist could do something like that to a child, there is no way the next-door neighbor could do something like that! We know Bill, he would never harm anyone! Shock and surprise are very common themes in the discovery of sexual crimes. Part of this is because the perpetrators of such crimes put up a facade to tell all of us that they are really fine and not struggling with something. Oh, but that touches a nerve, does it not? Everyone does that. They say they are fine, when really they are depressed and lonely. They say they are doing great, even when they are furious that they just lost their job.

The problem with dehumanizing criminals of any kind, but particularly perpetrators of sexual crimes, is that we blind ourselves to the possibility that anyone other than the dehumanized caricature of a human being, the monster, could be responsible for such crimes. That sort of blindness is dangerous. It can lead us to unconsciously refusing to spot warning signs that something might be wrong. It can lead people to thinking that the victims must be lying, because we know that person, and that person does not fit this "monster" profile we know must be connected to such crimes. Such dehumanization of criminals must end.

Myths And Stigma

There are a great many myths about rape victims, sexual abuse victims, and other victims. The presence of shows such as CSI, Law and Order, and NCIS, as entertaining as they may be, reinforce the idea that a victim acts a certain way and a perpetrator acts a certain way. They reinforce myths that blind us to the presence of these crimes, even when they are right under our noses. They reinforce stigma against victims. I saw a great list by the wonderful men at 1in6 the other day. There is the myth for male survivors of sexual abuse that boys who are sexually abused cannot be real men, or that they really enjoyed it, or that abuse is less harmful to boys. Are you cringing yet? There is the myth that those who abuse are gay, and those who are abused by males must secretly be gay and enjoy the abuse. And if a woman abused them, they were lucky... and any boy who was abused will go on to abuse others. You really should be at the point of queasiness by now.

Myths and stigma do not prevent child sexual abuse. They do not prevent rape. They do not prevent crime. They enable it. You see, criminals that engage in crime intentionally because they enjoy breaking the law? The stereotyped monsters you hear about? Not only are they extremely rare, but they are aware of the myths and stigma and will use that to their advantage to get away with their crimes. Most crimes are crimes of passion, struggle, or opportunity. The myths and stigma that misinform us about the reality of crimes must end.

Humanizing Perpetrators

Realizing that the perpetrators of crime, all crime, are human means we are able to spot behaviors and warning signs that could lead us to ask the potential criminal-in-the-making questions that can intervene in the issues that can lead to crime. I realize this may be a foreign idea, but the fact of the matter is... we know what grooming looks like. A very great deal has been written about what grooming is and how it operates. Grooming operates on the idea of gaining people's trust so that they will not suspect (fill in the blank). It is both intentional for some, and unintentional for others. Most who engage in grooming behaviors are completely unaware of it, I would wager (sorry, I only have my own experiences to back that up, no studies this time).

Only by humanizing perpetrators and being able to see potentially problematic behavior, conversations (that can give insight into how someone is thinking), and emotions can we be able to ask the right questions and send someone who is manifesting these things to the correct help to head off potentially criminal behavior that will have a severe impact on other people. There are models of prevention, of punishment, and entire theories and systems dedicated to trying to figure out how and why people commit crime, and how to stop it.

I hate to sound like I live in a world of unicorns and rainbows, but if we simply cared enough about our fellow human beings to not judge them if they are struggling with something, and care enough to come alongside people and help them out... maybe we can take the desperation out of people. Maybe if we take away that desperation, crime will drop. Maybe if people felt comfortable coming forward for help with something they are struggling with, their struggle would not fester and grow until it blows up and hurts others. Sexual abuse is a crime that can be prevented. The first step is eliminating the language that enables the stigma, myths, and dehumanization that hamper prevention efforts. Will you take that first step towards preventing sexual crimes? Will you use proper terminology to refer to perpetrators of these crimes, as perpetrators, not as what their crime was? Or is that step too big?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated to ensure a safe environment to discuss the issues and difficult content in this blog.