- 1 Introduction
- 2 Pedophiles
- 3 Damage Caused by Child Sexual Abuse
- 4 Breaking the Silence
- 5 Why Do Adults Molest Children?
- 6 Triggers
- 7 The Cycle of Sexual Offence
- 8 Recidivism
- 9 Treatment
- 10 Extent of Crime
- 11 Considering Disclosure
- 12 A Discussion of Incest
- 13 Preventing Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse occurs when an older child, adolescent or adult engages in sexual activity with a younger child or youth; sexual activity includes a variety of sexual contact ranging from sexual touching to sexual intercourse. It is a criminal offence in Canada under section 150.1 to engage in sexual activity with a child under the age of sixteen, regardless of the child’s perceived or actual consent. Youths cannot legally consent to sexual activity with an individual in a position of authority, trust, or whom they are in a relationship of dependency with. Child sexual abuse is an abuse of power and trust and has life-long damaging effects on the victim.
Incest, or sexual contact with a family member, is always illegal regardless of age under section 155 of the Criminal Code of Canada. A person may be charged with sexual assault under section 271 if they engage in any sexual activity with a child. This may include grabbing, holding, and forced kissing. If a person touches a child directly or indirectly “for a sexual purpose” they can be charged and convicted of Sexual Interference under section 151. If a person asks a child to touch them directly or indirectly “for a sexual purpose” they can be charged and convicted with Invitation to Sexual Touching under section 152. It was only in the 1970’s that child sexual abuse was added to the child abuse category. Child sexual abuse was defined much later because of the social denial of this crime and its occurrence. This paper will focus primarily on protecting children from child sexual abuse and particularly explore the crime of incest.
In 1886, German psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing coined the term “pedophile,” from the Greek pias, meaning “child,” and philia, meaning “love” or “friendship”. He was also one of the first professionals to separate the desire for children from the behaviour of child sexual abuse. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, pedophilia is a paraphilia in which an individual has intense and recurring sexual urges towards prepubescent children; these feelings are either acted on or cause significant distress and interpersonal difficulty.
Klaus M. Beier leads the research and treatment project at the Institute of Sexual Science and Sexual Medicine at Charite Hospital, Berlin. This treatment program accepts male clients who are sexually attracted to children. The goal of the treatment program is to prevent these men from acting on their attraction to minors. Beier argues that, “there are basically two groups [of pedophiles]: those oriented exclusively toward children and those oriented toward both adults and children.” Thus, there are two main categories of pedophiles; the first category consists of Preferential Pedophiles, who like children of a certain age group and tend not to stray from that. The second category consists of Situational Pedophiles, who are often incapable of forming relationships with an equal (adult), sometimes because of a mental disability. The Situational Pedophile may turn to children after experiencing humiliation or frustration in an adult relationship. However, they do not on only victimize children in this way and will also prey upon those who are defenceless such as the elderly, sick, or mentally impaired.
A large percentage of individuals who suffer from pedophilia were sexually abused as children. However, the vast majority of adults who were abused as children do not develop pedophilia or pedophilic behaviours. Pedophiles tend to be drawn toward children of a certain age and typically do not deviate from their preferred age range; they also prefer one gender over another and do not typically deviate from that choice either. Pedophiles will make every possible effort to be around children; they will be patient and get to know their target, becoming their confidant and earning their trust. Pedophiles are very manipulative and use this to their advantage by controlling and confusing children.
It is widely recognized that there is variation in the degree of sexual interest among men who have been sexually involved with children. Most researchers have found that many convicted child molesters were primarily attracted to adult females. The research suggests that homosexual pedophiles are more likely to have primary sexual preference for children. Heterosexual pedophiles and incest offenders were found to have less primary sexual preference for children (Barbaree & Marshall, 1989; Marshall, Barbaree, & Christophe, 1986; Lang & Frenzel, 1989; Quinsey, 1986). Research has shown a correlation between pedophilia and certain psychological characteristics, such as low self-esteem and poor social skills. Cohen et al. (2002) found that pedophiles have impaired interpersonal functioning and elevated passive-aggressiveness, as well as an impaired self-concept. Other research has found that there are risk factors for acting on pedophilic urges when an individual has comorbid disorders, such as a personality disorder or substance abuse; however, these illnesses do not cause pedophilia themselves (Blanchard, Cantor, and Robichaud, 2006).
Damage Caused by Child Sexual Abuse
One of the most important aspects of child sexual abuse that must be understood by the perpetrator, courts, police, and policy makers is the damaging effects on the victim. The possible long-term consequences of child sexual and physical abuse have been well documented (e.g. Beitchman et al., 1992; Browne & Finkelhor, 1986; Malinosky-Rummell & Hansen, 1993). Younger children may not display signs of being harmed by sexual abuse because often the perpetrator is a person they know and trust; the child may seem unaffected by the perpetrators actions and may not show signs of resistance. However, this does not mean that the child has not been harmed by the sexual abuse. The lack of resistance children sometimes show also contributes to their feelings of guilt and their fear of disclosing because they do not want others to assume they “invited” the incident. Disclosure of sexual abuse varies. Some children disclose their abuse immediately, while some are unable to due to their feelings of fear, shame, guilt and confusion.
The effects of child sexual abuse are different for everyone. Not only do experiences vary from person to person, but the way those experiences are internalized can vary widely. Victims of sexual abuse experience a variety of negative health and emotional consequences that may appear either immediately after the incident or later on in life. Research has shown that these negative consequences most often include anxiety, refusal to eat, nightmares, anger, fear of adults and authority figures, chronic stress, posttraumatic stress disorder, drug abuse, inappropriate sexual and self-destructive behaviour, increased risk of victimization, delinquency, depression, suicide, and the inability to trust and have intimate relationships (e.g., Abdulrehman & DeLuca, 2001; Basta & Peterson, 1990; Briere, 1992; Douglas, 2000; Gomes-Schwartz et al., 1990: Green et al., 1999; Kolko & Moser, 1988; Lipman et al., 2001; Lipovsky et al., 1989; Mannarino et al., 1989; Messman-Moore et al., 2000; Pillay & Schoubben-Hesk, 2001; Romans et al., 2001; Schechter et al., 2000; Tremblay et al., 2000; Zweig et al., 1999). Many factors can influence a victim’s response to their abuse including being believed, the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, the duration of the abuse, personal support resources (emotional, financial), cultural factors, age and maturity of the victim, degree to which the victim feels responsible for the incident, life stressors, and time between the abuse and the beginning of therapy. It is important to be aware of these factors and work with them to create a positive and supportive healing environment for the victim.
Breaking the Silence
Psychologist Frederick Mathews’ research on child molesters, “Help for Adults Who Molest Children,” is written for individuals who sexually abuse children. The literature emphasizes that individuals who have molested a child must immediately receive help to decrease their chance of reoffending. Mathews stresses that child molesters are not likely to stop sexually victimizing children on their own, intervention is required. It is important that child molesters ask for help so that they can learn to understand why they commit these crimes, the sexual assault cycle and their triggers. There is not a quick fix to this problem, it requires a lifetime of work and treatment.
Why Do Adults Molest Children?
Many professionals believe that a person’s tendency to molest children may be caused by cultural and family factors or experiences the perpetrator has learned in childhood, while others believe that child sexual abuse increases the likelihood that the victim will engage in child molestation later in life. There seems to be a vicious cycle of this crime. Another school of professional thought suggests that repeated masturbation to fantasies of sexual contact with children eventually leads to real sexual contact with a child. Many other professionals suggest that adult child molesters are emotionally immature and attracted to children because they present a non-threatening sexual partner and make the adult feel safe. Another suggestion is that adults molest children for a sense of power and control over their life and that of the child. Other scholars believe that child molestation is an addiction, similar to addiction to alcohol and drugs.
Adults will often seek out more contact with a child after they have experienced a release of the tension and pressure they felt from their powerlessness and low self-esteem along with pleasure from sexual contact with a child. This is why child molesters require professional help, specifically in the form of counselling and treatment. Often child sexual abuse occurs when the adult is under the inhibiting influence of drugs and alcohol, which may reduce an adult’s ability to control their harmful behaviour. This inhibition allows them to act on their sexual thoughts and feelings, which then begins a cycle. Many perpetrators were sexually, physically, or emotionally neglected or abused as children and several studies have supported that pedophiles are more likely than offenders of other crimes to have been victims of violence and sexual abuse as children. In 2001, Researchers at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine and University College London reviewed the case notes of 225 male sex abusers and 522 other male patients being treated in a London clinic. The study found that the child abusers had been victims of sexual violence more often than the patients who had not committed sexual abuse. This finding suggests that there is a victim-to-perpetrator cycle in some men who commit sex crimes. Psychoanalytic theory proposes that a hostile childhood can create a need to replace feelings of “defeat” with those of “triumph.” For an individual to accomplish this emotional shift they may become a sexual aggressor as an adult.
David Finkelhor found that the abused or troubled pedophile seeks to establish a “genuine” relationship with a child instead of one of domination. These men are more likely to identify with the thought patterns and lives of children, a trait that has been tied to a lack of education and self-esteem. Finkelhor describes other issues pedophiles have, such as deep-seeded sexual anxiety that hinders the development of normal sexuality. They often have a general lack of inhibition and suffer from psychosis, poor impulse control, and alcoholism. Mathews emphasizes, however, that being abused as a child does not cause an individual to molest children; molesting children is a decision. The notion that everyone is responsible for their own behaviour is supported by Klaus M. Beier, who studies diagnosis and treatment of sexual preference and behaviour disorders. Beier suggests that an individual’s sexual preference is formed in adolescence and is thereafter unalterable. No one can be made responsible for their inclinations, only for their behaviour. Evidence that pedophiles have a tendency to be impulsive is supported by research, including that of a team led by psychologist Ronald Langevin of the University of Toronto. This study found differences in an area of the frontal lobes of male child molesters compared to those of men who do not molest children. The frontal lobe area of the brain is critical in the regulation of impulse control. This finding suggests that impulse control must be a main target of treatment for child sexual offenders.
Victims of child sexual assault suffer serious consequences. Many adult survivors of child sexual abuse develop addiction problems with alcohol and drugs. Some adult victims become interested in sexual behaviour that is harmful to themselves and others or completely lose interest in sex, while other adult victims develop physical illnesses and suffer life-long bouts of depression and mental illness. However, some adults who were abused as children go on to lead happy and productive lives. Protection of children from this harmful crime and its life-long negative effects must be a primary goal.
The majority of therapists and researchers believe that the tendency to sexually assault children begins with a predictable circumstance or pattern of behaviour called a “trigger”; adults who molest children may have one or more triggers. Children of a particular sex, age, or stage of development can be triggers for child molesters and certain situations can trigger a perpetrator’s pattern of molesting. For example, if the crime takes place under circumstances where the perpetrator knows they will have uninterrupted access to a child, this feeling of control with no interruptions may trigger the perpetrator to seek out (actively or subconsciously) areas that provide this same feeling in the future. Triggers are predictable patterns signalling when the perpetrator is most likely to offend. In order to prevent harm, it is important for the offender to identify their personal trigger (or triggers) and avoid them. There is consensus among all experts that the offender must seek treatment in order to understand their motives for molesting children (Hall & Hirschman, 1992; Ward, Hudson, & Johnston, 1997) and therefore understand their behaviour. Understanding is not enough of course, the behaviour must be prevented. The best method of prevention is for the offender to abstain from contact with children until treatment is initiated and a clinical risk assessment is made.
The Cycle of Sexual Offence
Mathews’ model of the sexual offence cycle outlines steps typically taken by an individual that commits child sexual assault. Mathews’ findings propose that molesting a child does not “just happen,” even though there are a number of excuses or rationalizations that make it possible for someone to molest a child. The first step in Mathews’ cycle is “fantasies about power and control, deviant sexual thoughts and feelings.” This is where the abuse pattern begins. This stage involves an offender who possesses overwhelming feelings of anger, powerlessness, despair or depression, or an offender who fantasizes about having sex with children. The abuser chooses to act on these feelings in a harmful manner instead of taking a responsible approach. Recognition at this first step and making a responsible decision can prevent harm to a child.
In the second step, “making the decision to offend,” an offender will decide to molest children. Most offenders deny that their actions caused the victim harm and will suggest that they did not mean to cause them harm. Some offenders excuse the abuse and claim it was accidental and that they got carried away playing with the victim. However, Mathews emphasizes that it is the perpetrator who decides not to stop their harmful actions. Some offenders blame addiction to drugs and alcohol for their behaviour. Even if this were true, the offender is still admitting that they have behaviour problems that are in need of help. Despite rationalizations and excuses, the offender still made the decision to offend.
The third step is “overcoming personal obstacles,” in which a person who decides to molest children crosses the boundaries of privacy and respect for the child. The offender also breaks social taboos society has against sexual interaction between adults and children. In order to cross these boundaries, the offender develops rationalization and excuses to get past the feelings of guilt most adults would have about harming a child. The offenders may convince themselves that the actions they are planning will not harm the child. The adult offender also neglects responsibility for the care and safety of children.
The fourth step in the cycle is “planning the offence”. At this stage, the offender finds a victim and plans how to get them alone so that they can commit the offence. It takes a lot of effort, thought, and planning to do this. Some child molesters even “groom” their victims over a long period of time. The offender acts as the child’s “friend,” by giving them lots of attention and buying them gifts. Children do not typically see through these gestures until they are asked to do something that is distressing to them. Even if the child realizes the abnormality of the perpetrator’s actions, they may be too afraid and confused to protest. A child may also fear losing all the attention they are receiving. Not all child molesters use “grooming” techniques, others force sexual activity on a child quickly. In either case, there is careful planning.
The fifth step is “committing the offence.” After the perpetrator has committed the offence, they may experience a brief period where their arousal or stress is reduced. These feelings usually last only for a short period. Most adult offenders begin to feel guilty and ashamed of their actions.
The sixth step is involves “denial and minimization.” These natural reactions the offender has towards their crime slow down and prevent the rehabilitation process. Another technique the perpetrator uses to deny or minimize their behaviour is through “thinking errors.” Thinking errors are similar to rationalizations and excuses and make it possible for them to molest children; they are thoughts that help the offender ignore the child’s feelings and convince themselves that the child is partially to blame because they did not protest. The child victim is, in this way, blamed for their own abuse.
The seventh step involves “feelings of shame and guilt.” The offender may experience negative feelings toward their actions and this may cause them to become depressed. Mathews found that adults who molest children are most likely to have fantasies about children when they are harbouring feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression.
The last step of Mathews’ cycle of abuse model is “false promises.” Typically offenders make the false promise to themselves that they will never sexually abuse a child again. These false promises only help the offender deal with their feelings at that particular moment, they do not help them to realize what causes them to molest children. It is important to emphasize that adults who molest children will not and do not stop offending simply because they feel bad. As soon as the offender is placed in another stressful situation or comes into contact with one of their triggers, they are very likely to commit another offence.
A study conducted by Carolyn Copps Harley supports Mathews’ findings. Harley found that all of the offenders interviewed described their motives for sexually abusing children as self-serving. These study participants were incestuous child molesters, assumed the role of a parental figure to their victims, and were able to set aside their parental duties in order to pursue their own gratification.
Recidivism refers to re-offence by individuals released from prison or treatment. It is also defined as the percentage of former inmates who are arrested again. Harley’s findings suggest that there is an early onset of paraphilic fantasy or behaviour, usually beginning in adolescence, although this varies (Abel, Osborn, & Twigg, 1993; Marshall, Barbaree, & Eccles, 1991). This suggests that a proportion of child molesters engage in acts of sexual violence against children almost two decades before an authority agency detects the abusive behaviour.
A study comparing the rates of recidivism among convicted child molesters who offend against biological children, stepchildren, and relationships where the child is an extended family member, acquaintances, and strangers found different risk levels for each category. The study found that men who sexually assaulted one or more non-related children under the age of 16 were charged with a new sexual offence at a higher rate (16.2%) than men who sexually assaulted their stepchildren (5.1%) or their biological children (4.8%). This study highlights the possible risk of re-offending and finds that the category of “stranger” has the highest risk of re-offending. However, the study acknowledges that the true recidivism rate is difficult to measure for many reasons including plea bargaining and under-reporting of abuse by a child or care-giver.
Assessing the degree to which an incest pedophile should have access to their recovering older victim, or their non-abused biological children from the same family as the victim, is a difficult issue for child protective agencies, judges, and parole officers. Harley argues that categories assist risk managers to identify high or low rates of recidivism risk for child molesters. This information assists mental health professionals in making treatment decisions. Harley’s findings do not imply that offenders in a low risk category should be entitled to unconditional access to or custody of children.
According to Mathews, one approach to treatment consists of a set of steps that should be worked through with a therapist who is specially trained to aid individuals who sexually offend against children. The first step is for the offender to identify their “triggers.” In the second step, the offender identifies their personal sexual assault cycle. In the third step, the offender learns new patterns of behaviour and makes a commitment to a non-offending lifestyle. The fourth step involves maintaining these new patterns of behaviour. The last step is exiting the group treatment and returning to the community where offender can apply the skills learned in group to everyday life.
Another approach to treatment is proposed by Peer Brinken and Andreas Hill, both physicians at the Institute for Sexual Research and Forensic Psychiatry at the Hamburg-Eppendorf University Clinic in Germany, as well as Wolfgang Berner, a sex researcher, psychoanalyst, and director of the Institute. These professionals found that treatment for pedophilia should involves both medication and talk therapy. Treatment usually involves intense psychotherapy to work on deep-rooted issues concerning sexuality, feelings of self, and often childhood abuse in conjunction with medical treatments such as “chemical castration,” a hormone medication that reduces testosterone and sexual urges.
Sex offender treatment can consist of three approaches, cognitive-behavioural, psycho-educational, and pharmacological. The cognitive-behavioural approach emphasizes changing patterns of thinking related to sexual offending and changing deviant patterns of arousal. The psycho-educational approach stresses increasing the offender’s concern for the victim and recognition of their responsibility for the offense. Finally, the pharmacological approach is based upon the use of medication to reduce sexual arousal. These approaches are not mutually exclusive and treatment programs are increasingly utilizing a combination of these techniques.
A 2006 review in the British Medical Journal conducted by criminologist Charlotte Bilby of the University of Leicester and psychologist Belinda Brooks-Gordon of the University of London found that sex offenders who complete a psychological treatment program successfully are less likely to commit another offence and, if they do re-offend, the crime is typically not sexual in nature. However, it is important to note that not all pedophiles respond to psychotherapy. Prescribed medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help further subvert pedophilia. These drugs are typically used to treat compulsive disorders, depression, and anxiety, but can sometimes help pedophiles to control their sexual urges. Reports in 2003 demonstrated that these medications significantly decrease sexual desire, fantasy, and compulsive masturbation disorders. However, these drugs have not been yet shown to work against pedophilia in a clinical trial that compares them with a placebo. There are other medications such as leuprolide acetate that can dramatically decrease testosterone production, reducing it to castration levels. These medications make patients with deviant sexual tendencies less likely to act on their impulses. Some case studies have shown that these drugs encourage patients to talk openly about their compulsive sexual fantasies and behaviours.
Unfortunately, successful treatment has been shown to create complications. For example, treatment for male child sex offenders that directs them to gain control over their deviant sexual behaviour may force them to let go of a distortion that formerly raised their self-esteem. As a result of that self-esteem being lowered, patients face a major personal crisis. It is suggested that at this point a psychotherapist should try to help the pedophile find a suitable replacement for the emotional stability he had received from his pedophilic tendency. The majority of pedophiles struggle to restrain their harmful behaviour for the rest of their lives.
Overall, the effectiveness of treatment in reducing recidivism is controversial. A 1989 review on the treatment of sexual offenders conducted by Furby, Weinrott and Blackshaw concluded that, “there is no evidence that treatment effectively reduces sex offence recidivism.” Conversely, an expert testified at the Daubeney Committee in 1988 that there was sufficient research evidence to conclude that treatment programs are available, “that will guarantee a remarkable reduction in recidivism.” It is difficult to report solid success rates for the treatment of pedophiles and a cautious approach must be taken to ensure the protection of the child. Although it has been shown that treatment does not eliminate sexual crime, research supports that treatment can decrease sex offense and protect potential victims; however, there are serious limitations to the knowledge we have regarding this issue.
Most of the current research on treatment has focused on two main things: changes that occur during therapy and the recidivism rates of various samples of sexual offenders. Many studies have found improvement within therapy on a variety of measures including sexual attitudes, self-esteem, and social adjustment (Davis & Hoffman, 1990; Gordon, Bergin, Looman & Templeman, 1989; Lang, Lloyd & Fiqia, 1985; Marques, Day, Nelson & Miner, 1989; Smith, Fransworth, Heaton & Merkel, 1991). However, the observed within-therapy changes to sexual attitudes could not be empirically linked to any recidivism information.
Many researchers have found that one of the most consistent predictors of recidivism is an individual’s history of prior sexual convictions (Christiansen, Elers-Nielsen, Le Maire Marshall & Barbaree, 1988; Mohr, Turner & Jerry, 1964; Rice et al., 1991; Romero & Williams, 1983; Tracy, Donnelly, Morgenbesser & Macdonald, 1983). The average re-conviction rate for a sexual or violent crime was about 10 per cent for offenders that did not have a record of prior sexual convictions. For those with a history of prior sexual offenses, the average re-conviction rate was much higher at 20-40 per cent. Other risk factors were the number of prior nonsexual offenses (Abel, Mittelman, Becker, Rathner & Rouleau, 1988; Christiansen et al., 1965; Hall, 1988; Rice et al., 1991; Romero & Williams, 1983; Sturgeon & Taylor, 1980) as well as the existence or lack of past marriages (Abel et al., 1988; Broadhurst & Maller, 1991; Fitch, 1976; Rice et al., 1991). Offenders whose victims were within their family appear to pose a lower risk for re-conviction than do offenders who selected extra-familial victims (Frisbie, 1969; Tracy et al., 1983).
A longitudinal study by Karl Hanson, Richard Steffy, and Rene Gauthier examined male child sex offenders from a Provincial correctional institution in Southern Ontario. The subjects had received sentences between 3 and 24 months. Child molesters were found to be at a high risk to re-offend for many years after their release; this finding is also supported by previous research (Soothill & Gibbens). In Hanson et al., it was found that, while the first five to ten years is the greatest risk period, child molesters appear to still be at a significant risk of re-offending for the rest of their lives. Within this study’s sample, 50 per cent were eventually re-convicted, with 23 per cent of the recidivists being convicted more than 10 years after they were released.
The Hanson study highlights the need for long-term supervision to evaluate treatment outcomes for child molesters. Although treatment was associated with clinically significant improvements, only the short-term results of the treatment program were found to be promising (Steffy & Gauthier). The long-term follow up on these offenders demonstrated no significant differences between the treated child molesters and the untreated comparison groups. This study acknowledges that using re-conviction rates as the criteria to measure recidivism possibly underestimates the rate of re-offending; it is largely recognized that only a small proportion of sexual offences against children result in a conviction (e.g., Abel et al., 1987). Consequently, the proportion of child molesters that re-offended in this study is expected to be larger than the reported 50 per cent.
Extent of Crime
Although there is not a universally accepted or definitive rate of child sexual abuse in Canada, victimization surveys have found that sexual abuse offences are more likely not to be reported. The rate of disclosure of abuse during childhood is estimated at 30 per cent. Children often wait until they are adults to reveal their sexual victimization, especially if the abuser is a family member. In 2005, Statistics Canada reported that6 out of 10 sexual assaults are committed against youths aged 17 and under. Children in this age group represent only 22 per cent of the population. This report also found that youths were more likely to be victimized by a family member. Strangers were only reported in 5 per cent of the cases and the majority of these reports involved the victimization of teenagers. This report also found that the increase in number of sexual assaults in private homes declined, yet the crime increased outside the home. According to police statistics, approximately 1 in 10 sexual crimes against children aged 11 to 13 occurred in school. A review of 10 studies on child sexual abuse found that the proportion of offenders who were family members ranged from 10 per cent to 50 per cent (Bagley & King). Findings displaying lower rates of child sexual abuse are largely attributed to under-reporting.
There are many issues that make it difficult to attain a true number, or even a solid estimate, of children who are victims of sexual abuse. The first problem is agreeing on a consistent definition of abuse. Second, many cases are never reported to officials. Finally, when cases are reported, they are for abuse that happened over different time periods; therefore, some statistics represent how many children were abused in a year, specifically in childhood, or in a lifetime. The problem with this is that when adults come forward and disclose their history of abuse, it reflects the rate of abuse from the past, not necessarily the current rate of abuse.
Children that have been sexually abused may not report for fear of parental rejection, not being believed or receiving punishment. Also, they are fearful that their abuser may harm them. If the abuser is close to the family, the child may worry about getting them into trouble; often, children believe that the sexual abuse was their own fault and may not disclose for fear of being in trouble themselves. Depending on their age and maturity, the child may not have the language skills necessary to communicate what has happened or the capacity to understand the severity of the situation, especially if the sexual abuse has been made into a game by the perpetrator. Disclosure can be caused suddenly by triggers that may include another victim coming forward, experiencing an unmanageable amount of stress, or being asked directly about abuse. The abuser may have spent a lot of time grooming the child and displaying affection; this often prevents the child from disclosing the abuse.
A Discussion of Incest
According to the Canadian Criminal Code, section 155(1), incest is defined as, “Every one commits incest who, knowing that another person is by blood relationship his or her parent, child, brother, sister, grandparent or grandchild, as the case may be, has sexual intercourse with that person.” Incest is not, however, only limited to blood relations as the majority of the literature on the crime of incest involves step-parents that offend against their step-children. These individuals fulfill a parental role and are therefore considered incestuous if they sexually abuse a child in their care. One study found that victims of familial child sexual abuse are often younger when first victimized by a family member, as opposed to a victim assaulted by a non family member. Victims of incest were approximately 3 years younger (6.98 years) than victims abused by offenders outside of the family (9.88 years). This finding is supported by other published literature (De Jong, Harvada, & Emmett, 1983; Goddard, 1988; Mian, Wehrspann, Klajner-Diamond, Le Baron, & Winder, 1986). Other studies find that incest involves more serious sexual behaviours than child sexual abuse committed by a non-family member (Erickson et al., 1988; Mian et al.,; Russel, 1983).
Society would largely agree that incest is a harmful crime and the protection of the victim, as well as other possible victims, is necessary. There is an abundance of evidence in the current literature demonstrating that incest perpetrators usually offend against more than one victim; therefore, it is important for Canadian courts to protect an incest victim’s siblings. Robin Wilson, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, found that other siblings are most probably at risk of becoming victims of incest if one of the children has been a victim. The courts often argue that no one can predict what will happen and that, as a result, there is no duty to protect children from becoming potential victims. Greater emphasis must be placed on perceiving incest as more than discrete incidents. Instead, incest should be viewed as a larger pattern characteristic to the individual.
Wilson argues that a when a single case of incest is disclosed, a presumption that the other children are in danger should be made. Wilson proposes that the incestuous parent should be given the opportunity to disprove this presumption but measures of protection for the children must be taken. Numerous studies provide anecdotal evidence from incest victims living in the same household (Bagley & King, 1990; Brady, 1979); this research found that fathers who commit the crime of incest with one child are a danger to most, although not all, of the other children under their care. Incest survivors report that the offender frequently offended against other family members (Bagley & King, 1990; Bolen, 2001; Finkelhor, 1979; Herman & Hrschman, 1981; Meiselman, 1978; National Research Council, 1993).
A more recent review of incest literature found that “a large number of studies now indicate that many fathers do not restrict their offending behaviour to only a single child” (Bolen, 2001). One study conducted by Russell found that half of the incest victims abused by an incestuous step-father reported that at least one other family member was also victimized. In addition, self reports of incest victims found there were multiple victimizations. In one study, roughly four-fifths of biological fathers and two-thirds of father-substitutes sexually abused more than one child in the home (Faller, 1990). It is conceivable that these studies under-estimate the number of multiple victims. In one study examining 102 cases of incest, Phelan found that biological fathers molested more of the available daughters (82%) than did stepfathers (70%). The pattern of concurrent and successive victimization is widely recognized (Renvoize, 1978; Vander Mey & Neff, 1986).
Incest is a topic that is not discussed much in society many are unaware that both parents can be the perpetrators of incest. According to one article, mothers can be molesters but are hardly ever suspected because they are assumed to always be their children’s caregivers and protectors, not their abusers. Mothers can prey on their daughters but more frequently, their sons are the target of the abuse. This causes increased feelings of isolation, sexual confusion, and thoughts of suicide. Male survivors of female parent incest say that these crimes often go unnoticed, first because society cannot imagine woman as aggressors and second because boys feel incredible shame and guilt. Because the topic of incest is so taboo, few boys come forward and few professionals are trained to detect the signs of women abusers. Jennifer Wilson, program director of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), states that, “it’s easy for women to go unnoticed […] and at the legal stage, they get lighter sentences.” Dr. Carole Jenny, a paediatrician and directors of the Child Protection Program at Hasbrow Children’s Hospital, says that sexual abuse by mothers is very hard to diagnose as most of the time it is not witnessed.
Although the sexual abuse of children has been recognized as a serious problem, sibling incest has received relatively little attention as it is rarely reported. Siblings can be the perpetrators of incest as well, including foster or step-siblings. According to Dr. Vernon Wiehe, an author and professor of social work at the University of Kentucky, “as many as 53 out of every 100 children abuse a brother or sister, higher than the percentage of adults who abuse their children or their spouse. What some kids do to their brother or sister inside the family would be called assault outside the family.” Sibling sexual abuse occurs when a more powerful sibling, who may be older or stronger, bribes or threatens a weaker sibling into sexual activity. As with other forms of sexual abuse, sibling sexual abuse does not necessarily involve sexual touching; the abuser may: force two or more children to engage in sexual activity with one another, force the siblings to watch sexual activity or pornographic videos, or repeatedly watch them dress, shower, or use the toilet. Sibling perpetrators are often protected by their parents or other family members, thus the victim is not given the help they need in order to deal with the effects of the abuse. A 2006 study found that a large proportion of adults who experienced sibling incest abuse have distorted or disturbed beliefs about their own experience and the subject of sexual abuse in general. Sibling sexual abuse is more prevalent in families where one or both parents are often absent or emotionally unavailable; absence of the father in particular has been found to be a significant contributing factor in most cases of sexual abuse of female children by a brother. What we are lacking is public awareness; in order to help those affected, we must not sweep the subject under the rug.
Risk for Other Siblings
Research is important for determining probabilities about potential victims of incest. These studies conclude that father-daughter incest increases the likelihood that the abuser will victimize the other daughters but not the other sons. In contrast, father-son incest increases the likelihood that the perpetrator will victimize other girls and boys in the same home. However, limitations to these studies must be acknowledged and a cautious approach must be taken.
When an incest allegation is made, there must be a presumption of risk assumed by the criminal justice system in order to protect other potential victims. This cautionary assumption is warranted for many reasons previously discussed and supported by the current literature. The assumption of risk for a victim’s siblings attempts to protect them from danger. However, it can be very tricky to separate “under-inclusive” and “over-inclusive.” Under-inclusive is not labelling a predator as a risk and over-inclusive is labelling offenders a risk when they are actually not a threat to re-offend. Failing to identify the perpetrator as a threat is a risk of under-inclusiveness, which can result in another victim. Wilson’s proposal places the burden on the accused to disprove the presumption of risk (that the perpetrator will re-offend); this burden is deemed appropriate and does not outweigh the harm caused by incest. Researchers stress that “recidivism rates of sex offenders are gross under-representations of the real number of offences committed, no matter what criteria are used” (Firestone et al., 1999).
Preventing and Inhibiting Incest
Overall, there are mixed findings on child sexual abusers and their rates of recidivism and success in treatment. It is important when dealing with cases of child sexual abuse to always take the cautious approach. It is better to protect the safety and well-being of the child from an offender who has the potential to cause harm. The literature demonstrates that child sexual abuse may predispose the victim to become a perpetrator later in life, thus the crime is a vicious cycle that needs to be prevented in order to end abuse. The lack of consensus in the findings on recidivism rates for child sexual offenders encourages precaution to protect innocent children.
Preventing Child Sexual Abuse
There are three main prevention strategies: primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary prevention includes educational programs directed at the general population; this attempts to stop sexual abuse before it occurs and raise awareness among the general public, service providers, and decision-makers about the scope of child sexual abuse. Secondary prevention is concerned with the immediate prevention of child abuse by targeting individuals and groups who exhibit early signs of perpetrating sexually abusive behaviours; this stage attempts to change behaviours or increase the coping skills of the target population. Tertiary prevention encourages intervention to prevent cycles of abuse for both the victim and the offender; this stage focuses on and helps families in which sexual abuse has already occurred and seeks to reduce the negative consequences involved. It also emphasizes the importance of an appropriate and serious response to any disclosure of child sexual abuse.
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