This paper addresses two issues relative to the seduction and sexual abuse of children. First, the power of seduction (whether intentional or unintentional), and any child’s natural inability to ‘read’ sexual messages or nuances which have connection to an adult’s genital sexual feelings. Secondly, a comment on the severe bias (and rigidly pre-defined parameters) against adults who abuse children. Unfortunately, the stringency of mandatory reporting laws makes even confidential exploration of areas of sexual confusion pertaining to children, virtually impossible. This paper advocates a process of peer counseling which unfortunately cannot easily be implemented in many cultures at this time.
There are many forms of seduction in this world. Individuals are ‘seduced’ into religious or political beliefs; consumers are seduced by advertising and peer pressure; and sexual seduction is assumed basic to the human sexual dance on all levels. But there is one kind of seduction which must be the worst of all: the sexual seduction of a child by an adult.
Here are a few of the ways in which adult-child seduction is unlike any other kind of persuasion, and some of the reasons why it is difficult for victims and perpetrators to be helped when this situation occurs.
• First, there is the Child. In every way, children are un-equipped to deal with the sexuality of an adult ‘intruder’ into their childhood world-of-experience.
• Children cannot possibly understand the powerful feelings and urgency that comes toward them when they become the focus of an adult’s lust.
• Their bodies and minds literally cannot process such an in-rush of unfamiliar experience.
• This experience often combines several wildly competing elements: physical discomfort (sometimes extreme pain); affection (which may otherwise be absent in the child’s life); verbal manipulations (begging, demanding, threatening, bargaining, etc., on the part of the adult); restraint (verbally and/or physically manipulated); excitement (physical and emotional); self-blame and immediate guilt – at a perception of ‘wrongness’ which they cannot understand; conflicts from wanting to give the adult abuser what s/he seems to want… and many other possibilities.
• Whatever the child experiences – both consciously and unconsciously – is likely to generate FEAR. This fear may be conscious, or immediately self-concealed by defensive processes which operate apart from a child’s conscious awareness.
• In the case of ongoing abuse, the child may perceive that s/he has no one to talk to. Even when the abused is an older child, peers cannot understand the issues involved unless they, too, have been the victims of abuse. And even when victims have each other as confidants, two people who do not understand what is happening cannot provide any sure pathway to resolution of trauma, only the partial solace of having someone else to cling to emotionally.
• So often the child ‘senses’ that what has happened is ‘wrong,’ and victims usually have to pass through feelings of self-blame and self-denigration before they can share their experience fully with their parents or other caring adults.
• Receptive and compassionate parents can offer love, but many times parents refuse to ‘believe’ their children’s reports. Also, very few parents are able to help the child process his/her abuse experience without loading their own reactions onto the child’s already overstretched experience. Any hint that the child’s issue is causing pain (or blame) in beloved parents is an enormous inhibiting force. And what parent can deal with such an event without profound discomfort – pain and rage being typical responses at deep, psychophysical levels.
• NO THERAPIST who specializes in this kind of work would approve of parents trying to deal with this multi-level and extremely complex issue without professional help. There are many potential risks to family relationships and any child’s later sexual health to make this feasible. There is also negativity which must be felt through on the child’s part, as his/her experience of abuse is freed from body and mind. This is often projected as blame (toward all adults, or toward parents/school/church who ‘let this happen to me’). Professional therapists are trained to help the victim separate these projections from wounded feelings. Parents cannot be expected to remain open and non-defensive in the face of such projections.
• Part of the manipulative rhetoric of the child sexual abuser often includes leveraging the child’s perception of his/her family (or other trusted adults) into some distorted image that suggests that other adults would approve (and may even be actively approving) of the pain and suffering that the child is going through.
• Shaming is a powerful defensive tool. When social mores prevent open discussion of intimate sexual experience (too often, of any kind), shame can be projected from all sides to blanket an issue – and by extension, personal experience – to ‘protect’ the squeamish from having to deal with it. Therapists need to be careful not to allow their personal reactions to such prissiness interfere with the job they need to do, of moving the entire family system toward resolution and healing.
• Lacking the capacity to understand adult, defensive games – such as shaming, denying, ‘smoothing over,’ etc. – a child is likely to interpret bizarre reactions from adults as implicitly ‘proving’ the warnings and suspicions planted by the abuser (or their own projective fantasies).
• In the cases of older child victims, a child can fear for the personal safety of the abuser (!) if her/his father were to discover what has been occurring. Even if the child sees the abuser as ‘wrong,’ s/he probably would not want him killed by an enraged father.
• The abusers of children are most often people who the child knows and trusts – persons known to their parents and often family relations. After (or during) experiences of abuse, children may see their parents relating warmly to their abuser and cannot deal with the internal cognitive dissonance that this creates. “If they only knew…!” easily gives way to: “Maybe they know and it is OK with them…?” Or, “If I tell my parents, they will be angry and blame me for saying bad things….” Many possibilities of generating hopeless confusion in the child exist. None of these possibilities can ‘make sense’ of their parents apparently liking and accepting the abuser even while sexual abuse – which, because of the psychological factors mentioned here, is always sexual violence – is occurring.
It would be possible to continue this list almost indefinitely: there are more ‘reasons’ why the sexual seduction and abuse of children is wrong than anyone can list – so many complex effects upon a child’s well-being (and even their sanity). What is critical to this process of understanding is that every one of the things on this list occur systemically – i.e., they often happen all at once and are all continuously interactive. As one of these elements rises in the child’s experience it affects every other charged link. As one subsides, others flare up.
One way of understanding this systemically is to conceive of the energy that is tied up with the abuse experience as being fairly constant: only the manifestations (physical, mental, emotional and relational) change. It is a multi-dimensional experiential crisis and all of the child’s emotional intelligence and problem-solving capacity will be trying to process this avalanche of conflicting feelings at once. Adults are well advised not to enter this cyclonic-reactive process unless they have the skills, patience and wisdom to deal with all of the implications of abuse to (and within) the child’s experience. And again, resolution of the layers of trauma needs professional skills (and the detachment that the professional relationship can maintain).
Since many cases of the sexual seduction and abuse of children (and seduction is abuse in itself) involve adults who genuinely believe that they are motivated by love for the child – and that the child loves them in ways that a young person could never really feel – this ‘special relationship’ can be found in a very high percentage of ongoing childhood sexual abuse involvements. It does not matter how often the abuser ‘checks out’ his/her fantasy of ‘specialness’ with her/his victim-lover: the fantasy of a child who has a very special ability to feel adult love and understand the complexities of sexual relationship is always solely the creation of the abuser. In the heat of an abuser’s passion (for it is often that), the abuser has a vested interest in reading in imagined meaning in the child’s every gesture or word – meaning which seems, to the abuser, to both justify and validate the relationship that s/he is imposing on the child.
DIFFICULTIES FOR ABUSERS IN OBTAINING HELP
Abusers – or men/women who, in good faith, become concerned that they might harbor such feelings for a child – have no easy path to get guidance from professionals! Mandatory reporting laws require therapists (as well as teachers, doctors, clergy, etc.) to report any case of even the suspected sexual abuse of children to the police. And while there are further judgements to be made regarding perceived risks to the child, etc., very few mandatory reporters believe themselves competent to make such decisions. If they cannot, are the police going to tend to fare any better? Thus, conscientious therapists will often guide their clients away from revealing such things in a way that would require reporting – at a direct cost, of course, to compassionate and efficacious therapeutic treatment!
Additionally, the treatment programs for offenders – whether ordered by the courts or voluntary – are heavily biased against the offender having a truly accepting environment in which to explore his concerns or discuss his behavior – except in language that constantly admits guilt and wrongdoing. Why is this a problem in therapy? Because underneath the terrible choices that lead to child abuse, the deeper emotional needs and creative life of the potential abuser are obviously already expressing in pathological ways. These real-person feelings need some forum for positive airing (at least) if they are to be reoriented toward healthier outlets and goals. There is no way in the context of an abuse program to celebrate an abuser’s ‘creativity’ or other love of life itself, and to carefully separate this from his/her abusive behavior. So nearly universal is this stance of requiring constant apology in programs, that only therapists who are able to understand the pro-life genesis of any sex-love expression will be able to ensure that this need is met in treatment of offenders. And regardless of the model orientation of the therapist, any perception that the professional is affirming the abuse is grounds for malpractice and deregistration in most areas.
While most of the seduction and sexual abuse of children is perpetrated by men, in recent decades, professionals in the area of child sexual abuse have begun to see a steady rise in the number of females who abuse children sexually. As well, it is believed that many instances of sexual abuse from women go unnoticed because of the naturally greater physical intimacy which exists (and is permitted) between women and children. Everything that has been directed toward men in the foregoing, of course applies equally to women who abuse – including the responsibility for women to make an informal space to help each other explore any inappropriate personal feelings toward children.
There is nothing positive to be said about the seduction and physical-sexual abuse of children. However, as with most crimes against persons, there are many more individuals who fantasize about such things without committing actual offenses than there are physical abusers. And among those who do commit sexual abuse, many believe that they are acting out of ‘love.’ There are two pieces of this complex issue that can genuinely benefit those abusers who may believe they are sharing ‘love’ with the children they violate – and would certainly help those who feel confused about their own feeling toward children, but still hold restraining moral responsibility that prevents acting on this impulse. Two very important facts that can not only provide some protection for children, but also aid parents in dealing with such romanticized connections between someone who is a friend of the family and their children.
TO INDIVIDUALS WHO FEEL CONCERN THAT THEY MAY BECOME (OR WANT TO BE) ABUSERS, WHO HAVE NOT YET COMMITTED ANY ACT OF ABUSE:
1) NO CHILD CAN UNDERSTAND AN ADULT’S SEXUAL EXPERIENCE.
No child really ‘falls in love’ with an adult who draws the child into a sexual relationship. There may be deep and mutual love, there may be trust and there may be pleasure in other things that the child shares with you. But the child simply cannot love in the way that adults do. So… men (and women)… if you believe that this kind of mature, mutual love is developing between you and any child: IT IS NOT! If you have any caring for the child, STOP! Stop all connection with the child and stop drawing her/him into intimacy. Because if you feel that urge, then everything that you do or say to the child will include an element of seduction. Every smile, every touch, every gift, every ant of praise or including the child in adult life. EVERYTHING! And no one can self-regulate in this environment. In pursuit of what it desires, the human mind calculates possible advantage in every nuance of shared experience – far beyond any individual’s ability to see ‘the all’ of self-in-desire.
No one who wants sexual contact with another human being will be unaware of the effects of his/her every gesture, word or shared words – nor will s/he be aware of everything that exerts seductive power. It is all seductive – and naturally and powerfully so. Any adult’s power over any child is absolutely enormous and is even greater when the adult is an accepted ‘friend’ (or relative) of the child’s family. Society is based upon every adult knowing this and serving as a consciously protective force that shelters every child. (And if all people sheltered every child, then we would not abuse anyone else’s child either).
If you are ‘unclear’ as to what you are feeling, GET HELP NOW! But you need to be aware of this caveat: Because of the extreme bias against offenders that exists in the therapeutic community plus the lack of freedom of professional therapists to help you deal with your issues without reporting you to the police, you may not be safe walking into a therapist’s office and saying you are ‘worried’ about possibly sharing inappropriate feelings with a child. To be clear, within an ongoing therapeutic relationship there may well be ‘room’ for such a concern to be voiced without triggering a knee-jerk response from the therapist to report suspicious behavior. But if an unfamiliar individual walks in off the street to speak to a therapist, s/he is entering a very dangerous area!
Given these realities, it would be good for our communities and families if men/women who are worried about their sexual feelings could talk to other men/women in a group environment, anonymously. In this area, our collective resource is lagging far behind our social need and our awakening to the extent of this issue. Let alone in the development of praxis: tools and techniques for furthering self-awareness without pigeon-holing and condemnation. People who are members of strong peer groups can often discover a first tier resource. In a trusted peer group, one’s concerns about ‘what I might want to do’ can often be tested within the safety of receptive and concerned peers who will listen.
The positive and lasting results of peer-counseling processes has never been fully assessed or trusted. Still, in all areas of society, it is peer groups who are known to exert regulating pressure on individual behaviors – in both positive and negative ways, of course. In co-counseling situations, where there may be a genuine need to seek professional involvement, peer groups which co-counsel each other have proven very sensitive to knowing when they are drawn out of their depth and must connect with outside expertise. The next step is to develop outside expertise which can be trusted and which is effective in such pre-abuse situations.
2) A SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP WITH A CHILD IMPOSES A LIFELONG SENTENCE OF SUFFERING UPON THAT CHILD.
IF YOU CARE about the child with whom you are becoming intimate (i.e., abusive) then you must realize this: There is no way that you can impose a sexual relationship upon any child that will not profoundly affect him/her throughout the child’s entire lifetime – and none of these possible effects are positive.
That is… if you destroy a child’s sexual innocence (by leading them into experience which they are unable to comprehend or integrate) then you are quite likely damaging that child’s ability to have successful intimate relationships for the rest of her/his life. This is not something any child can choose – because they do not know what is happening! They cannot understand the ‘heat’ of your sexual need nor whatever ways you seek to indulge it at their expense. And your pleasure only and always comes at the direct expense of the child.
This is the logic that underlies current socio-legal thinking that defines ‘inappropriate sexual conduct with a minor’ as RAPE. On the level of the child’s emotional reality: any sexual intrusion of adult needs and lusts is rape. Believe it!
And that is enough. If you keep these two points lasered into your mind if you ever imagine having a ‘special relationship’ with any child you really care for, you will keep her/him safe and you will protect yourself from waking up one day to the terrible realization of what you have done to an innocent child – and one you believed that you loved, at that!
The sexual seduction of a child is absolutely the worst kind of seduction of all. And no matter what you might feel as a man/woman – whether you are gentle, kind, endearing, generous, etc. – if you do this, you are harming the most vulnerable beings in our society.
It will be a great breakthrough in our human evolution when Man steps up to face his collective responsibility to keep all children safe from every man who, for whatever reasons, does not understand that the protective guardianship of all our children’s innocence is required of us all.
JAI DAEMION, M.Ed. (couns.), M.Sc. (inter-disciplinary).
©2014-2017 Syncresis. May be freely distributed for any non-commercial purpose, with appropriate credits and without edits. Quoting sections intact is welcome.