Research has shown that most perpetrators of child sexual abuse were not sexually abused in childhood. Since most perpetrators were not sexually abused, being sexually abused is not by itself a risk to become a perpetrator.
Risks for Becoming a Perpetrator
One of the most consistent negative factors in the lives of adult perpetrators are histories of physical and psychological abuse that, combined with other risks, are associated with being sexual abusers of children.
These other risks are emotional inexpressiveness, social isolation, sexualized family and peer cultures, a sense of entitlement to take what one wants regardless of consequences, and lack of empathy for others.
No one risk leads to the perpetration of child sexual abuse. Rather, each perpetrator has a combination of risks and few protective factors that help them to avoid being sexual abusers of children. A combination of risks and relatively few resources are linked to the perpetration of child sexual abuse.
Some Risks are Hidden
Perpetrators of child sexual abuse want to abuse children sexually, and they take active pleasure in this perpetration. A few may give the appearance of having protective factors in place, but because they desire and actively seek sexual contact with children, they are out of touch with the meanings of their behaviors for the children, themselves, and their families and friends. At their core, they are as alienated from their deepest values and emotions as perpetrators who have more obvious signs of risks.
Mike’s Life Story
Mike’s life story is an example of a man who was not sexually, physically, or psychologically abused and neglected in childhood and who described a happy childhood. Despite this, he sexually abused his stepdaughter for several years, beginning when she was three. He also raped his wife many times.
The youngest child of five children and the only son of a working class, two-parent family, Mike was smart, handsome, and personable. His older sisters and his parents doted on him.
As a child, he went to church every week with his parents, and he liked going. His friends were other children from the church and from his neighborhood. His parents did not drink alcohol, and they socialized with other families. They were married for thirty-seven years until Mike father’s died at age seventy-five.
Mike spent a lot of time with his father who taught him how to repair cars, how to build houses, and how to care for the house and yard which Mike said was “immaculate.” Mike appeared to respect his father. He said
“I learned a lot of stuff from him. A lot of it I didn’t use later on. He gave me a good example, but I chose not to follow it.”
Mike described his father as always busy, always doing something for work or around the house and yard. “The only time he wasn’t working, he was sleeping,” he said.
Painful ToThink About His Father
Mike did not like to talk about his father who died when Mike was in his early twenties. He regretted that he had not gotten to know his father better. He said, “I still have a lot of pain about talking about him.”
Mike’s mother was a homemaker who occasionally worked part-time. She was an excellent cook and an organized homemaker. She and her husband were married for thirty-seven years. She never remarried and bought her own home in a neighborhood close to Mike and his family and to two daughters and their families.
Mike said that he felt like he was an only child because his sisters all were married and out of the home by the time he was in his early teens. A sister six years older than him was like his second mother. She would take care of him when his mother was working.
Troubled Teenage Years
Things changed for Mike when he was an early teen. He got into drugs and alcohol, no longer wanted to go to church, and began to disobey his parents. He dropped out of school and worked at low-paying jobs. In one job, he became angry at the boss and vandalized the workplace as revenge.
He said he abused his stepdaughter because he liked doing it. His description of the abuse illustrates many of the points made earlier about what perpetrators say about child sexual abuse. This is what Mike said in his own words.
“I don’t think about why I did it too much. There’s lot of different reasons why I did it. Number one was because I liked it. I liked the control and what I felt was intimacy or whatever. Her and I didn’t have anybody else.
The Challenges of Being Alone with the Child
“It was like a challenge, too, to get her alone. That part was almost more exciting than actually having sex with her, setting everything up just to get her alone. It took a lot of my time and a lot of my energy to do that, a lot of preoccupation, a lot of planning involved in it.
“I had to think what time her mother gets home for sure. She worked part-time. So she got off different times. Knowing if I had to pick her up or if she is getting a ride some. So she may come walking in.
“Keeping June scared, more or less. What’s going to happen to her if she tells. A lot of awareness of where the kids are. I always knew where they were at. I used a lot of verbal threats. Mom would leave or something.
“At the beginning I guess I used to think that it was good to do this. She was younger. She believed me then. When she started to resist, it turned into threats and manipulation with money. Or “You’re grounded,” or “You’re not going to get anything.” “You can’t go there. You can’t go here, if you don’t do this for me.” That nobody would want her, stuff like that. I used a lot of shaming.
Abusive and Coercive
“So it went from caring, what I felt was caring, down to more stronger forcing, towards the last three or four years, actually. June was convenient. She was always there.
“There’s no stopping once, I started. There was no turning back after that. I just figured that I enjoyed it and why stop. Why tell anybody because I’d get thrown in prison then.
“The actual sex – I liked that. Then the control, being in control of her life completely was a thrill for me. I thought about it more than I thought about my wife. She occupied a lot of my time.
Insensitive to Others
“I don’t think of people’s feelings. I still have a hard time with that. I’m pretty insensitive about other people. I’m really self-centered. It’s just selfish, sexual gratification and that’s all. That’s about all there is to it.
“She was a pretty girl-no question. I mean, other people say that, too. I looked at her at her other than just an object-also as a pretty girl. Then it would run in my head that she’s not just a girl. She’s mine and always will be. It would run in my head that she always will be mine.
“I eventually think I would have run off with her. I thought about that. I would someday.
“That’s where a lot of pornography and stuff comes in with people like child molesting and stuff, that they control it controls their life so much that they finally get involved with child pornography and stuff like that, where they can manipulate the kids into doing things to make money for them. I think that was the road I was traveling.
“We’d talk about sex abuse all the time at work, stories on TV and all that stuff. We talked about that. Here I was doing the same thing. Anyway, I took a real hard line on it with him, that they weren’t fit to be alive, stuff like that. I was doing the same thing. ”
Mike’s mother and sisters stayed in close touch with him while he was in prison. All but one sister visited him regularly, at least twice a month, with phone calls and letters in between. One sister thought his sexual abuse of his stepdaughter had crossed a line, and she did not want to see him because of it.
He had no contact at all with June, the child he sexually abused. June’s mother divorced Mike and the judge ordered no-contact with this family.
This is an excerpt from the book Shame, Blame, and Child Sexual Abuse available from http://www.stores.lulu.com/jgilgun as a hard copy and from http://www.scribd.com/professorjane and Amazon Kindle as downloads.
About the Author
Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW, is professor, School of Social Work, University of Minneosta, Twin Cities, USA