Why Men Rape: Part IIPosted: October 15, 2012
This has been a difficult post for me to write. I intended to have it written a couple days ago, but I find myself in repeated resistance. Every time I write a few lines, I invariably find a distraction. This is a subject of immense interest to me in my quest to understand why I was sexually abused by my father, but for the same reason I find it a bit hard to stomach. I hope this is helpful for others on the same quest or for those who are simply trying to understand the question of “Why?”
This post is meant to clarify the reasons why men sexually abuse children. It is a continuation of Part I which discusses drug-assisted rape. The title, “Why Men Rape,” is appropriate when discussing child sexual abuse because rape was part of my experience of being sexually abused as a child, and also because I find it hard to call the involvement of a child in adult sexual activity anything but nonconsensual. The short answer to “why” is… because offenders made the choice to offend, albeit with a compelling feeling to do so. I wish to explore the common pattern for how men come to make that choice.
My main source of information has been a book by Douglas W. Pryor, titled Unspeakable Acts: Why Men Sexually Abuse Children. Pryor conducted a pioneering study of thirty convicted sex offenders, and gathered data on the thoughts, experiences, and behaviours of these men. It is the first in-depth, qualitative, and narrative-based study of its kind.
As was already established in my post on rape culture, the characteristics of the average child molester are virtually indistinguishable from those of the average man. The way they walk, the way they talk, they way they seduce, the way they objectify and sexualize others. However, one factor appears to influence which men choose to sexually abuse children – and that is experiencing sexual abuse in their own childhood but not understanding it as such.
This can mean having fond memories of being sexually abused, and framing that abuse as affectionate and/or erotic rather than traumatic. Offenders who did experience the sexual abuse of their childhood as “unsettling and confusing,” were typically blamed by parents or other nonoffending adults and made to feel responsible for the abuse, or they were simply ignored and given the impression that it wasn’t that big a deal. In any case, the perpetrator was not understood to be an abuser per se, and the victim was given no feedback to suggest that there was anything wrong with what the perpetrator was doing to them, and that is was their fault it was happening.
The larger cultural context of silence and secrecy around taboo subjects like incest and sexual abuse also do nothing to curb the young victim’s blurred sense of acceptable boundaries, sexual respect, and personal physical space with others.
So with their own abuse framed as not having been abuse, these men went forth into the world, and often when they were around children who were the same age as they were when they were abused, they experienced some unexpected sexual feelings arising in them. This was generally precipitated by a cluster of negative life experiences, which occurred in mostly random combinations, although there were only six general themes that those interviewed experienced: feeling trapped, sexual problems and boredom, loss of male authority, engulfment in masturbation and porn, major emotional shocks, and feelings of sexual inadequacy.
The men chose to cope with these challenges by feeling unhappy and disconnecting emotionally, and yet they still strongly desired an outer change in their circumstances. It is my observation that these men feel powerless in their lives and have no sense of being able to change their circumstances, or failing that, to change their own state of being in order to experience their circumstances differently. Many appeared to feel as if they had no choice in the matter of offending and felt that their urges were simply “uncontrollable,” and thus found ways to justify their actions so that they could live with themselves.
The moment of shifting in adulthood from being a nonoffender to an offender was clearly demarcated in the memory of nearly all thirty of the convicted sex offenders. They could pinpoint the specific moment and circumstances in which they made their “shift.” The fact that this is remembered so clearly indeed shows that the men were aware that they were making a choice which would take them across a moral boundary, but they could not deny the strong sexual feelings that arose in them, often for a specific child victim.
And this is the critical point of no return: the transition into offending is completed precisely because these men are able to reframe their sexual feelings for a child as acceptable in order to justify their actions, no doubt a remnant from their warped understanding of their own sexual abuse history. As Pryor notes, “without this interpretive bridge, the crimes reported by the men here would not have occurred.”
After making the shift and choosing to offend, multiple methods of approaching and engaging their victim were tested and locked into if compliance resulted. During their career as an offender, the men often felt guilty about their behaviour, but numbed it with busyness, alcohol, TV, etc., and some even projected their guilt onto the victim, lecturing them about their immorality. In every case they found a way to justify their behaviour, often putting the responsibility on the victim to stop the abuse.
It’s like their whole childhood repeating itself! And situations that bring up their pain will persist until these men heal from the abuse inflicted on them in their own childhood. I view their poignant moment of crossing the moral boundary into being an offender as their psyche trying to show them they have a wound to heal. The issues they have from their own childhood abuse are still with them and are literally reflected perfectly in their own reactions to life’s circumstances. Some men even chose child victims who had specific features that reminded them of their own abusers, such as hair colour. It’s really all just a convoluted effort to heal something.
These men put responsibility on the victim to stop the abuse since they were made to feel responsible for their own abuse. Their feelings of powerlessness, perhaps from not being able to control the abuse in their childhoods, led them to feel unable to change their circumstances, to feel like a passive victim of circumstances. This is really important to get. We all have the power to change our state of being if we don’t like the circumstances we’re in, and thus change the way we feel about the circumstances. Sometimes we can simply just change the circumstances, but not always. Still we’re all ultimately capable and powerful. The only thing standing in the way is negative beliefs. These child molesters had no life experiences to illustrate that they had this power, nothing to show them that they could choose to change their belief that they are a passive victim.
Silence and secrecy are what keeps this twisted little circus rolling, and branding offenders as monsters doesn’t help. The depths of my own anger surrounding this issue make it difficult to say what I’m about to say, but it is indeed the true that these men deserve some compassion from society. It is not to excuse, but simply to understand. In fact, it is in the best interest of child victims that we feel some compassion since the ugly stigmatization with which child molesters are branded can leave an offender feeling even more trapped and unable to reach out for help, which only exacerbates the issue and leads to more offences. This Louis C.K. stand up bit has been called a tasteless joke, but he is indeed on to something with his idea that we take it down a notch when it comes to “kid having sex people” because at least then “you get the kid back.”
~ “Every situation properly perceived, becomes an opportunity to heal.” – A Course In Miracles