Child sexual abuse is an abuse of power, where older, stronger, and more knowledgeable persons take advantage of children for their own gratification. Perpetrators are focused on themselves and are unconcerned about the welfare of children.
In this article, I report on what perpetrators told me about what child sexual abuse means to them. I was very surprised and think it is important that other people know what they perpetrators say. Child sexual abuse is not what I thought it was. In fact, I had never really thought about what sexual abuse means to perpetrators. I had been concerned about effects on children.
For some perpetrators, child sexual abuse is an intense, highly erotic, highly gratifying sexual pleasure One man, in his early thirties and who had sexually abused his toddler sons and daughters, said about sexual contact with his two year-old daughter,
I remember that high, and, boy, I wanted it. I wanted it. The high
came after I ejaculated. That’s the high I was after. I didn’t get a
high out of fondling her or that.
Another man in his thirties who had sexually abused more than 200 children said about fellatio by a child
It would feel like being on top of the world. Up until now there’s
no greater feeling that I can experience than having somebody perform
oral sex on me. That is my ultimate feeling.
A father in his thirties confused sexual abuse with play. He said
To me it was like slipping right back into childhood. I didn’t
masturbate until later, when she wasn’t around.”
Some perpetrators believe that the children feel the intense sexual pleasure they do. Some even believe they are in a mutual love relationship. In these cases, it is as if perpetrators see themselves as age peers with the children. For them, generational differences disappear.
For instance, a stepfather described the sexual abuse of his stepson as “a pleasing relationship, trying to please each other on both sides.” They engaged in mutual masturbation, and the boy said, “I want to make you feel good, Dad.” The boy also asked the stepfather to do the kinds of sexual touching that the boy enjoyed.
The stepfather said “it was like a love affair” and “I was making love to my son.” The stepfather was crushed when his stepfather testified against him in court. This man was clueless about what child sexual abuse means to children.
Other statements that show perpetrators view child sexual abuse as mutual pleasure and mutual love. A father said what he and his daughter shared was “real, real special.” He abused her from the age of eight until age thirteen, when she told her mother. Many times she told her father she did not want to do it, but he would pick her up and carry her to his bed. His wife worked nights and he was in charge of the care of their daughter.
Another father viewed his relationship with his thirteen year-old daughter as that of a girlfriend and boyfriend, and stated, “It was almost like I was falling in love with her.” He dressed her up in makeup and women’s clothes and took her to dinner as if they were dating. He proudly told me he had given her a vibrator so she could take care of herself in case any boys at school had ideas about her.
A teenager who abused his sister said, “It wasn’t really abuse. I didn’t look at it as that way because it was both ways. It was like neither of us felt secure or, important, I guess, except to each other. I remember saying, Boy, if we weren’t brother and sister I’d marry you.’
A youth minister, who was a 30 year-old woman, said it would be unethical not to engage in sex with a sixteen year-old girl who was a member of her youth group. What they had between them, she said, was God’s love.
A man who molested the same boy for several years said, “. I felt so much in love with him that I didn’t think that I was doing anything wrong, illegal or otherwise.” He blackmailed the boy into having a sexual relationship wit him. As the owner of a video game store, he caught the boy shoplifting. He told the boy he would not turn him into the police if he engaged in sex with him.
Finally, some get very angry when they hear about other instances of child sexual abuse. One man said, “I used to sit there and watch tv or I’d read something in the paper. I’d say, Look at this son of a bitch. He ought to get twenty years,’ but I was doing the same thing. Mine wasn’t that way. See, mine was love. There’s a difference, you know.”
There are exceptions to perpetrators’ views of child sexual abuse as love. Some distance themselves from the children and depersonalize them. One man said first professed his love for his stepdaughter, but love evaporated when he abused her. Instead, he depersonalized her.
When it was going on, she certainly wasn’t a stepdaughter. I didn’t
have that at all. It was, oh, let me see, a thing. I could never
look at her while she was doing it, not at her face. I could look at her
breasts because when I was looking at those, that’s something that turns
me on. I can remember some times when she was masturbating me. Somehow
I’d make eye contact with her, and I’d lose my erection.
Other men were looking for a quick sexual thrill, as for example, a man who molested thousands of children in a twenty-five mile radius from his home beginning at about age eight and continuing until he was caught in his mid-fifties. He did not know the children and sought them in neighborhoods where no one knew him.
Now that I know what sexual abuse means to perpetrators, I have even more reason to believe that it is sad that child survivors feel stigmatized and ashamed of being sexually abused. They believe sexual abuse is their fault and somehow they are responsible. This is unfair. Only perpetrators are responsible for acts of sexual abuse.