Saturday, October 21, 2006

How Abusers Convince Themselves They Aren't Doing Anything Wrong

In my post, The Sexual Education of Mark Foley, I talked about what sexual abuse teaches children about sex and sexual boundaries and the problems that can occur when that type of education isn't countered by healthier sex education.

FYI saying "Just say no to sex until you marry" is a platitude not education.

Now I want to talk about how abusers (those who exploit their victim's trust vs. those who kidnap children) will distort what they do and what others do (and say) to make their actions not only acceptable, but good. Unlike aggressive defense attorneys who either deny the charges as pure fabrications or attack the victim, these abusers turn what happened into a special connection.

They see the violation of another human being as the truest form of intimacy which is amplified by secrecy. In their minds the relationship doesn't become polluted unless or until the secret is revealed. The abuser will likely convince both himself (or herself) and the victim that the abusive actions stem from a deep sense of caring for the victim.

These abusers are conning not only their victims but themselves.

The fact that not all children are vulnerable to that particular abuser's tactics may give the abuser a false sense that every action is fully consensual. This attitude is reinforced by victim blaming or statements like, "what were you thinking when you agreed to ___." (fill in the blank with something that preceded the worst of the abuse.)

A child who has not yet learned that people they trust can lie to them may view the abuser as bigger than life. That image can be reinforced if the abuser finds and exploits an unmet need the child has. The abuser may seem like the most positive person in the child's life.

The reward for the abuser may be hero worship. To be seen by another human being as grander than you really are can be thrilling and addictive if you otherwise feel empty. For a few moments the abuser can feel like a god.

The goal for some abusers may be to get a feeling of worthiness. If sex and sexualized contact are the means to reaching that goal the abuser can say they aren't after sex without it being perceived by them as a lie.

From the AP:

The Rev. Anthony Mercieca told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that he was naked with Foley in a sauna, and was quoted in other interviews saying he also fondled him. Mercieca told the AP that the encounters weren't sexual, a distinction abuse experts found disturbing.

"The priest is very focused on the legalities here and I think it's important for the rest of us to see the enormous power differential between these two," said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. "There is a tremendous abuse of authority and position involved in these activities whether or not they constitute child molestation."


Abusers assume that because a young person seems to be enthusiastic around them, that any boundary crossing or sexual activity is OK, Finkelhor said. And if no penetration occurs, molesters convince themselves that the interaction does not hurt the youth, he said.
Mercieca's "basic approach is, 'You're trying to take something good and trying to turn it into something evil,'" said Peter Isely, a clinical social worker who counsels abuse victims and a leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"He literally describes this 12- or 13-year old child as if they're equals in age and in personality and characteristic, as if there's absolutely no power differential," Isely said. "This is what makes these offenders so dangerous."

The abuser needs to see the interaction as an equal relationship to justify past abusive acts and to justify grooming new victims. The abuser needs to believe that the child's experience mirrored their own.

The more we as a society refuse to think about the dynamics of abuse because it is depressing, the less abusers are going to hear messages which counter their rationalizations.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:58 AM   0 comments links to this post


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