Tuesday, February 09, 2010

My Thoughts On Oprah's Interview With Sex Offenders

I want to begin by warning readers that the video interviews Oprah did and which parts were broadcast on yesterday's show can be triggering.

Oprah got so many of the dynamics of sexual offending right, but I need to begin by disagreeing with Oprah on her apparent belief that those who are in the sights of sex predators can always deflect those predators by being more confident and therefore less vulnerable.

There is no absolute protection which can be done by a child.

Sometimes vulnerability is in a child's unmet need for love and attention, but sometimes vulnerability is in being any child within the control or reach of someone willing to misuse that control or access. Some abusers will back off if their attempt is met with resistance or immunity to their lures, but others will double their efforts and may threaten the life of a child's parent if that child doesn't comply.

We are all vulnerable at times and in ways which are normal parts of life. We cannot protect children or adults by eliminating vulnerability. Going to sleep is a vulnerability which can be exploited by those willing to disregard others rights.

One of the men Oprah interviewed abused his daughter as she slept who he had recently been given custody of. She did tell her mother immediately and continued to be vulnerable only because of external circumstance including her father's successful lie that his daughter made up the abuse in an attempt to be returned to her mother.

Vulnerability can be caused by a child being where those who respond to allegations are quick to assume that disclosures of abuse are false or by living where the response system is ineffective for any reason.

The issue of vulnerability reminds me of a joke about 2 men being chased by a bear which ends with the punchline, "I don't have to be faster than the bear, I just have to be faster than you." If all we are addressing is the behavior of potential victims and their non-offending family members this is what is happening. It isn't enough if all we are teaching individual children to in effect be faster than other children.

The root problem is the number of people willing to exploit others sexually. Some of these people start young so we need to look at where children get their motivation to start thinking like abusers.

I applaud Oprah for making it clear that vulnerability or even having a child enjoy the attention of an abuser never equals that child being to blame for abuse or that abuse being non-harmful. She also made it clear to those men that what they did was just as wrong even if their victims got some physical or sexual pleasure.

Oprah's previous work supporting law enforcement efforts to monitor Internet child porn and use that information to try to rescue victims is a critical part of protection. If potential offenders see their intended behavior as likely to quickly have a negative outcome they may decide that the offense is not worth the risk no matter how vulnerable their desired victims are. But we are not close to having systems where most offenders believe they can't get away with their crimes.

Many abusers are sickened by the most stereotypical acts of sexual violence and we need to find a way to have all acts of sexual violence be just as repulsive. Part of this is for everyone to start seeing abuse done by coercion and manipulation as just as clearly wrong as abuse done with the aid of a gun. One way for this to happen is if people view coercion and manipulation as types of poisons injected into otherwise safe objects and activities.

I was glad that Oprah and the woman who worked with these sex offenders kept focusing on how these offenders premeditated their crimes and called these men on their minimizations whenever they described something as just happening. We all need to do this to those who are non-offenders when they dismiss certain sex crimes as accidents or less serious than other sex crimes. This minimization often happens when the person who exploits children or younger children is charged or convicted of a statutory offense.

These 4 men Oprah interviewed have admitted their guilt and have apparently been in sex offender treatment for multiple years yet I noticed a continuation of minimizing and rationalizing in much of what they said. This means that while this may be an unusually candid discussion, it cannot be considered an absolutely truthful discussion.

Rationalizations, minimization, shifting of responsibility and denial run deep. One of the main areas where this appeared was in response to Oprah's question of what would have stopped these men. They seemed to want to say that if their victims had responded differently they would have stopped, but I believe at most it would have caused them to shift their attention to a different target. These men might have responded by changing their strategy because the cause was in their mindset and the payoff they got from offending.

I believe that these men didn't feel what they were doing was truly harmful, but this belief was cultivated rather than being evidence based. This incorrect belief is supported by so much of what many people who are appalled by these men's actions continue to say about non-stranger sexual assaults and victims of non-stranger sexual assaults.

A key element of how many people talk which helps offenders is placing primary responsibility for preventing sexual violence onto victims.

Too often the person considering committing sexual violence is ignored or treated as if that person is acting naturally by exploiting others in certain situations. For each time we talk about what should be done to defend against violence, we need to talk as much about what should be done to reject committing violence.

Many people say that everyone understands that sexual violence is wrong, but from the number of known sex offenders including child molesters, this clearly is not true at a soul-deep level.

The introductions provided valuable insight about how these men differ from the stereotypes about child molesters.

Lee: First committed sexual harm when he was a child of between 10 and 12 against 3 children, then at 14 raped his girlfriend. He earned official label of sex offender many years later for his actions when he was around 63 or 65 against a 5 year old girl. After being caught, he offended again against another child.

I noticed that Lee talked about his girlfriend who he raped letting him commit offenses which is contradicted by his statement that this "letting" happened because he had control over her. Compliance is not the same as letting someone do something.

Darren: He first committed sexual harm by raping 2 teenage girls when he was in his early 20s but got away with those rapes. He entered this offender program because he sexually molested his 12 year old daughter. He seemed to blame his behavior on being in a dark place in his life yet many other men also feel lonely and unloved and would never fantasize about molesting their daughters let alone take actions to make those fantasies a reality.

It's so interesting that he described crossing the line as when he turned his attention to his daughter when he was by that time a 2 time rapist. His daughter reported his first criminal action against her to her mother and he falsely claimed that his daughter was making a false accusation.

Child protective services learned about the girl's disclosure and when she was interviewed at school she denied the truth. As I heard that part I wonder if where this girl was interviewed contributed to this girl feeling pressure to not disclose.

David: He molested girl relative who was 3 years younger beginning when he was around 8 until he was around 20 years old. His interaction was manipulative from the very beginning yet he tried to make it look like his interest was simple childish curiosity. He had never been molested and wanted to fit in with teenagers he knew. He used this younger relative's admiration for him as a weapon in his abuse of her.

Robert: Had 5 victims. His first victim was 12 when he was 18 and she liked him so he used that to manipulate her into being more vulnerable before he raped her. At one point he claimed that if his victims had told him no he would have stopped, but he was challenged by his counselor that he only let no deflect him at the very beginning of the process of offending which was likely at the victim selection stage.

Even though the full 2 hours of video are hard to watch I encourage those who are able to listen to these men's truths and to their deceptions.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:35 AM   14 comments links to this post


At February 09, 2010 4:58 PM, Blogger sophie said...

It seems the older I get, the more I realise that vulnerability is a near constant state for the human female, age regardless. It's just that for our own sanity we deny or ignore that truth, until it's no longer possible to ignore.

What has struck me, since learning something about a neighbour, the other day, is how these people - rapists and peadophiles - leave multiple victims. I think in the justice system and our culture, the general presentation of information/stories tends to come from a viewpoint of one victim, one perp, usually only one incident.
What I was told about this neighbour - was recently out of prison at the time, went back to prison and his wife divorced him because he'd been molesting her daughter. I don't know how long that prison term was but jump to fifteen years later and he's back in prison for *three years* for persuading two little girls to perform sexual acts on him. That's a minimum of three victims, possibly far more. Three prison terms, possibly far more.

One non-rehabilitated man in and out of prison, but multiple victims carrying their own prisons in the legacy of his abuse.
It doesn't take a lot of 'bad eggs' to leave a trail of carnage in the destruction of children, girls and women.

At February 09, 2010 9:30 PM, Blogger Julian Real said...

Most child molesters, including rapers of their own children, "offend" many times before being caught, sometimes hundreds of times.

I agree, Marcella, that the ways in which the four men were all still very dishonest and self-serving in their answers--when they chose to come forward in order to be completely honest, after YEARS of therapy--only tells me these four men are not people meant to be around children ever again.

And I think that it's time we, collectively, wake up to the fact that most heterosexual men want to have sex with female children. You can't have millions of children as sex slaves across the world and not have a significant proportion of heterosexual men perpetrating them.

I think that the "heteronormative family protection" activists, from the White Right, are and always have been protecting their right of access to rape women and girls, while also traveling to procure women and rape children, and it's about time we faced that fact straight on. And the liberal to progressive white heterosexual men who condemn any efforts to limit their access to images of pimped and raped women who look like girls, or who are still girls, must also be faced for what it is: the will of men to sexually violate children, both visually and physically.

The issue isn't motivation. The issue is power, access, and lack of accountability. The four men all said that if they couldn't have gotten away with it, they wouldn't have done it. Bingo.

That's why men sexually abuse others: because they can. That's harsh, and that's the truth of it.

So how do we, as a society, prevent men from being able to do this and get away with it? What would need to change, socially, so that no man could get away with it?

The answer is not to train children to be better at telling. This, to me, is a hugely flawed, victim-burdening approach.

Let's look at cultures and societies where this is dealt with differently. Some Indigenist societies deal with this differently, by beating up any man who violates a child, and banishing him from their community. Why not train men to do that?

And the Amish teach men to be honest, about everything. So if they perpetrate a child, and you ask them if they did it, they say "yes". The problem there is that the consequence is that they are forgiven. And so sexual abuse in Amish community, as with most communities--where there is no such value on being honest, is rampant.

What would it take for men to be honest about what men do? And what would it take to prevent men from having unsupervised access to children?

We've got to stop referring to them as some kind of other, even as "these people". They are the very normal men we know and love. That's the horrible truth of it.

At February 09, 2010 10:32 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


I disagree that most heterosexual men want to have sex with female children. A significant number of heterosexual men who want to exploit girls can exist without them being the majority.

I also disagree that the cause of sexual abuse is "because they can" since many people who can get away with this crime would never commit this crime even if it were legalized.

Those who want to and can't where they are will often work to change their situations until they can. An example of this is child sex tourism where someone else has found the child victims for you and has controlled them for you. Another example would be someone getting a job at a youth correctional facility or at a church which has ineffective protection of the children.

A major needed change is for everyone to recognize coercion and manipulation as invalidating all claims of consent or mutuality. If you have to groom someone then you know they aren't consenting.

The general population must know this as well and act on this knowledge instead of acting based on stereotypes which help most abusers get away with the harm they do.

At February 10, 2010 5:24 AM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

The root problem is the fact a very large number of males do commit sexual violence against children and/or adult women. Not until feminist activists spoke out and publicly highlighted the issue of male sexual violence against children - especially girl children - did society even consider this to be a huge issue.

All too commonly males who commit sexual violence against children and/or women are viewed as 'deviant others.' On no account must we investigate or challenge how males are taught as children it is their pseudo male right to have unlimited sexual access to children and/or women.

Not all men commit sexual violence against children but far too many do so and we must not forget men as a group are daily encouraged to dehumanise any female adult or child because pornography is now mainstream and one of the effects is the constant representation of girls as men's and boys' sexualised dehumanised objects.

One or two messages such as these will not change attitudes or beliefs but when we are bombarded with such messages we should not be surprised so many males and females too believe girl and to a lesser extent boy children are responsible for supposedly 'seducing males.'

All too commonly society blames girl children in particular for supposedly 'seducing adult males/older males.'

Women and girls globally continue to be devalued compared to males as a group, so we should not be surprised countless excuses/justifications are used both by male perpetrators and other individuals refusing to accept how we socialise males is one of the central issues.

Males learn as children and teenagers a male is never held accountable for his sexual predatory behaviour unless and if it meets the most extreme form of male sexual violence against women/girls. Even then, such crimes are commonly minimalised/excused/denied.

So, in effect males who commit sexual violence against children and/or women do so because they know the likelihood of their being held accountable for their actions are miniscule.

This is why we live in a rape culture and one furthermore which continues to blame women and girls for men's and boys' sexual violence against women and children. The now global situation wherein any male who has sufficient money can buy a woman/child for the purpose of rape etc. continues to be excused/justified. Such men need not 'find the child' themselves, because there are innumerable pimps and prostitutors who will locate the child/children and then 'sell' the child to the John.

So it is not 'people exploiting and raping children' but overwhelmingly males. That truth is often too hard for many women and men to accept - hence we have the'Lolita myth.' A myth created by another male and commonly used as justification for male sexual violence against women and children.

Prevention must start with challenging how our male supremacist society consistently blames women and children whilst minimalising and excusing male sexual perpetrators and/or promoting the myth of the 'deviant stranger.' It is not the 'stranger' but known men who commit sexual violence against their biological children and against other child relatives.

Challenging the male supremacist system and demanding change is a huge undertaking which is why when feminists spoke out against men's sexual violence against known women and children it was quickly denounced as 'rabid feminist man-hating.' The social construction of what supposedly passes for male sexuality is one of the core reasons for men's continued sexual violence against women and children and to a lesser extent against boys. Linking this with how masculinity is promoted as supposedly biologically based and hence incapable of change ensures male sexual predators continue to be viewed as 'isolated others' not normal, respectable males.

At February 10, 2010 6:40 PM, Anonymous MariaS said...

A while ago I read the book "Best Kept Secret" by Louise Armstrong. (It's no longer in print but seems readily available second-hand). She writes about how the silence around parental child abuse was broken during the womens' liberation movement in the seventies, as victims like herself started to speak out about childhood abuse. Her first book was about her own experience, but "Best Kept Secret" is a critical look at the ways that cultural narratives about abuse have since failed to centre on the accountablility of perpetrators. So, for example, our chief narrative about abuse survivors is a therapeutic one, not one of justice - about a bad thing happening to one person, and how they got through it/got fixed. Abuse is widely known about now, yet despite much public discourse, little seems to focus on effective solutions - instead for example (not sure if these are my observations after reading the book or points made in the book) the revelation of abuse is a now predictable plot twist in crime dramas & other stories, while survivor stories on talk shows, in magazines and in books seem presented in an almost ghoulish way, a sad, awful spectacle, but a spectacle nonetheless.

It is a brilliant book, and a great example of the insights & reframing that a critical and passionate feminist perspective can bring to an issue. Two things brought it to mind for me here. Firstly, the book brought home to me a point that you've made in the post, how our warnings to children about stranger danger and so on are the same as our warnings to women to learn self-defence, not walk alone in certain places etc - such advice places the onus on the potential victim to evade attack. (And fails to prepare the potential victim in either case for one very common circumstance, being abused by someone trusted). Armstrong also addresses the victim-blaming that child victims face, and the minimising/excusing of the abuser's responsibility. In all, there was much food for thought in drawing parallels between attitudes to sexual assault on children and on adult victims.

Secondly, early in the book Armstrong cites another book, whose title I forget, by Florence Rush, that examined historical attitudes towards sexual abuse of children. One point that Armstrong highlighted from Rush's historical research, was that while on the one hand we think of western society historically as culturally valuing female virginity and punishing women's sexual activity outside of marriage, there was actually much quasi-legal discourse about till what age an adult could sexually use a child and have it "not matter" re the child's later "virgin" status. I think I recall that Armstrong grimly points out that if this kind of discussion was going on, it was not purely theoretical.

As a society we bury our heads in the sand if we insist on being freshly horrified at each fresh instance of child abuse that comes to light and wonder how it could happen, rather than clearly seeing and wondering at the depressing regularity of its recurrence. We need to face up to the social attitudes that have enabled it, such as normalised notions of male ownership of women in marriage and of children, and challenge them - if children are regarded as pretty much as property of their father, it's not suprising that some fathers feel entitled use them as such. As with rapists of adult victims, othering child abusers as "monsters" is actually an obstacle to us learning to name and recognise abusive actions by "normal" men. (I've just remembered something else from Armstrong's book - she highlights the banality of abuse: the child-friendly words that the abuser uses to trick a child, the domestic setting, the routine of family life that bookends the abuse.)

The simple truth is that children and young people are victimised by abusers because they are easier targets than adults - easier to coerce, confuse and intimidate.

At February 10, 2010 7:44 PM, Blogger Lynn said...

Excellent article and a great review of the Oprah interviews. I watched all the parts and considered them to be quite candid (in comparison to some others I've seen). Overall, again in comparison to other child sex offenders I've listened to, these guys appear to have come quite a long way in therapy. Many don't reach the levels of self-awareness and acknowledgement that these guys have. But as pointed out, it would seem there's still work to be done.

You said, "if people view coercion and manipulation as types of poisons " . I want to say that people do. People, and by that I mean society in general do see coercion and manipulation exactly as poison, but they see it stereotypically as the "poison" chosen specifically by women! Society in general, does not view manipulation and coercion as the primary tool of men. This behaviour is firmly planted in society's minds of being a feminine trait. Not a masculine one.

In the interview a lot of responsibility was put on parents to be engaged and mindful, and of victims to be more confident. What was missing was discussion about society in general and it's abhorrence against the "deviant stranger in the trenchcoat" and it's silence about incest. It's all around us. Our news stories cover in detail and repetition the "stranger" pedophile released back into the community and the consequent uproar of their location. It seems that people become obsessed with "stranger" child sex offenders living in their street. To the point that they will form lynch mobs and gather together to publicly protest. Each time I see this, I wonder to myself, how many (men) in that crowd are harbouring their own "yukky" secret about how they're abusing, or fantasising about abusing their daughters, nieces, etc. I can't help but think the pedophile released from prison and relocated back into the community provides just the perfect backdrop to focus attention away from what is happening right in our own homes. For the interview to be more rounded, more discussion about society's tolerance of such behaviour and the role that men play in society should have occurred. Also, the way that corporations "age" our children with merchandise. Corporate pedophilia is on the increase as well as society's tolerance of upholding that images of naked pre-pubescent girls, described as "art" (pffft!!!) are acceptable in our galleries.

On that note, I have the following quotations:

"They don't want to hear the truth because the truth is so much longer harder to understand and so much longer than a lie..." 12 year old sexual assault victim.

"The presence of so many pedophilic like individuals in relatively high-functioning 'normal' samples supports the notion that the sexualisation of children is at least partially a social phenomenon." John N Briere

At February 13, 2010 4:59 PM, Blogger snobographer said...

I don't know if it's most heterosexual men, Julian Real, but there are definitely more than people like to believe, especially if you count the men who fetishize teenage and adolescent girls.
I was struck by the one guy who claimed he didn't know one of his victims was like 14 and Oprah inserted "you didn't want to know."
Fact: The number of grown men who hit on me when I was 13-15 and claimed to think I was 18-20 was significantly greater than the number of men who did so when I was actually 18-20.

At February 13, 2010 6:58 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


I agree on your observations about the denial of those caught targetting those too young to consent. Those types of offenders seem to hope children will claim to be older than they really are so they can claim to be victims if they are rightfully accused.

At February 13, 2010 11:26 PM, Blogger Bloggert7165 said...

On Monday Oprah is looking at Women who molest. Marcella I know that some States (like the one I am in) have it in their laws that not knowing, or claiming to not have known, the age is no legal defense.

In answer to Julian's comment I wanted to post some information from a few places that shows it is not just men who molest.

In a study of 17,337 survivors of childhood sexual abuse, 23% had a female-only perpetrator and 22% had both male and female perpetrators. ( Dube, Shanta R et al. “Long-Term Consequences of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Gender of Victim.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine. (2005):28(5), p 430 – 438.)

According to a major 2004 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education - In studies that ask students about offenders, sex differences are less than in adult reports. The 2000 AAUW data indicate that 57.2 percent of all students report a male offender and 42.4 percent a female offender with the Cameron et al. study reporting nearly identical proportions as the 2000 AAUW data (57 percent male offenders vs. 43 percent female offenders).. (Source .PDF Download)

Approximately 95% of all youth reporting staff sexual misconduct said they had been victimized by female staff. In 2008, 42% of staff in state juvenile facilities were female. (Bureau of Justice Report)

One in six adult men reported being sexually molested as children, and -- in a surprise finding -- nearly 40 percent of the perpetrators were female, a new study found. (Source Link)

Dr. Christine Hatchard of MDSA states the following on her site:

In our society, mothers are automatically given special status, and certain characteristics, such as “nurturing, caring, protective” are attributed to them. The truth is, at her core, a mother is a woman and a human being, and like any other human being, is capable of the same range of violence, hate and autonomous behavior. To view women or mothers any differently, is to not realize their full potential as human beings, for better or for worse.

At February 13, 2010 11:39 PM, Blogger Julian Real said...

Hi snobographer,

I'm sorry you had to experience that, and am sure you are far from alone in enduring men years older than you hitting on you, etc.

What really broke through my denial was watching Dateline NBC's To Catch A Predator series a few years ago, which of course many men have said was unfair or whatever. But let's look at what that show revealed: if grown men don't think they will be caught, they will seek out sex with adolescent girls.

Normal heterosexual men. Maybe not most, as you and Marcella say. Maybe not even a quarter. But let's say it is one in ten. That's A LOT of adult heterosexual men seeking sexual contact with underage girls. And I wish we could know the percentage of het adult men who sought out images of underage girls on the internet.

I'm so glad you're mentioning that moment when Oprah said that. For me the show was filled with moments where either Oprah or the therapist had to "remind" the men of the truth of their histories, that they'd just as soon gloss over to make themselves look less predatorily calculating and callous.

The burden of making life safer and more just unsurprisingly falls on the shoulders of the oppressed, but with this, I truly believe men need to deal with it, while adolescent girls endure it and resist it.

In my view, if someone isn't being self-serving and predatory, one simply and honestly finds out the ages of those one is approaching or interested in, and doesn't habitually go for those who are 13-15. And if one finds "oh, wow, SHE'S 14 too?!?" then one needs to realise the range of what fourteen year old girls look like, and find ways to steer clear of girls who look like that--including images and videos on the web.

At February 14, 2010 12:42 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Bloggert7165, some girls and women do commit sexual violence, but I disagree that women are simply assumed to be nurturing or that mothers are automatically given special status in the way you imply.

Many times this special status results in sexism which causes mothers to be judged more harshly than fathers so that a woman who is more nurturing, more caring and more protective than a child's father can be judged as the worse parent.

When combined with stereotypes about lying women this can result in sexually abusive fathers being given full custody.

At February 14, 2010 1:05 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Julian, on the percentage of men who rape, a South Africa study found that about 1 in 4 men admitted to having committed at least 1 rape.

In research surveys related to admissions of committing acts which qualify as sex crimes, the rate of admitted sex offenders was between 4.8% and almost 15%.


At February 14, 2010 3:03 AM, Blogger Julian Real said...

Judging only from my own discussions with men, and with women involved with men, I'd say 15% is a very low figure.

That "admitted to" part is so key, as well you know.

And to whomever above: I never said "only men" commit crimes of sexual abuse.

But I understand rape as one of several forms of subordination and terrorism of women and girls by men.

So it's that phenomenon in that context that I focus on: the oppression of women by men in patriarchal societies, and all the ways that is expressed interpersonally and manifests institutionally.

At February 14, 2010 3:06 AM, Blogger Julian Real said...

And, again, from the men I've spoken with, none of whom have been convicted of a rape, many have done things that constitute rape, but either they, or their female partners, or both, don't want to call it that, even though the description of what happened, according to both or either, would pass a legal definition of rape or sexual assault.

So I also think the 25% figure is low.

Thanks for those stats and the source, Marcella, and for all your excellent work dealing with this endemic atrocity.


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