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By Jane Gilgun
eliefs about perpetrators of child sexual abuse are a mess. They are contradictory. Most people want to protect children from sexual abuse. Many respond with anger, rage, and disgust when they learn what child sexual abuse means to perpetrators. Yet, most children even today do not tell when someone has sexually abused them because they are afraid they will be blamed, that they will not be believed, that they will break up their families, or that the perpetrators will go to prison. In addition, children sometimes experience emotional abuse in their families and from others in their communities when they disclose. Family members may blame them for breaking up the family and damaging the perpetrators’ and the families’ reputations. They may tell them they are damaged goods. They may side with perpetrators and stigmatize survivors. Other children often taunt and tease survivors to the point where survivors have to go to another school. It’s time we examined these contradictory beliefs. These beliefs hurt survivors and their families and protect perpetrators. In this article, I discuss these contradictory beliefs. At the end of this article is an article that reports upon what child sexual abuse means to perpetrators.
Survivors Already Know
Survivors know from experience what child sexual abuse means to perpetrators. Adults must be able to hear the stories that perpetrators tell so that they can empathize with survivors’ experiences. As survivors tell their stories, they give out pieces at a time. They notice how others respond. If they see shock, rage, or other emotional responses they stop. They don’t want to feel as if they did something wrong, nor do they want to cause upset in others. They don’t want to risk stigma. They’d rather not say anything. If they see that the other persons are attentive and connected to them, they will continue.
Many People Understand
Many people realize the importance of understanding how perpetrators experience child sexual abuse and other forms of violence. Like me, they know that prevention depends upon an informed public. The more we know about child sexual abuse, the more effective prevention is. If we want to stop child sexual abuse, we have to know what it means to perpetrators so that we can take steps of change the conditions that lead to the sexual abuse of children in the first place.