The Catholic church recently issued a report about the whys of clergy abuse. The lion’s share of the blame is directed at society, and the sexual revolution of the 60s. To say I’m saddened by this study is a gross understatement. While I do think societal pressure plays a role in why perpetrators get the idea to abuse, I believe that percentage of influence to be extremely small.
As a sexual abuse victim, I can honestly speak to my own story. Many of you know that during my kindergarten year, neighborhood boys (in their teens) took me out to play, away from the security of my babysitter. They spent the year abusing me. It took me a long time to tell for two reasons:
- They said they’d kill my family if I told (and/or kill me).
- The word they used to describe what they did was a swear word, and I knew I’d get in trouble if I said it out loud.
But after they started inviting their friends to join in, I had enough. I shared that awful word with the babysitter. But she didn’t protect me. The boys kept coming. Only learning to sleep for hours at a time, and a timely move to a new city saved me from their predatory ways.
So why do sexual predators prey on kids? Should we blame the 60s? No. Here is my unscientific list, born of my own experience.
- Because they can. Usually a perpetrator has authority (older, a church leader, a parent, an adult) over the child and can use intimidation to keep the child silence. He may tell the child he’ll kill her or her parents, or make up other horrifying reasons why the child must not tell. Because of their authority (and that they’re often bigger than their victim), the child complies.
- Because (often) they’re acting out of their own difficult and unresolved past. They may have been abused as children and now are flawed, broken people who haven’t been brave enough to chase healing. Without working through the pain of their own abuse and finding health, they often (not always) can’t help but abuse.
- Because we live in a culture of silence. My babysitter chose to look the other way. Church leaders chose not to think about the abuse; instead they covered it up, heaping shame upon shame, favoring the predator to the one preyed upon. In this cauldron of silence where no one is brought to task or judgment, abuse continues and flourishes.
- Because they (sometimes) can’t meet their emotional needs in normal relationships. Because of injury, they’ve learned the only way to get close to someone is to dominate and humiliate and coerce. They falsely believe this constitutes a personal relationship.
- Because there is power in getting away with a crime like this. The statistics about perpetrators being brought to justice plays this out. Therefore, each subsequent victim fuel invincibility and a need to continue. After all, they won’t (typically) be caught.
- Because they somehow believe that what they’re doing isn’t wrong. They’ve minimized the crime to something trivial, and therefore don’t feel remorse. Or they rationalize their behavior. (This isn’t always the case. I’m sure there are perpetrators who know what they’re doing is wrong and feel tremendous guilt.)
- Because the perpetrator has dehumanized the victim in his/her mind. Instead of a child in need of protection and love, they’ve reduced the child to a vehicle for pleasure. This dehumanization can stem from mental disorders or violating their consciences over and over again until they believe those they abuse “deserve” it.
- Because perpetrators live and believe in hedonism, that everything and everyone exists for their pleasure. This is closely linked to narcissism. Those with extreme narcissistic tendencies (with narcissistic personality disorder) can’t see beyond their own world, wants and desires.
You’ll notice that few of these reasons has to do with culture or society. While I have no doubt that our highly sexualized culture contributes to the problem, I believe the true issue is the heart. All abusive behavior flows from a hard heart, from one choice that leads to many, many choices until the conscience is seared and no longer in operation. Abuse thrives when we are silent, as in the cover ups in the clergy abuse scandals. It thrives under the guise of cronyism, where a system must be preserved at any cost, even if that cost means victims are ignored, silenced or ridiculed.
Let’s open the doors on this abuse, let the clean air and sunshine in. Let’s tell the truth. For the sake of those abused AND for the sake of the abusers. No healing happens in the darkness, either for victim or perpetrator. Covering it up doesn’t help. Blaming external factors like society is short sighted. Being honest and realistic about the problem is the pathway toward healing.
At least that’s one victims thoughts.
Why do you think perpetrators abuse?