Sexual Abuse: Our Community's Responsibility
David Katzenstein, LCSW
A sexual abuser is someone with visceral urges who often spirals down into an abyss in which he can usually never fully recover. Research shows that sex offenders are some of the most difficult to treat, since their behavior is caused by such powerful forces. There is clear mental dysfunction and depravity that goes along with being an adult who sexually abuses children. This is an explanation, not an excuse. Perpetrators (possibly) deserve our empathy but need to be dealt with justly and in methods that ensure that our children our safe. No compromises. It is a sad fact of the matter that perpetrators don’t only abuse one victim in a single incident; more likely there are numerous, sometimes scores and even hundreds of victims. Simple math tells us that stopping one perpetrator alone may protect hundreds of potential victims.
Most abusers have at one time been abused and they now prey upon others as they had once been. This is difficult to fathom for most people; how could someone so acutely aware of the pain and suffering abuse entails now mete out those same feelings onto another? Let us try to understand this psychological phenomenon from one theoretical perspective. When people are sexually abused, much of the inherent power and control they once had over their bodies and minds becomes either severely compromised or downright damaged. When abuse occurs repeatedly, the power and control we speak of can become a distant memory, and victims often develop serious trauma. The question for the victim now becomes, how can I regain that elusive power and control? The victim then thinks (most often subconsciously) the ultimate form of power and control. Unfortunately, the form of power and control he knows best is sexual abuse- and to replay onto another that which happened to him. It is important to note that the (former) victim is most likely unaware of this trajectory and evolution of his own thoughts; he is merely desperate in his attempt to recover what he has been missing all these years. This absolves none of his personal responsibility and he is fully culpable for his actions. But it is important to examine his motivations.
Now that we can understand why abuse occurs, the question becomes, what can we do about it? There are many ways, and addressing only one aspect or having one direction won’t fully incorporate what is necessary to eliminate abuse from our midst (although, complete eradication is most likely impossible). I believe an increase in education as to the effects of sexual abuse –rather than statistics of abuse prevalence- on victims may help. Too often in conversations about sexual abuse with others, someone might ask me, “but it happened so long ago, can’t the person just get over it?” Others fail to comprehend the association between abuse and long term trauma. Nor why there is a significantly increased risk of suicide, depression, anxiety, addiction and other serious mental issues in victims. In addition, as described above, abuse becomes repeated and generational. The facts are out there, they merely need to be disseminated more. An increase in knowledge invariably influences an increase in sensitivity and understanding as to the severity of the issue.
Sadly, almost ninety percent of abuse never gets reported, in all communities. But for the courageous ones who do come forward, they need our full backing and support. It has been copiously documented by all avenues of media how our community has responded in the past to cases of abuse. By raising our knowledge as to what abuse can do rather than merely stating that abuse exists, (which at this point is difficult for anyone to deny, though some inevitably try) it might discourage cowardly individuals from within our community in attempting to prevent deserved justice. While this may be only a small step towards eradicating wrong from the world, it can hopefully be start.