When I was eight, my grandparents took me on a trip with them to West Palm Beach, Florida. One of the places we visited was the local zoo, which included a dinosaur exhibit with giant sculptures of dinos. Being the dinosaur-loving kid that I was, I really enjoyed posing with these things. Here I am riding a scolosaurus.
This is the flip side of my article Advice for pedophiles who don’t want to offend. A few days ago I did a Skype video interview with some wonderful young ladies who were very nice and easy to talk to. One of the questions they asked me was how to protect their children from sexual abuse. It took me aback, as I had never been asked this before and never expected for anyone to ask me this. I can’t remember what exactly I said, but I am sure my reply was woefully inadequate. But I’ve had a few days to think about it, so I decided to go ahead and formulate a post about it. To that end . . .
1) Remember that most offenders are not pedophiles – This is a difficult one for people to grasp. They’ve heard the word ‘pedophile’ conflated with sex offender so many times in the media and elsewhere that they genuinely believe that anyone who molests children is a pedophile. Ergo, when they are watching out for potential child molesters, they tend to look for people who fit some kind of pedophilic stereotype: they’re exceptionally nice to children, are awkward and ungainly around adults, etc. But the fact is, the majority of sex offenders against children (60-80%) are not pedophiles. They tend to be people who are very close to the child, often a family member. Fathers and stepfathers are the primary culprits, but they can be grandfathers, mothers, grandmothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, or close friends of the family too. This doesn’t mean that none of these people can be pedophiles, but generally they aren’t. Essentially, almost anyone can be a child molester.
The problem with the molesters-are-always-pedophiles viewpoint is that it tends to distract people from the more likely culprits: situational offenders who are closely related to the child. Parents really need to get out of this mindset, to keep their eyes and ears open and not be distracted by stereotypes. Also, despite the horrific sensational stories you see in the news, “stranger danger” is a greatly exaggerated problem. I’m not telling you to drop your guard entirely, but the reality is, of the million or so children who disappear every year, the vast majority of these are either runaways or parental abductions. Stranger abductions hover around one hundred per year, numbers that do not justify the extreme anxiety modern parents have about them. Moreover, when parents are spending all their time looking outward for potential dangers, they are often ignoring the real problematic area: their own home.
2) The ‘good touch, bad touch’ talk is counterproductive – At least for younger children, the concept of ‘good touch, bad touch’ generally fails to acknowledge an important reality: children are not inherently disgusted by sexual contact. Thus, when parents tell their children things like, “If someone touches you and it makes you feel uncomfortable, then that’s bad touch,” they are sending kids the wrong message. Small children have no inherent moral compass. It’s one of the things that makes them appealing to us. They don’t come with preconceived notions about reality, and that includes sex. Thus, if someone rubs their genitalia and it feels good (massages often feel good to kids, no matter where they are being massaged), then they aren’t going to automatically associate that with ‘bad touch’ and may even encourage it. Likewise, if the child initiates such contact, as they sometimes do, then they almost certainly aren’t going to consider that bad touch.
So, how do you get around this problem? After all, there may be times when a parent or doctor needs to touch a child’s genitalia in order to clean them, check for problems, etc., and you don’t want the child to think of that as abusive. The problem here is really one of proper communication, something small children often struggle with. Which leads to my third suggestion . . .
3) Children should know what’s appropriate for both adults and themselves – Many parents shudder at the idea of talking to young children about sex, but the fact is, the more the child knows, the better they will understand the motivations of those who might abuse them. ‘Good touch, bad touch’ is far too vague to be useful and, as I said earlier, it can actually confuse kids. They should understand that even if it feels good to them, having their genitalia touched by an adult is wrong if it isn’t for a specific purpose like cleaning and medical attention, and even then there are only a handful of people who should be allowed to do that. Likewise, it is never appropriate for a child to be touching an adult’s genitals for any reason, so if they are asked to do so, that is abuse.
On the flip side, children should be taught what is inappropriate for them to do to adults. Remember, a child may initiate such contact, but if the adult gives in, it is still abuse. Children therefore need to understand that there are certain things they are never to do with adults, like grabbing their penis or breasts, attempting to French kiss them, etc. If they do initiate these kinds of behaviors and the adult complies, then the adult is still responsible and the child should not be punished or blamed, but they still need to understand that there are certain things you just don’t do with adults. I came closest to acting on my attractions because of an aggrssively precocious child who did not understand these boundaries. I reckon a lot of abuse could be curtailed by just teaching kids about what is appropriate and not appropriate behavior with respect to adults.
4) Keep an open dialog with children – This is really the most important one. If children understand that they can come talk to you about anything, then they are less likely to keep secrets. Abusers thrive on exploiting children’s shame and fear, but if kids know they can talk to you and that you will give them a fair hearing on everything they tell you, even if they do something they know is wrong, then they are more likely to tell you if someone has abused them. I would say to them, “An adult should never ask you to keep a secret, and if they do, come tell me anyway.” I really can’t think of any occasion where an adult asking a child to keep a secret is appropriate. Children should not be burdened with adults’ secrets, no matter what they are.
More specifically, children should be able to approach you with questions about sex, and you should answer them honestly but in an age-appropriate manner, respecting their comprehension level and need-to-know. The younger the child, the more basic you should keep your answers. Talking to kids about abuse really should be part of any sex education discussion, but again, it should be at the level of a child’s understanding. And it should be ongoing. I know parents dread this discussion with their kids, usually reserving it until right before puberty, when they give their kids “the talk” one time and leave it at that. Well, this isn’t enough—not by a long shot. The more kids know you are comfortable talking about sex with them, the more likely they will be to tell you when there is something inappropriate happening (even if they don’t necessarily perceive it as inappropriate at the time). That means talking to them about sex every so often, and starting when they are very young. It’s time we got past our hangups about discussing sex openly, because it is this environment of secrecy and shame where sexual abuse thrives.
Bonus) If you know your child is being abused, react appropriately – Parents can react any number of ways when they discover their kid has been sexually abused, from denial to violence toward the abuser, neither of which is appropriate, but violence is the absolute worst way to react. You should understand that the child may have an emotional bond with their abuser, and if you react violently, that can be every bit as, if not more traumatic than, the abuse itself. Adults have a tendency to view child molesters through a particular lens, which may lead to confusion when things like this happen, but the child likely views it very differently. What you need to do is stay calm and rational. Violence is a bad lesson to teach victims of abuse anyway, regardless of their connection to their abuser. If the child has already been traumatized by their abuse, do you think reacting violently to the abuser is going to help them heal? And if the victim has an emotional bond with the abuser, what do you think hurting the adult is going to do to that child? Think before you react!
Joyce Kavanagh mailed me a copy of the book she co-wrote with her sisters June and Paula and their friend Marian Quinn, called Click, Click, all the way from Ireland. It’s a harrowing account of the abuse they suffered at the hands of their own father, who dominated their lives not only when they were children but even when they were young adults, until they finally worked up the courage to report him to authorities. I won’t lie: the accounts of sexual abuse in the book are brutal, and there is no attempt to cushion the blow for the reader. It hits you out of the blue, with little preparation, which I suppose is rather like the way the Kavanagh siblings experienced it. Each of the sisters gets at least one account, but their stories are shockingly similar. ‘Da’ as they call him would isolate each of the girls and snap his fingers twice (hence the book’s title), expecting them to drop their panties and spread their legs for him. There was no attempt to be gentle or win the girls over to the idea; it was just flat out rape every time.
This, of course, is often how incestuous situational abuse plays out, and as is usually the case in these situations, the abuse wasn’t just sexual—the girls were subjected to every form of abuse imaginable from the time they were toddlers through their adolescence. Perhaps the worst thing about their experiences was how Da made each girl feel isolated and alone in her abuse, demolishing their security and sense of self-worth, despite the fact that the house was positively filled with kids all the time. Many people may wonder how their mother wasn’t aware of the abuse, but the fact is, people can go to great lengths to deny a horrifying truth about someone they care about, and to be sure, the man controlled and abused his wife as well, reducing her self-esteem to the point where she questioned everything she did or believed.
Each instance of abuse described in the book is worse than the last, and the details of the abuse (how Da forced the little girls to wrap their limbs around him as he raped them, his godawful bodily stench, etc.) staggers the mind. The term ‘survivor’ often gets bandied about to described victims of abuse, but in the case of the Kavanagh sisters it couldn’t be more accurate. How these sensitive young ladies survived this horror for years on end, let alone the fact that they came out of it without being utterly bitter and hateful towards the world, is something I can’t even imagine. On top of all that, for them to come forward and publicly lay claim to the hell their father put them through just to assure he doesn’t do it to anyone else, is beyond heroic.
And yet, the women at times display a concern for their father that borders on saintly, like when June worries about how he will fare in prison. They must constantly remind themselves what he put them through. What most strikes me about Da’s abuse of his daughters is that he seemed to get off on the very notion of destroying their innocence. It cannot be a coincidence that the first time he raped each girl was the day of their first communion, whilst they were still wearing their communion dresses! It’s as if he couldn’t stand to see anything pure, sweet and holy without immediately corrupting it. And what was meant to be one of the happiest days of their life was thoroughly ruined.
Several times while reading the book I openly wept, wishing I could be there to give them all a big hug and a vow to protect them. I wish I could go back in time and rescue them from this monster masquerading as their pop. I can’t do that, but what I can do is assure them that I will fight to make sure no little girl (or boy) ever has to go through this hell again.
I don’t believe Kevin Kavanagh was a true pedophile; he bears all the classic signs of being a situational offender. I don’t have a lot of advice about preventing abuse from this type of offender because their motivations are completely different from mine, but I can speak to my fellow pedophiles and urge them to read books like Click, Click, so that they understand the reality of sexual abuse rather than the romanticized version they may have erected in their minds. We need to read books like Click, Click and Margaux Fragoso’s Tiger, Tiger (where the abuser was a genuine pedophile) so that we can see the untarnished truth, the grubby details and the long-term pain that children who have been through it face every day. As pedophiles, we must constantly remind ourselves of the real consequences of sexually violating children, and this is what it looks like. Therefore, I want to thank Joyce, June and Paula Kavanagh in a way they likely never anticipated: as a pedophile determined not to offend, they have given me yet another brick, and a powerful one, to add to the wall of my resolve.
Going forward, I wish the Kavanaghs all the best in life, but it’s clear they already have the best thing they could possibly have in their continuing fight to lead happy, healthy lives: each other. I often close my emails with the phrase, “Peace, love & light,” and I can’t think of a better way to close out this review, so . . . peace, love & light, folks.
I have gotten emails from other pedophiles, most of them quite young, asking for advice on how to keep themselves and the children in their lives safe, so instead of continuing to write the same things over and over again, I am just going to make a post here that I can link to whenever someone asks. Understand that all of these go hand-in-hand, so you can’t pick and choose. Anyway, here goes . . .
1) Always remain aware of your sexuality on some level – Many people have this belief that if they just mentally suppress their attractions, then those attractions do not exist. Well, that’s absurd. The closest I ever came to offending was during a period in my life when I was doing my damnedest to deny my orientation to myself. I even threw myself in the opposite direction as a teen, modeling my identity on Andrew Vachss. I read everything Vachss wrote and had plans to write fierce anti-sexual abuse literature too, figuring that if I pushed back hard enough, I would be “normal”; meanwhile, when I had to deal with a child who was far too precocious for her years, I was nearly blindsided by it because my guard had been dropped entirely. After I escaped that situation by the skin of my teeth, I vowed I would never let that happen again, and I didn’t.
What you need to understand is that this attraction is likely fundamental to your identity; that’s what makes it a sexual orientation. And just pretending like it doesn’t exist isn’t going to make it go away. Sure, there are people who probably flirt with pedophilic fantasies but aren’t really pedophiles (some of these people wind up becoming situational offenders), just as there are people who flirt with homosexuality but aren’t really gay. I’m not talking to those people. I’m talking to those of you who are solidly and permanently sexually oriented towards children. I know it can be frightening and disturbing, but don’t deny who you are. That’s how you get into trouble. Accept it and deal with it.
2) Understand that you are not doomed to offend – It is a myth perpetuated by media and society that if you are attracted to children, then you are an uncontrollable monster who is bound to molest at some point. This is ridiculous. There are pedophiles who have difficulty controlling their impulses, but such people exist across the entire human spectrum, and it isn’t inherently connected to pedophilia. Most of us, however, can control ourselves without any problems once we learn to understand ourselves, our desires and our limitations.
You would think that society would embrace this point wholeheartedly, but I’m convinced that many people actually dislike us more if we don’t offend than if we do. Why? A couple of reasons. One, because if we offend, then we can be shuffled off to prison and forgotten about, and society no longer has to deal with us. And two, because, in their simplistic belief system, they have a need to believe pedophiles equal harmful to children and non-pedophiles equal okay for children. Of course, this is obviously false on both counts, but to believe otherwise causes such people cognitive dissonance. They can’t deal with pedophiles who are good people, so if there are no overt reasons for them to hate and fear us, then they will make up reasons in their own minds.
So, while some people believe you are either an offender or destined to become one, this has nothing whatsoever to do with you. It’s their hangup, not yours. Only you know your own heart and mind, but I’m here to tell you that you can live your whole life offense-free. It is possible. Many of us have done it, and you can do it too. I have faith in you!
3) Have a plan in place for risky situations – Unless you are a total recluse living away from civilization and have no access to the internet (in which case you wouldn’t be reading this right now), then you are ultimately going to face a situation where there is temptation. Maybe you will find yourself babysitting some child who you find attractive, or you work with kids in some capacity, and so on. First off, if you do work with kids and they are in any way a temptation, then you really need to find a new line of work. I know you love to be around kids even when you aren’t attracted to them; it seems to come with the territory. We are wired to enjoy the company of children. But if there is any chance that you will offend, then you must do the right thing and remove yourself from temptation. That is part of having a plan.
But what if you are asked to babysit a relative or friend’s child and they are counting on you because no one else is available? It’s happened to me. Of course, this was well past my crisis point and I knew what to do if I found myself tempted. I had a plan in place. You need one too. Part of that entails understanding children’s motivations. A child who seems to “come on” to you does not have the same motivations as an adult. They aren’t horny or trying to seduce you. Most likely they are just curious, and they feel completely at ease with you. And too, we MAPs tend to be pushovers when it comes to kids; we let them get away with a lot, and as a result, they will test their limits with us, which may include things like trying to grab your genitals, running through the house naked, or trying to kiss you the way they see adults on TV kiss. Unless the child has already been sexually abused, it is highly unlikely that they are genuinely after some kind of sexual contact from you, and even if they are, it doesn’t mean they fully understand what they’re getting into.
Remember: whether the child wants to experiment with you sexually or not, and even if they initiate such behaviors, it is still always wrong for you to give in, because you are the adult, the one who should know better. In fact, if the child is doing such things, you should probably alert the child’s parent(s) or some other adult in the child’s life. The child needs to understand that this is inappropriate behavior, and there is the possibility that they are being abused by someone else. By alerting a parent or other adult, you may be saving that child from further abuse. Don’t add to the child’s pain; be their hero instead!
4) Know your limitations – Run through various scenarios in your head and figure out which ones might be a temptation for you. It is best to avoid those situations altogether if you can, but if you can’t, make sure you are at least avoiding the points of highest concern. For example, if holding a child in her swimsuit is going to turn you on, then its probably best that you not physically interact with a child in a pool or other setting where the child will be in a swimsuit. If just being alone with a child is going to provide temptation, then you need to make sure there is always another adult in the room, and so on.
If you do happen to be alone with a child and you’re unsure about how to interact with him or her, we have a rule at VirPed that I think is a good one. We call it the Present Parent Test, and what it means is, if you wouldn’t do it in front of a parent, then don’t do it when you are alone with the child. For example, it may seem like a good idea at the time when a child asks you to rub her belly underneath her shirt, but would you do that if her father or mother was sitting right in front of you? Probably not, so don’t do it when they aren’t around.
5) Find a safe way to channel your desires – This one is a bit controversial at VirPed, because some people believe that any time you masturbate to fantasies of children, you are reinforcing bad thought patterns that can lead to abuse. But I have found that masturbation actually reduces my desires as well as my stress, and for me, having a rich fantasy life assures that I have no need to actually offend in real life. For the most part I am sexually fulfilled, so there is zero temptation to act out. It is never going to be a perfect substitute for the real thing, but it is as close as we are going to come without causing harm, so I say embrace it.
Of course, once again you know yourself better than anyone else does, and if you find that giving in to your fantasies just adds fuel to the fire of temptation, then by all means, do not engage in it. Some of us also deal with guilt over our fantasies, but remember, fantasies are not reality. You can’t cause harm to anyone through fantasies alone; it’s only harmful if you act on it with real children. As long as it isn’t adding to your temptation, I see no reason why we can’t enjoy our sexual fantasies. Indeed, as I said, for many of us it actually decreases sexual tension, so I think we have a duty to channel our desires toward fantasies and away from real children. One trick is to keep your fantasies vague. Try not to fantasize about children you know; make them about children who don’t really exist. Make up stories in your head about them even. It’s a lot of fun, helps to develop your creativity and imagination, and keeps a sharp divide between fantasy and reality.
6) Develop a support network – Last but not least, if you are able, develop a support network. It is best to have someone in real life you trust who you can divulge your secrets to, though I realize that isn’t always possible. So that’s what Virtuous Pedophiles is all about. We are there to provide support and friendship to each other, and you don’t even have to reveal your real-life identity if you don’t want to. Most virpeds don’t. Nevertheless, we are like a big family; we care about and look out for each other. Sometimes that means being a little harsher than we’d prefer to be, but that’s what family does. In this environment we have few friends and advocates but each other. We try not to judge or be overly critical because we know that none of us is perfect, but if we are concerned that you might be heading towards offending, then we must intervene in whatever way we reasonably can, even if it comes across as severe at the time.
But that’s rare. Most virpeds never get to that point, and so we just hang out, offer friendship and camaraderie, and talk about the issues that affect us. In the end, it helps tremendously to just be able to communicate with people who share your sexuality and know where you’re coming from. We all need to have people in our life who get us, who are there for us in times of pain or crisis and who care about us enough to help us reach our full potential as non-offending MAPs.
If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear. – Gene Roddenberry
First, I want to express my condolences to the people of France who are dealing with the horrendous terrorist attacks that took the lives of over a hundred people in Paris yesterday. My heart goes out to the families and friends of those who needlessly died for some twisted fanatics’ cause. All I can say is, vive la France!
On a brighter note, my copy of the Kavanagh sisters’ book Click, Click arrived in the mail yesterday, and I am eager to read it. Joyce was kind enough to send me a copy all the way from Ireland after we corresponded through email a few times. I’ll be tackling it after I finish the novel I’m currently reading, and I’ll review it here afterward.
Finally, I’ll leave you with you a quote that I think applies to both the French and the Kavanagh siblings:
The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom, courage. – Thucydides
A friend of mine on Twitter recently posted an amazing essay on Pastebin entitled The Great Innocence Rage: A Look at a Hitherto Unrecognized Hyperaggression Syndrome Affecting Some Heterosexuals. It’s long and complex, but I think well worth reading. One of the issues I tend to come back to again and again is parents murdering their own children, which has become almost an epidemic here in the US. Even as a nonparent, I cannot imagine a worse crime than for parents, the people children love and trust the most in this world, to violently end the lives of their own offspring. This article presents a possible explanation for the uptick in these filicides.