SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN: THE VICTIMS, THE OFFENDERS, HOW TO PROTECT YOUR FAMILY
BY CHERYL McCALL
There are perhaps 34 million of us in America--adult women who were victims of sexual abuse as children. It began for me when I was nine years old. My brothers and sisters had been sent to bed; I was getting a special treat by being allowed to stay up and watch TV with my stepfather. I was reading our small-town newspaper and was puzzled about a word. "Daddy, what does assault mean? Is it like when the Three Stooges say: 'I've never been so assaulted in my life?" He had a strange expression on his face. "I'll show you what it means," he said. He took me into my parents' bedroom--my mother was waitressing the evening shift. He removed my yellow pajamas and took off his clothes. Nothing was ever the same for me again.
The following day I was afraid to go into my third grade classroom because I thought everyone could tell. But I couldn't go home because he was there. I climbed the fire escape on the side of the yellow brick school and clung to it all morning, shivering and weeping. When my teacher discovered me there at lunchtime, she scolded me and told me that I was a bad girl. I already knew that.
The nightmare that began with my innocent question was repeated again and again over the next four years. He once held a knife to my throat and threatened to kill me if I ever revealed "our little secret." For a long time, I did not. I could not. If I had, perhaps I could have saved another little girl who also became his victim.
What happened to me was literally unspeakable then, 25 years ago, and my stepfather has never been prosecuted. But in the wake of ABC's special on incest, Something About Amelia, last January and the flood of sexual abuse charges in March at the Virginia McMartin preschool center in California, many of us began confronting our own secrets. We found the words--and the courage--we so desperately needed as children. Florida Senator Paula Hawkins's brave disclosure in a public hearing last April that she was molested at the age of five further fueled national discussion. The country was discovering that sexual abuse is far more prevalent than we might have suspected. Studies show that a child is molested every two minutes in the United States; the majority are between the ages of 8 and 13. But for every victim revealed, 9 are hidden from authorities. We now recognize that thousands of youngsters fall prey to deviant daycare workers, teachers, coaches and others entrusted with their care. The most uncomfortable fact of all is that as much as 50 percent of sexual abuse occurs within the family.
Child welfare professionals clearly define sexual abuse as any sexual touch, by force, trickery or bribery, between two people where there is an imbalance in age, size, power or knowledge. It is a crime almost always suffered in silence and shrouded in such fear that child molesters continue for years--or a lifetime--without being apprehended. According to a study by the New York Psychiatric Institute: Sexual Behavior Clinic, the average molester has abused an appalling total of 73 victims. The typical offender within the family has committed more than 80 acts of incest with female children. The child molesters interviewed for this article also confessed to far more sexual assaults than they were charged with. Sentences exacted for what the Justice Department has recently called the nation's least understood crime range from dismissal and forgiveness to 40 years in prison.
In a six-month investigation I asked many experts what causes a man to molest a child and what can be done to stop him. Then I questioned 28 offenders who agreed to be interviewed. Therapists explained how young victims can be helped and what happens if they're not. Forty victims and mothers of sexually abused children also told me about their experiences.
It is a subject that cannot be examined without the use of painful facts and explicit language. As one psychologist warned: "It's hard to take the sex out of sexual abuse." All photographs of the children have been altered, and names have been changed whenever requested by victims or offenders. To encourage solutions to this hidden epidemic, this special report begins with one family's story, then examines what is being done to treat the offenders and to help the victims. How you can detect signs of abuse and protect your child is discussed in the final section.
HOW COULD HE DO SUCH HORRIBLE THINGS?
“It was October 9, 1982. I was putting Erica to bed, just folding a shirt with my back to her," recalls Chris Butter, 31. "She said: 'Mommy, penises hurt my bottom.' I got down on my knees beside the bed and asked her to repeat it because Mommy didn't hear. She said that penises hurt her bottom and penises hurt her vagina." Erica was three then and her sister, Emily, 18 months old. At the time the three were living in a shelter for battered women in St. Paul, Minn. Chris had left her husband and their home six weeks earlier "out of total fear." Over the next year four psychotherapists independently examined the girls. Each concluded that both Erica and Emily had been sadistically and sexually abused since infancy by their father, Peter Butter, 38, who works for a Minneapolis computer company, and by his uncle, Charles Butter, 55, who handles military contracts for a major corporation. "You just don't believe that this happens in real life, in your life. How could he do such horrible things?" Chris says. "I left because my fear was that he was going to hurt me again. Who would think he'd hurt the children?" In one terrible flash, Chris suddenly had an explanation for the numerous vaginal infections and inflammations her daughters had suffered since they were babies. Once she had discovered blood on Erica's toilet paper when the child complained that her bottom hurt. "I didn't know what was going on," recalls Chris. In a protracted custody battle, both Peter (who wants his children back) and Charles Butter denied any wrongdoing. But District Court Judge H. Peter Albrecht, of the Juvenile Division, accepted the psychotherapists' findings that over a period of three years Butter had sexually abused his daughters in many ways, cruelly forced them to take part in and observe other vile acts and permitted his uncle similarly to abuse the girls in his presence. After questioning Erica in his chambers, the judge ruled that her "statements relating sexual contact with her father reflect a detailed knowledge of sex that is inappropriate and beyond the ability of a four-to five-year-old child to invent or fantasize." The judge denied the father custody and visitation rights and placed his findings of sexual abuse in the divorce decree he issued later as a separate judgment. Butter, who has spent more than $50,000 on his defense, says the children are lying and is appealing the decision. He has kept his job and remains a member in good standing in his fundamentalist church, while Chris survives on welfare and child support payments totaling $524 a month. No criminal charges have been brought against Butter or his uncle because the prosecutor believes the children are too young to be credible as witnesses and would be intimidated by cross-examination. Whatever the facts in this case, the stark truth is that with very young victims, the offender often goes free. Says Chris, "People ask me: How could you let him walk around? Why didn't you put him in jail?" Then she adds bitterly, "Like it's up to me."
Sisters Emily and Erica Butter, three and five, say that they were sexually abused by their father and his uncle. The girls' father, Peter Butter (at left with wife Chris and Erica at seven months), wrote the judge, "I am a man with flaws, weaknesses and problems. But I am not the man that I have been accused of being in the trial." His uncle, Charles Butter (at left with 16-month-old Erica and a baby lamb), is married and the father of five adult children. Both men deny that they are guilty. But the judge and therapists firmly believe that Emily and Erica are telling the truth.
HELP FOR MOTHERS FROM EACH OTHER
Today, two years after the children and their mother left home, the suffering is far from over. Both Erica and Emily are in therapy to help them recover from the trauma of the abuse, and Chris still weeps when she talks about it. Chris had been a dental assistant and volunteer poverty worker in Appalachia before she met Peter Butter in church and married him in 1978 because "he seemed so in control." Four years later, she was a battered wife, separated and on welfare. From a network of friends, Chris learned that there were other women like her in St. Paul, deeply in need of emotional support as they coped with the bewildering legal, financial and psychological effects of child sexual abuse. Mothers of Victims (MOV), cofounded by Judy, 31, the mother of four abused children, meets weekly in a self-help group. Sometimes in tears; the women compare notes on their children's ordeals and disturbed behavior. "With our children we have to ask: Is this tantrum normal or is this because of the sexual assault?" says Judy. "We have to have extra sensitivity to the kids and be aware of everything."
The mothers feel shunned and blamed by society for not having protected their children. "We are undermined, pointed to and accused," says Mary, 33, whose daughter was abused until she was three. "Every time I've shared with anyone that I'm the mother of a sexual assault victim, the first thing off their tongues is: “Did you know? How could you let that happen?" The mothers' predicament is compounded for Bev., 38, who is deaf. One of her two victimized daughters is also deaf. "We both feel doubly isolated," says Bev. All the mothers are frustrated by the criminal justice system. "No charges have been brought against any of the offenders," says Judy. "My children are too young to be certified as witnesses. What the county attorney told me is that until the perpetrator molests a child of eleven, they won't be able to touch him. Welcome to reality." When her custody case was over, Chris wrote letters to everyone in her old neighborhood warning them about her ex-husband. "The rest is up to them. They've got to protect their children," she says. "I've done all I can." As is common in sexual abuse cases, her neighbors reacted with shock and disbelief to Chris's letters about Butter. All the MOV members have had similar experiences. "A friend said that if it happened at all, it only happened once," recalls Mary. "That was the end of our friendship. I said: “How many times does a man have to rape a child before it's not O.K.? "
Chris (left) and Judy find that Am OV meeting is the one place they can let down their guard.
Chris, Judy and Mary listen as Bev. describes how her girls were raped.
When an incident is too painful to express in words, Erica and Emily show Dr. Fredrickson what happened to them on anatomically correct cloth dolls. "In my clinical experience, children never act out something that didn't happen," says the therapist.
GENTLE THERAPY WITH WORDS AND DOLLS
"It was scary for a while," recalls Chris. "Erica's eyeballs would roll back in her head, she would make nothing but animal noises and she was talking to another person inside her."
"I felt like a zookeeper instead of a mother," she continues. "I had to hold them so they didn't bite their skin off or pull their hair out. They've said they wanted to die over and over again."
Chris had to be eternally vigilant during the first year of recovery until that phase passed. "They'd try to jump off the tops of swing sets or balconies. They'd run into the street on purpose," their mother says. "Then I heard about Renée from the women's shelter. I called her and begged her to help us." Dr. Renée Fredrickson, 37, a St. Paul clinical psychologist who specializes in treating victims of childhood sexual abuse, agreed to take their cases at about half her usual fee. She believes Erica was a borderline schizophrenic. "I feel that Chris got Erica out of that situation just as she was developing a second personality as a defense mechanism to cope with the abuse," says the doctor.
Treating the girls is arduous. In addition to their explicit and bizarre sexual knowledge, both showed the cluster of symptoms most common to young victims: toilet training relapses, smearing of feces, gagging and unexplained vomiting, speech problems, excessive masturbation, withdrawal, stomach and head pains. In her sleep Erica would cover her genitals with both hands and scream for her father to get out of her vagina. Dr. Fredrickson asked Chris to take notes on their unusual behavior (because children act out what they can't express) and any statements they made about the sexual abuse. "I also encouraged her to distract them with other activities rather than try to control the behavior," she says. "It's better to let it out than stop it."
With Chris providing background information, Dr. Fredrickson's treatment strategy included gentle debriefing to explore the girls' thoughts, memories and feelings surrounding their experience. This process, she explains, helps to alleviate the isolation, guilt and shame that even young children experience after incest." Erica was able to tell me what happened to Emily before she was able to tell me what happened to herself," says Dr. Fredrickson. "Emily, who was two, would gag herself with her fist and then talk about the oral sex. Every time they disclosed something, they would bang their heads against the wall, spit in each other's faces or mine, break and throw things." After three months in therapy, Erica revealed that her father had threatened her with death. "Erica said that he was going to hold her facedown in a mud puddle so she couldn't breathe if she told. When he took her to the zoo, he held her up to the gorilla cage and said he'd put her in there," says Dr. Fredrickson. "I believe Erica. It fits with his sadism."
For 18 months the girls have visited Dr. Fredrickson every week for treatment. "I always tell children it's not their fault, but because Emily is so young, it never occurred to me that she thought it was. When I did say that, she covered herself with pillows and said it was her fault. Kids that young perceive sexual abuse as punishment for being bad."
To put their experience in perspective, the girls also participate in group therapy with other sexually abused youngsters their own age. They are learning that sexual abusers are sometimes nice and sometimes mean, that little kids get confused about whom to trust and whom to let touch them, and that lots of other children are victims too. "Something I really stress in training professionals is that they must teach the children these things. They're very prone to psychological misconceptions about what's happened to them," says Dr. Fredrickson. "You can build trust by being trustworthy yourself and exposing them to other people who don't sexually abuse them. We try to get a male therapist involved later on to whom they can relate." Treatment can last from three months to three years. The two sisters, however, may require even more. "Emily understands that she feels bad because Daddy and Uncle Charles hurt her. But Erica has a better grasp of what happened to her," says Dr. Fredrickson. "From her group, she knows that her Daddy hurt her worse than other daddies. She senses that she's different even from other abused kids. She may need therapy throughout her childhood."
AMID THE SYSTEM'S CATCH-22'S, SOME SLOW PROGRESS
Two years of treatment for the children have brought encouraging signs of improvement but no happy endings. "They used to hide under the chairs or the receptionist's desk, curled up in a fetal position," says Dr. Fredrickson. "They were frightened. Now they are much, much better." For more than a year Erica had persistent nightmares that she was being chased by her father or that her therapist had died, but those have abated. Emily, now three, is just entering the phase Erica has passed through. They have been declared "special needs children," and the county provides three days of treatment-oriented day care each week for Emily. Diagnosed as hyperactive, Erica is being treated with Ritalin, which acts as a mild tranquilizer, and has progressed well enough in kindergarten to be promoted to the first grade reading level. For her part, Chris feels trapped in a bureaucratic catch-22 that keeps her family subsisting on welfare. When she was awarded a grant this year to attend the University of Minnesota, that tuition disqualified her from receiving food stamps and the medical assistance that covers therapy for Erica and Emily. To make matters worse, if she stopped the court-ordered therapy, the state would take the children from her. With no other income, she had to withdraw from classes. Chris had completed two years of junior college but has found no job so far that will pay enough to support the family and cover therapy and a baby-sitter qualified to handle her daughters. She also has no car. "I don't even have money for the taxi to get to therapy," says Chris. "There are problems every time you turn around. The mothers all get revictimized by the system because we tried to save our children from their abusers." The girls have not seen their father since the fall of 1982, but he is fighting for visitation rights. The judge will not even consider his request until Butter completes a stringent sex offender treatment program. So far he has refused. "He's not in therapy because he doesn't think there's anything wrong with him," says Chris. "I will move and disappear if anyone tries to tell me that I have to let him visit them."*
"Before therapy Erica was hurting her sister in her rages and pain and fear," says Chris, who encourages sisterly hugs and comforts Erica at bedtime.
Pedophiles--sexual offenders whose primary victims are children--come from every walk of life, social class, ethnic and religious background. Some are married, some are not. Known offenders range in age from 12 to 94. By a conservative estimate, there are four million child molesters--roughly 5 percent are women--within the U.S. population today. ”Of the last twenty-four I treated, all but two were married,” says Dr. Irwin Dreiblatt, a noted Seattle clinical psychologist who has evaluated over 1,200 offenders for the courts. "One was a physician, one a psychologist and one a school administrator. What defines a child molester is that they do it.'
Rare is the offender who molests once and "self-corrects." Like a heroin user, he quickly becomes hooked. 'They will go to such lengths and put such energy, time and effort into maintaining that behavior that it's an addiction,” says Gerald Kaplan, director of Alpha House, a Minneapolis residential treatment center. Studies done with the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit find that pedophiles often seek jobs, hobbies and volunteer activities that involve youngsters. “But one of the main ways the pedophile gains access to children is marriage," says FBI Special Agent Kenneth Lanning. “The incest offender is often just a child molester who stays home.” The majority make no distinction between natural and stepchildren: a minority (20 percent) abuse both boys and girls. They also molest children outside the family.
The research of the past 10 years has revealed some common traits among pedophiles: Two studies show that a disproportionate number are outwardly religious, many are workaholics, and the majority manage to hide their deviant behavior from their wives, colleagues and closest friends. "We all think child molesters ought to be shot until we find out that we know one,” says Lucy Berliner, a Seattle therapist regarded as a pioneer in the field. "People cannot deal with the contradiction that men who look and act so normal do these terrible things.”
In the psychiatric lexicon, pedophilia is a specific combination of "deviant arousal" with “character disorder.” In simpler terms, that means the child molester is both sexually excited by children and sees nothing wrong with gratifying himself at their expense. As one therapist explained, the character disorder is the car and the deviant sex drive is the engine.
Behind the mask of normalcy, says Gerald Kaplan, the child molester is emotionally retarded and feels inadequate and threatened in the adult world. Psychiatrists believe the offender turns to children to meet his needs for sex, respect and affection. One therapist has found it significant that few offenders ever had even a passable relationship with their own fathers. But their relationships with their mothers were often better, the mothers ranging from nurturing to abusive. Studies find that the pedophile demonstrates poor control of his lustful impulses, in 50 percent of cases is an alcoholic or drug abuser, privately has little regard for society's taboos and is pathologically devious. "If I could use the power of manipulation in business that I used on my daughter, I swear I'd be a tycoon today," says Joe, 44, a machine operator from Chicago who began his assaults when she was eight. "I had to think days ahead and get people out of the way."
There is a consensus among experts that pedophiles do not consciously choose to be attracted to children. Sexual preference is not something an individual decides but discovers, usually at puberty. Sexual behavior, however, is learned through role models and experience. Kinsey and others have found that many people have more than one sexual preference. The orgasm is one of mankind's most powerful rewards. Most men can control their actions. But if a man has sex with a child or masturbates to fantasies of children, he is rewarding his deviant urge and reinforcing his behavior.
Bob, 36, a corporate executive in Minneapolis who is married to a nurse, first noticed his attraction to young boys when he was nine. He began having sexual fantasies as a teenager. In college he discovered child pornography. Though boys were his preferred sexual outlet, he could also be aroused by adult women. He secretly molested toddlers while serving in Vietnam, then two boys he befriended as a Big Brother and his three-year-old stepson--crimes he continued for nine years, several times a week. "I couldn't live without the sex. I couldn't imagine my life without it," Bob says. "A kid could walk past me right now and my head would almost uncontrollably swivel. That's not a choice I even have."
No one knows for certain what causes this aberrant drive. The theories range from abnormal hormonal and chromosomal composition to the wildly speculative proposition that American society helps condition men to be sexually stimulated by children because they are younger, smaller and subservient. Dr. Nicholas Groth, director of the Sex Offender Program for Connecticut prisons, offers a "vampire” syndrome theory that suggests that boys who are sexually abused grow up to become abusers themselves. "One way to defend yourself from having been victimized and helpless is to become the victimizer," he says. "Psychologically, it's a way of trying to undo the trauma by reversing roles." This may account for the 40 percent of offenders who tend to reenact what was done to them at the same age. But it doesn't explain the other 60 percent, like Bob, who were never abused.
Most child molesters begin as teenagers. Those who act out their fantasies exclusively with children are called "fixated pedophiles." If the adolescent molester develops a secondary, more appropriate sexual preference for a mate his own age, he is a "regressed pedophile" who usually resumes his assaults on children at a later stage of life. Therapists refer to this pattern as the "10-year pause" because more often than not, he begins again in his middle to late twenties.
"There are four very distinct kinds of incestuous fathers," says Richard Seely, director of the program for sexual aggressives at the Minnesota Security Hospital. "The natural father who is sexual with prepubescent kids [0-12] is likely to be psychotic; the one with postpubescent kids [13-17] is likely to be disabled or unemployed, and his son or daughter takes the wife's role. The incestuous stepfather who molests the younger kids is a pedophile who is likely to have abused other kids outside the relationship and married the woman because of her children. The stepfather who is sexual with teenage kids usually has some criminal history and other antisocial behavior. He's a taker."
Surprisingly, therapists find the deviance itself more treatable than the character disorder that accommodates it. Says one, "They have holes in their conscience and holes in their values, and we're not sure how to undo that." The symptoms of this disorder cluster roughly into two types: the sociopath who has no moral qualms about hurting others to get what he wants; and the self-deceiver who minimizes the harm he causes and projects the blame onto the victim or his wife. "The problem resides in the offender,' says Dr. Dreiblatt, "as a result of deviant arousal and will travel with him wherever he goes. If you put him in another family, he'll molest there."
The first type doesn't care; the second type employs defense mechanisms to keep a grip on sanity. If he cannot reconcile his behavior with his beliefs, he suffers severe psychological stress known as cognitive dissonance. "Defense mechanisms are normal, but offenders use them in excessive ways," says Kaplan. "Some will even distort Bible passages to indicate to their kids that they should be having sexual contact or use the passage about 'forgive and forget' when their daughters are angry."
These same ardent church-goers rely on religion to restrain themselves because they have no self-control. Then, when they molest again, they blame their deity--or the devil--for failing to keep them in check. The clergy themselves are not immune. Indeed, dozens of ministers of many faiths have been convicted, and the Catholic Church, recognizing the problem, added a sex offender program to its New Mexico alcoholism treatment center for its priests.
Though most people would not agree, Rickey, 36, insists: "We're not drooling monsters. We've just got messed-up behavior." Married three times and an ex-Navy man, Rickey was convicted of abusing two boys, three and eight. "I was having marital problems. The only sex I was having was with them." he says at Alpha House. “I knew I was doing wrong, but I couldn't stop myself."
In treatment at Alpha House, Randy, 24, is a mechanic in Minnesota. Single and fearful of adult women's rejection, he had his first sexual experience at 20, raping a five-year-old girl. His next victims were boys, ages three and five. "I liked little boys," he says. "They were easy to talk to and easy to talk into doing things."
Now in treatment at Echo Glen, Ralph, 17, was caught in the act of fellatio with a four-year-old boy he was baby-sitting. 'I was watching TV and getting bored. What's done is done, and I'm here to get treatment for it. I'm glad I got caught when I did. I'll probably like girls my own age when I get older."
An alcoholic ex-con, Bill, 37, is a Minneapolis cook. As a teenager he molested two younger boys. As an adult he has assaulted two more boys, ages four and five, a 13-year-old girl he was babysitting and a retarded 15-year-old. "He was my slave." he says at Alpha House. The photos taken by Bill and his third wife of the boy being molested were used as evidence in his case.
How do we stop child molesters? An outraged society would seem to demand severe punishment. Yet according to authorities, prison rarely changes behavior: it only suppresses it. Dr. Greg Lehne. a psychologist at Johns Hopkins who treats offenders, warns that there is a "seventy-five percent certainty that they will create new victims after release from prison.” Treatment can be effective, but all therapists find some offenders irredeemable, particularly the violent sociopath. Few pedophiles voluntarily seek help. "People don't give up very pleasurable behavior that brings a very powerful payoff unless there's a compelling reason to do so." says one psychologist. “Prosecution is absolutely necessary to require them to follow through with therapy.”
The states of Washington and Minnesota lead the country in effectiveness and number of sex offender treatment programs--mainly because both began tackling the problem in the early 1970s. They have vigorous prosecution and mandated treatment-but only for those the authorities believe can be salvaged. Oregon State Hospital has a model program that began in 1979, adopting most of the techniques developed in these states and adding a few of its own. "There are no cures in this business, " says Rob Freeman-Longo, director of the hospital's prison unit. "About the only thing we haven't tried is Magnum therapy--blowing their brains out with a bullet. We tell these men that they will need to work on their problem every day for the rest of their lives."
All treatment initially focuses on forcing the molester to admit the gravity of his offense and piercing his armor of rationalizations, either through individual or group confrontation. But treatment can’t stop there, says Lucy Berliner. "The change part is the work. Most therapists are not trained to change people: they're trained to help them understand things." Therapists compare altering a pedophile's arousal and thought processes to tearing down a house and then rebuilding it. The tools range from high tech to drugs to time-honored talking. Here are four methods the experts believe curb deviant arousal:
Aversive conditioning: The pedophile is shown pornographic slides of children while listening to erotic audiotapes. When he becomes stimulated he is given an electric shock or a blast of a noxious odor (usually ammonia or decaying placenta) through tubes inserted in his nostrils. The purpose is to associate terrible sensations with erotic fantasies--and thus reduce his deviant arousal.
Covert conditioning: The offender is placed in a near-hypnotic state while a therapist links his fantasy with "just plain obnoxious imagery," explains Dr. Dreiblatt, "like a toilet bowl of vomit splattering like a tidal wave over him.”
Masturbatory satiation: This widely used and apparently effective treatment requires the pedophile to reach orgasm first to an appropriate adult sexual image (while describing it into a tape recorder so he can’t cheat.) Then he immediately tries to masturbate again to his favorite deviant fantasy. Usually impotent at this stage, he has great difficulty achieving arousal and over time the fantasy loses its appeal.
Chemotherapy: About 90 offenders at Johns Hopkins and several volunteers at Oregon State Hospital are injected weekly with Depo-Provera, a hormone that reduces the male sex drive. "The medication is not a cure: its a sexual appetite depressant.” says Dr. Lehne of Johns Hopkins. "Strangely, it does not seem to depress normal urges as much as it does the atypical ones."
Treating the character disorder involves the development of empathy--a quality lacking in child molesters. Joe recalls that when he sodomized his stepdaughter, then nine, his only fear was that her screams might awaken his wife. "That was my big worry, not the child," he admits. "When it was over, she was crying--using her guilt trip on me.” he rationalized. "I said I don't want to hear this crap." In group sessions using psychodrama and role reversal, the offender plays the part of his victim. In one Seattle outpatient clinic, the pedophile reenacts on videotape his crime with a child-size mannequin, repeating the same words and ploys he used to manipulate his victim. He then watches the tape with his wife or adult lover and his group. "When the offender sees it, it just devastates him," says the therapist. In addition most programs insist on written autobiographies and detailed accounts of the molester's sexual exploits homework that forces him to confront his behavior in print.
Treating the problem at its inception--during adolescence--may offer the most hope. In Washington State, the Division of Juvenile Rehabilitation sponsors nine programs for teenage offenders, Its Echo Glen Children's Center, near Snoqualmie, where sexual abuse and victimization are found in the backgrounds of a majority of the juveniles held, uses the most sophisticated psychotherapies but never electroshock or Depo-Provera.
Echo Glen's approach parallels that of adult centers, including sex education and techniques to control anger. But in a unique experiment, some juvenile sex offenders share cottages with teenage female victims--under careful supervision. (The risk is low because 85 percent molested much younger children.) "In a coed situation, we give them a chance to try out some social skills we teach," explains Mary Lafond, the section's administrator. "These kids have not learned how to relate to folks their own age. They're often social isolates with shaky images of what it is to be male, and they've never had any friends except the six-year-olds on the block." Steering these teenagers toward partners their age is one of Echo Glen's goals. But like all programs, it offers no ironclad guarantee. "There's a chance of offending again because I like it," frankly admits Jackson, 13, who molested his six-year-old sister and two nephews. "I didn't like hurting them, but I liked the sex."
The difficulty is only underscored by their youth. "He's now got to go sixty years without a relapse. That's an unbelievable task," says Dr. Dreiblatt. “How many people go that long without another cigarette or drink? Sex offenders may control their behavior ninety-five percent of the time, but that will still create a lot of victims. This is one problem where ninety-five percent control just isn't good enough."
Jackson, 13, is embarrassed when Echo Glen counselor Janet Cox discusses a condom in sex education class.
A CHANCE FOR A NEW LIFE
While in Echo Glen for crimes of arson and assault, these victims receive the therapy they needed years ago. Cindy, 16, was first molested by three uncles when she was eight, then raped by her four brothers when she was 11. "I felt tricked. I hate them for doing it," she says.
Marie, abused by relatives and then three boys in an orphanage, finally told the secret at Echo Glen.
Rhonda, 18, was raped when she was seven by one of her former stepfathers. "I was just little. I was scared," she says. "It hurt."
"Molesting a child is psychological violence of the worst kind," says FBI expert Kenneth Lanning. "All the ills of society can't be blamed on sexual abuse, but we've seen the connection in studies of runaways, domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution, suicide, criminal behavior and mental illness. The behavior we study always has a history of it in early childhood." Nothing can erase the victims' experiences, but professional help can dramatically improve their prospects for a normal life. Washington State's Division of Juvenile Rehabilitation has already demonstrated remarkable success. Five years ago Echo Glen counselors began including questions about sexual abuse in interviews with each juvenile sent to the institution. The answers were shocking. "Practically every girl here has been a victim and about fifty percent of the boys," says Mary Lafond, an administrator.
"The greater number of people who have molested a girl, the more disturbed she is," observes Sharon Chambers, who leads the victims' groups with another therapist. "Some here have been molested by six to eight people. That really causes havoc." Echo Glen spreads 50 hours of therapy over 16 weeks. In four stages, victims reveal their abuse and share their experiences in detail. As a group, they explore the emotions and ramifications and, finally, learn problem-solving methods to handle stress and the misdirected anger that led them to commit crimes. Marie, 15, who had been sexually abused by five family members and three teenage boys from the age of three is now recovering through therapy. "By the time I was thirteen, I'd had it. I tried to slit my wrists and overdose on drugs," she says. "I thought I was gross and sick and not worth a lot. This program helps. It's still painful and it makes me angry, but I can live with it."
If the teenagers at Echo Glen had received help years earlier, experts believe that most would not have become destructive to themselves and society. Guided by this premise, Washington State and United Way jointly funded a therapeutic day-care program in 1980 designed to treat sexually and physically abused preschoolers. The Seattle Day Nursery has expanded to three branches currently serving 150 youngsters at a cost of $27 a day per child. These toddlers--placed by a judge in the nursery--receive 35 hours each week of professional attention and protection. "The family isolation in which sexual abuse thrives is broken," says branch director Maggie Kennedy.
Eric, four, was sodomized by his father, a professional clown who used an electric prod on his two sons and daughter during his sexual assaults on them. When Seattle Day Nursery teacher Mary Jane Caulk tried to change Eric's soiled pants, the boy acted out his fear of having them removed in a fierce 40-minute tantrum.
Beyond therapy, most of the young victims also require help with delayed speech and motor skills. "Abuse stunts their growth and causes failure to thrive. These children need nurturing so much they're like thirsty flowers," says Kennedy. "We have a four-year-old girl who had been horribly sexually abused by her father. She's the same size as her three-year-old brother and so thin you could look through her. This program may mean the difference for that child between having a life and not having one."
Millions of victims, now adolescents and adults, are painfully aware of that difference. Less than 10 percent of the sexually abused ever receive treatment as children. The others, emotionally and psychologically wounded, try to adapt to their handicap. Victims often adopt one of four behavior patterns to cope as adults:
They repress memories of the abuse, commonly developing ulcers, colitis, migraines or even anorexia as a result. They avoid intimacy even though they crave it. Chronic, unexplained depression plagues them. Jesse, 37, a Boston social worker, was incapacitated by anxiety attacks when she had to counsel incestuous families. In therapy herself, she finally remembered the long-submerged incest of her childhood. "I feel like a great weight has lifted," she says. "Being a victim has really interfered with my life. It blocked all the arteries to creativity, to development and to trust."
Many remain perpetual victims in violent relationships--confusing intimacy with abuse--and increase the ranks of battered women, hostages to the same helplessness and vulnerability they suffered as children. "Victims never develop a sense of protection from abuse--it's like radar that isn't there," says Jeanne, 34, a Minnesota battered wife who endured 10 years of incest as a child. Also typical is compulsive behavior to escape misplaced guilt and self-loathing. Overeaters Anonymous, alcohol and drug programs report a significant majority of clients were sexually abused as children.
In a cruel role reversal, some women become child molesters to regain the sense of power and control they lost as victims. One female offender, an incest victim who also was brutally raped twice as an adult, said she was drawn to youngsters because "sex with the children was beautiful and gentle."
Finally, in the healthiest alternative, victims manage to integrate the sexual abuse into their total life experiences--rather than let it dominate their lives and emerge as survivors. This emotional balance is rarely achieved without professional therapy. "Groups of six or eight others who have had similar abuse and feelings afterward can, in a sense, normalize the experience," explains Linda Sanford, a specialist at Coastal Community Counseling Center in Braintree, Mass., and author of The Silent Children, the most cogent guide for parents on the subject.
The first step toward recovery is the most difficult--telling the secret. Therapists say that keeping the secret is almost as psychologically damaging as the abuse because the victim remains isolated from others and feels tainted and different somehow. Treatment is then keyed to two crucial factors: how significant the offender was to the child and how long the abuse went on. Experts believe that all sexually abused children, regardless of whether or not they show symptoms, should receive brief treatment. Four to six weeks for some is enough. But adolescent and adult women who were incest victims of fathers, brothers or uncles tend to require intensive, extended therapy.
"When a parent has forced himself as a lover in a child's life, it's a loss that isn't going to be recovered," says Sanford. "If she's molested by someone outside her family, it's very confusing and damaging but she still has her parents." Some incest victims struggle with a terrible ambivalence between hating and loving the offender, who may well have been the more nurturing of the two parents. By rejecting the abuser or expressing her rage at betrayal, she is severing her strongest tie and is set adrift from her family. "The hardest bond to break is when the victim always saw dad as being pathetic and one of the kids. The victim has a lot of anger at the domineering mom, which the father benefits from," explains Sanford.
Deeply shamed by revelations of incest, families almost always initially deny it happened and then direct their anger at the victim. "It's the kill-the-messenger reaction," says one therapist. Elizabeth, 16, who suffered her father's weekly assaults for nine years, says, "I was blamed by all my brothers and sisters. Even as much as I hated my parents, I didn't want to breakup the family. We've learned in therapy that it's not the victim who breaks up the family, it's the offender."
Difficulties multiply in treatment if the mother denies the abuse occurred or prefers her relationship with the abuser over the child. If the mother insists on reuniting the family, the further emotional damage to the victim can be devastating. "When there's a difference between what the kid wants and mom wants, it's the worst of all possibilities. Parents have to respect and acknowledge their child's feelings toward the offender--even if they're not their own feelings," says Lucy Berliner, a Seattle expert who has treated thousands through the Sexual Assault Center at Harborview Medical Center. "In my opinion, no kid should ever be left alone with an offender again. Even if he wouldn't touch her, it's very anxiety provoking, and a lot of symptoms revive when he starts to come home from treatment."
Whatever therapeutic route victims select, there is comfort in the knowledge that their suffering can end. "The prognosis for most is fairly good. It may take a long time, but I've seen people heal and recover and change," says Sanford. "Kids, fortunately, bring tremendous resiliency to treatment. They're real survivors."
At the Seattle Day Nursery, Paula, four, comforts a friend. "Paula loves to be held," says a teacher. "She's so needy."
HOW TO GET HELP
Like any other personal safety lesson that you teach your child-like crossing the street-prevention of sexual abuse can be explained in an unalarming way. "If we present our warnings as something the child needs to know to grow up safely, then the information will seem less threatening," says Linda Sanford in her brochure for parents, "Come Tell Me Right Away." Even a toddler can understand the difference between "good touch" and "bad touch" if the material is presented calmly and clearly. "We teach one basic rule: If an older, more powerful person touches you on the part of your body covered by a bathing suit, except for health reasons, say no and tell someone," says Alice Ray-Keil, director of the Committee for Children in Seattle, which has developed the "Talking 'About Touching" curriculum used in more than 3,000 schools for preschool through ninth grade students.
Experts also advise against telling your child to beware only of “crazy" or "sick" people who might do these things, because children often take such statements literally. Children are adequately prepared if they understand that a normal-looking person, or even someone they know (as is the case 85 percent of the time), could molest them. Most important, you should give your children the message that they can tell you anything and you will still love them.
"Prevention is the key," says a Minnesota prosecutor. "We've got to teach kids to yell and say, 'No.' because it can be grandpa, your best friend or the Boy Scout leader." In Minneapolis, the Illusion Theater created a prevention play for schoolchildren in 1977. Called Touch, it has now reached 450,000 people in 35 states-and nearly every performance has elicited a disclosure of sexual abuse from a child in the audience. Experts say that such reporting is directly proportional to the number of educational programs operating in a community.
You should be aware that children rarely tell the secret unless you ask them directly if someone has hurt them or touched them in a way they did not like. "Children know the difference between touches that are given in love and being used by an adult," says Ray Keil. If your child is reluctant to go to school or be left with a relative or baby-sitter, gently ask why. If you notice sudden fearfulness, bed-wetting, nightmares, depression or withdrawal, question your child. The child's use of sexually explicit language or behavior is another indicator.
"There's a general agreement among those of us who work with abuse victims that children rarely lie about this," says Dr. Renée Fredrickson. "But it's useful to know that abused kids who have been threatened will admit what's happened--if you ask--then not tell you who did it." If your child should be molested, Linda Sanford suggests the following:
Tell your child you believe him or her.
Emphasize that the offender did something wrong: It is not the child's fault.
Call the police or rape crisis center.
In the case of incest, call your state's child protection agency.
Don't confront the offender in your child's presence. Let the authorities do that.
Take your child for a physical exam to reassure him or her that his or her body hasn't been harmed or changed.
Allow your child to talk about it at his or her own pace. Silencing children won't make them forget. Counseling is often helpful.
Most communities have some resources, such as rape crisis centers or family counseling services, that offer assistance. Peer-support and self-help groups are also available. Parents United, a California organization that treats incestuous families, has 129 chapters around the country. Its ancillaries, Daughters and Sons United and Adults Molested As Children, provide group therapy for victims and siblings only. A Chicago-based network, Victims of Incest Can Emerge Survivors (VOICES), has 26 affiliates nationwide. If you seek private counseling for yourself or your child, be sure to ask if the therapist has had special training in this field because the subject is rarely covered in college curricula. Your own alertness to the potential problems might save your child from a trauma whose bad effects can last for life.
Using the Committee for Children's book, Jennifer Pecot instructs her Seattle Head Start class about good and bad touching.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Under sociology/child care in your library or bookstore:
The Silent Children: A Parent’s Guide to Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse by Linda Tschirhart Sanford
(McGrawHill; $7.95, paper)
No More Secrets for Me by Oralee Wachter
(Little, Brown; $12.95, hardcover)
Your Children Should Know, by Flora Colao and Tamar Hosanky
(Bobbs-Merrill; $16.95, hardcover)
Send a stamped, self-addressed envelope for the following:
Red Flag Green Flag People, a coloring book widely used with Pre- and grade-school children, $4.00: Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorehead, P.O. Box 1655, Fargo, ND 58107
Come Tell Me Right Away by Linda Tschirhart Sanford, a pamphlet on how to warn children about sexual abuse, $2.70:Ed-U Press, Inc., P.O. Box 583, Fayetville, NY 13066
A comprehensive list of books, programs and other resources,$2.00: National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse, 332 S.Michigan Avenue, Suite 1250, Chicago, IL 60604-4357
Kids Go to Court, Too and Some Questions You May Ask About Going to Court… prepare children and parents for trial,$1.00 each: Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, Sexual Assault Services, C-2100 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487
The Seattle Committee for Children’s Talking about Touching curriculum and the Illusion Theater’s booklet How to Take the First Steps and other materials: Network Publications/Child Sexual Abuse Project, P.O. Box 8506, Santa Cruz, CA 95061-8506
The Illusion Theater’s 32-minute prevention play, Touch, for rental or purchase on film or videotape:MTI Teleprograms, Inc., 108 Wilmot Road, Deerfield, IL 60015