Dehumanizing Abusers

We have seen all sorts of ways that we dehumanize those who sexually abuse a child: Labeling them as predators, monsters, wishing severe punishments like castration or bullets upon them… even referring to them as child rapists or sex abusers. The implication is that someone who could hurt a human child in a sexual way could not possibly be human. Yet, before the abuse comes to light, we thought differently about these same people. We thought they were great with children, or that they were a bit odd but funny people. We cherished them as a loving parent, an involved teacher, or a fantastic police officer. We trusted them, but they betrayed that trust by hurting a child. We found the idea that they could hurt a child difficult to believe.

The reality is, the people who sexually abuse children are not monsters. They do not look like monsters, act like monsters, or feel like monsters. For all intents and purposes, the people that sexually abuse children are “normal” members of society. They are us, except of course that they sexually abused a child, which you could not tell by looking at them, and that is the point. No one knows what a monster is unless they wear a scary mask, or have a scary criminal past. 95% of people who sexually harm others had no criminal record when caught and most who are caught never do so again, so relying on these stereotypes hurts our ability to believe victims and spread myths. The fact is, both good and evil exist in every human being, and good people are capable of doing terrible things and bad people capable of great things. The fact is, people who commit sexual crimes can and do rehabilitate themselves.

When we caricaturize those who sexually assault children into monsters, perverts, or freaks, we blind ourselves to the reality of how, why, and who perpetrates these heinous crimes. We send the message that these people are monsters, but if we are on the lookout for monsters, we will never find them, we will only find people we trust around us. These crimes happen in communities where people trust each other, they happen because of stress or mismanaged mental health needs, and they are perpetrated by people who are just as human as you are.

While it is difficult to comprehend how or why someone can sexually abuse a child, 93% of sexually abused children and the people who love and care for those children know, trust, and love the person who abused that child. But if we are on the lookout for monsters, we will never consider that the warning behaviors in at-risk people could be displayed by people we know and trust. And if we cannot consider that, we cannot have a conversation with them to possibly intervene in their mental health issues before they abuse a child, and another child becomes a victim.