OF mental health care and mentally ill
Offender of child sexual abuse and victim age disparity
Offender ofand victim age disparity The models and typologies presented in the previous section apply mostly to abuse in which offenders seek out much younger victims. These offenders probably experience sociocultural taboos about adult sex with children as inhibitors. This interpretation was forwarded by Finkelhor (1984), who argued that pedophiles had to overcome the inhibiting effect of sociocultural taboos against adult sex with children by employing some other type of disinhibitor. One disinhibitor they might employ is simply an inculcated sense of entitlement to and ownership over females and children within the offender’s environment. In this situation, the sociocultural norm of entitlement—a disinhibitor— might act in competition with the inhibiting sociocultural norm of the taboo of adult sex with children. More likely, however, an additional disinhibitor may be needed. For example, the potential offender’s level of sexual arousal to children may be so powerful that it acts to override cultural taboos. Another disinhibitor forwarded by Finkelhor (1984) is that the social ineptness of the potential offender may interfere with adult relationships, resulting in age-inappropriate advances. Cognitive distortions typical of offenders may also act as disinhibitors (Blumenthal, Gudjonsson, & Burns, 1999; Hartley, 1998; Ward, Fon, Hudson, & McCormack, 1998). For offenders who seek out age-appropriate victims (i.e., peers), it is suggested that sociocultural norms may be strong enough to act as the only disinhibitor necessary to young age into traditional heterosexual scripts in which they are considered dominant to females and entitled to sex with age-appropriate partners. As such, younger males who abuse age-appropriate victims may not perceive the encounter as abusive, but may instead rationalize their behaviors as normative within the values endorsed by society. Because victims are age-appropriate, no other disinhibitor than inculcated sociocultural norms may be necessary to precipitate abuse. In this type of abuse, young men target appropriate sexual partners inappropriately. In a recent case-by-case analysis of extrafamilial abuse cases in Russell’s (1983) community prevalence study of female respondents (Bolen, 2000a), sociocultural norms acting as disinhibitors were evident among many of the younger offenders. These offenders often appeared to have no other motivation to abuse than simply to act out traditional heterosexual scripts. Because this study was based upon an unidentified random population of offenders, the findings resulting from this study are especially important. One theme that emerged among this group of offenders was the abuse of the victim for sport. For example, one group of adolescents made sexual advances towards a group of girls at a swimming pool; in another incident a group of soldiers harassed and fondled an older adolescent in a bus lobby. One victim was continually harassed by male acquaintances as she walked home daily from school. Because she was the first in her class to wear a padded bra, another girl became the center of attention and abuse of a group of boys. Other situations were even more overt, such as the snipe hunt on which two boys forced the victim to undress and left her naked to walk home. In virtually every situation of abuse that appeared to be for sport, a group of males was involved and, in most situations, the males actively encouraged each other to perpetrate. (See Our Guys for an excellent case example of a rape “for In another type of abuse, a single male abused the victim but then used the abuse incident to bolster his own reputation, The theme of this type of abuse could be classified as female conquest. This abuse occurred in one of two ways. In one, the victim was abused by a single male while other males watched. In another method, after the victim was abused and usually raped by a solitary male, who was most often a friend or date, he would then boast about it to his friends. The victims were often humiliated and degraded by the perpetrator’s bragging behavior. A final and similar theme was of male entitlement to sex, a theme that was most obvious when victims were abused by dates and lovers. The sense of entitlement was overt and clear for certain of these incidents. For example, one perpetrator told his victim to “either put out or get out;” another said, “you know what you came here for.” Still another told his victim that she could not be his girlfriend if she could not “ease his pain.” These motivational themes—of abuse as sport, conquest, and entitlement—are probably similar in origin, as they all clearly represent the objectification of the female and the overriding concern of the male’s reputation and right to sexual access. In the themes of sport and conquest, the male’s reputation was clearly at stake as he participated in the commission of the group abuse or, as a single perpetrator, used it to further his reputation among peers. In the theme of entitlement, especially in abuse by dates and lovers, the abuse possibly exemplified an unconscious mindset of the perpetrator—that sexual access to the victim was his right. Thus, much of the abuse by the younger offenders in this study was an extension of socialization patterns between males and females. Dates who raped and friends and acquaintances who made sport of the female victim speak to socialization patterns gone awry. It is unlikely that these perpetrators would even have labeled their behaviors as illegal. Hence, it seems that the only or primary motivation and disinhibitor for this group of offenders was what they considered culturally normative behaviors for heterosexual encounters. Finally, a study on an unidentified population of offenders has important implications. Briere and Runtz (1989), as mentioned earlier, found that 7% of male college students, knowing they would not get caught, might sexually abuse a child, whereas 21% admitted some level of sexual attraction to children. Significantly, many of the same factors found in men with a propensity to rape were found in this cohort of younger males, including an acceptance of interpersonal violence, selfreported masturbation to pornography, frequent sex partners, and a hypothetical likelihood of raping a woman. Thus, both studies are examples of sociocultural factors operating as disinhibitors of abuse.
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