Rosemary O. Ogedengbe, PhD, CBT
Counsellor/ Sexual abuse trauma therapist
There are numerous reasons perpetrators of child sexual abuse must not be handled with kid gloves. Below are some of the reasons.
- Denial of justice could make abused children to become prone to violence – “I wish I had a gun to shoot him on his head”
Those were the words of a 6 year old survivor during a therapy son. She didn’t just say those words. Her non verbal expressions demonstrated that she meant every word. It was my very first encounter with an enraged survivor. I could feel the rage, her deep hurt and the desire to fight back. All I could say, was, “it is okay to feel angry, you have the right to be angry but don’t worry, you don’t need to fight him yourself, the government will fight him for you.” I went further to explain to her that the perpetrator had been arrested and was in custody. Then, she became calm.
Just yesterday, I was with another survivor. She just turned 16. During the session, I asked her to talk about her feelings. She paused for a while and then she said, “I am angry, very angry.” Then she continued and said, ” I feel like killing him.” She was talking about the perpetrator. In my work with survivors, I have heard similar statements countless number of times. At least, 7 out of 10 sexually abused children who came for therapy have expressed the same feelings. When perpetrators of child sexual abuse are not made to pay for their crime, we leave the survivors with the task of avenging themselves. These young and helpless survivors may lack the capability to exert the vengeance that they desire but let’s not forget that they are growing with hate and bitterness and could become overwhelmed with vengeance. Someday, unless these children are provided with relevant treatment to help them to resolve their anger, they will become young men and women, powerful enough to take their pound of flesh, not only from the perpetrators but also from the society that denied them the needed justice. When we shield perpetrators of child sexual abuse, we only preserve them for the doom ahead. If we don’t fight for abused children, someday, they may fight for themselves, and the society may not be able to survive it. One of the antidotes to the “venom” of an abused child is justice. Bring the perpetrator to book and let the child grow up in peace.
- The society loses the children’s respect and trust- A society that denies oppressed and abused children the required justice, teaches them that they cant depend on the society for their survival and safety. It teaches young people that it is useless to respect the rights of others, that the society is lawless, and that one can do anything and get away with it. We need not to wonder therefore, why more and more young people are getting involved in crime. They may simply be paying back a society that failed to protect them.
- Justice is Connected to the child’s sense of safety – Many survivors live in perpetual fear of the abusers and this re- traumatizes them. Another young client said to me, “I can’t go back home.” When I asked why, she said, ” he lives on my street.” Most perpetrators usually keep their victims in silence by threatening to harm them or their family members if they report the abuse. This is one of the reasons most abused children do not talk about their abuse. The child’s sense of safety is therefore greatly threatened when the abuse is disclosed and the perpetrator is allowed to go scot free. This fear that the perpetrator could still stage an attack is a threat to the child’s sense of safety and survival.
- Justice is connected to healing – Three of the most distressing symptoms of sexual abuse trauma include the fear that the abuse will happen again, flashbacks and nightmares. The child’s awareness that the perpetrator is still very much around only strengthens these symptoms, and makes it difficult for the child to heal from the trauma of the abuse, as he or she continues to live in fear of re- victimisation.
- More children will be abused – When a perpetrator is not brought to book, he or she may continue to abuse other children. Many adult perpetrators of child sexual abuse usually have a chain of victims. Research shows that about 70% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse have between 1-9 victims each while 20% of them have between 10-40 victims each ( Darkness to Light, 2019). In a study, 99 sex offenders confessed to have sexually abused a total of 959 victims ( Slicner, 2007 in Striving for Justice, 2019). This implies that when we allow perpetrators of child sexual abuse to apologize or “settle” and go scot free, we only allow them to continue to sexually abuse more children.
- Perpetrators of child sexual abuse need treatment – When perpetrators of child sexual abuse are brought to book, besides paying for their crime, they may also have access to psychological treatment that would help them to be aware of their risk factors for sexual offending, and equip them with skills to live more adaptively upon their reintegration to the community. On the contrary, when they are shielded, they are unlikely to receive this treatment. This means that they are likely to continue offending.
When next you are involved in any case of sexual abuse in which a child is the victim, please, think about the child, other children who may be at risk around the perpetrator, and the future of the society. You may also want to help the perpetrator by giving them an opportunity to access treatment while serving their term.