Literary Takeaways: What I've Learned From Reading Conversations with a Pedophile - Part Two

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Welcome to Part Two of this blog post. If you're new and haven't read Part One, yet, I encourage you to do so as it will help give you context around the topics and issues I'll be talking about here.

In part one, I talked about how pedophiles often go undetected by society and community members, the fact that pedophiles are not always "born that way," and how their own past trauma could be a precursor to their behavior and maladaptive coping mechanisms.

In this post, I'll be talking about topics that often link an abuser and survivor together in common and uncommon ways.

The power of secrecy

The most common thread between an abuser and their victim is secrecy. In a way, both the abuser and survivor use secrecy as a means of safety and survival. Consider these words from Amy Zabin:

Children who have been abused sexually rarely speak up about their abuse spontaneously. They feel ashamed and keep it a secret. This secret can destroy their spirit. A pedophile, like any other wrongdoer, wants and needs this secrecy. To view secrecy as something only to prevent detection, arrest, and imprisonment is to seriously understate the multifarious role of secrecy in pedophilia. To understand the victim’s helplessness, we must understand all aspects of the role of secrecy. 1

I've noticed this thread often in my own experiences with sexual abuse. There are certain levels of secrecy that accompany the process of recovery. Mine looked something like this:

  • Before I came forward: Don't tell anyone what happened because you'll get your uncle in trouble. No one will believe you. You deserved it.
  • After I came forward: Don't air dirty laundry. Don't correct someone when they talk about how great your uncle is. Keep what happened a family secret.
  • Today: Stop talking about it, there's no need to keep bringing this up. People don't need to know our family business. Just be quiet and move on.

Each of these levels of secrecy have one important thing in common: they are designed to protect everyone except for me.

And this is exactly how pedophiles so often get away with their abuse. Secrecy does nothing tangible for the victims. Yes, it may be a coping mechanism or a temporary solution but there's no long-term advantages to secrecy on a victim's part. There is only pain and suffering. But that same secrecy is what keeps pedophiles free and able to offend over and over again. It keeps family members from having to admit the truth and face the reality. It keeps them protected from societies scrutiny.

Secrecy is the crux of sexual abuse. Without it, there could be no abuse. 2

Isolation, Struggle and Acting out

Another common thread that ties abusers and victims together are the life-long struggles both sides face.

Like a survivor, the offender’s struggle is continual and tough. And while I don’t mean to make a comparison between the suffering of the innocent survivors and the hardships of the offenders, I do want to let you know that when we decide to fight the monsters in our mental closet, it’s one hell of a fight. 3

As unfair as it is - the truth is that both abuser and victim are suffering. And it's within those moments of despair and suffering that we actually recognize the thread that ties us together. An example: as I got older and deeper into my recovery, I would often ask myself, "Why me? What did I do wrong to deserve this? What punishment is this for?" and it's not until recently— with all the work I've been doing surround this topic— that I realized my abuser probably said those exact same words about the suffering he faced. "Why am I this way? Why do I have this {insert adjective} that makes me do these things?"

We are both suffering from the same trauma lineage — the only difference is that an abusers is often the doing of his own making while the victim has been forced into the suffering.

Consider Alan's words on this very topic:

Each of us, the victims and the offenders, lives in our own world of personal isolation. How frequently it appears that this sense of isolation is one of the motivators in an offender’s acting out, and how frequently the result of his abuse is a victim being traumatized into his or her own world of guilt-ridden and dirty-feeling isolation. 4

Ironically, the thread that ties abusers and victims together is the same thread that makes recovery possible. That's why almost every single traumatic event or experience has a support group. Because the ties that bind a group of strangers together are shared experiences. When we see, hear, feel what others have gone through (and it's similar to our story) we immediately feel less alone. We know that we're not the only ones who are suffering. The same can be said for offenders, too.

Take Alan's explanation on why he thinks group therapy for offenders is so important to rehabilitation:

It’s pretty hard to pretend that you’re different from other offenders when you sit and listen to them use the same words, lines, logic, and lies that you have used with your victims for so many years. I can tell you from personal experience that one of the biggest shocks I have received was the first time that I heard another pedophile repeat, almost verbatim, the words that I so often used in my seduction process, only it was his process! The impact of that experience is mind boggling simply because you realize that if the words and the logic are the same, then so is the illness, the criminality, and the ultimate damage to the victim(s). 5

Again, the commonality of shared experiences works in favor of both abusers and victims and further ties them together as they often learn about the experiences of the other. The truth of the matter is that abusers and victims are very often battling the same core thing:

Their own demons.

It's how they choose to slay them that marks the difference. Anytime a victim can slay their demons without becoming an abuser means they've started to break the cycle.

So what's the answer?

The solution to the problem of sexual abusers is often relegated to "just kill 'em" or "they should be tortured and locked up." These statements are understandable, especially when they're said by individuals who've been personally affected by a sexual abuser's actions.

But if you really think about it logically, it doesn't SOLVE anything. That particular abuser might be dead or gone or not in the picture, but that doesn't change the trauma their family will endure, it doesn't necessarily eradicate the cycle, either. Especially if another family member feels slighted about someone they love being taken away from them. It's a circle of pain that never ends until someone(s) turns their trauma toward recovery, education and advocacy. Eradicating an abuser doesn't stop another unrelated stranger from abusing or repeating a cycle of trauma from their own family.

"Okay," some people say, "so we can't fix the problem by focusing on the individual. But we can fix the problem by targeting pedophiles as a global issue. Therefore, if pedophiles as a collective group are aware of the consequences and punishments associated with the abuse, it will compel them to stop."

Unfortunately, that's not how it works either. Alan's own words about imprisonment and rehabilitation really stuck with me and forced me to explore what other options are out there to do what REALLY needs to be done: help the abuser and the victim.

It seems as if we live in a circle of pain. The public and the courts refuse to see pedophilia as a real emotional illness. A first-time teenage pedophile is often treated as if he were a casehardened and lifelong criminal. Members of the public call for the stiffest possible sentence, never realizing that by doing so, they are enlarging the overall problem. They delude themselves into thinking that imprisonment will teach the pedophile a lesson, and once he has had to sit in a cell for a few years, he will see the error of his ways. They expect the experience of incarceration will scare him to the degree that he will come out a cured and productive member of society. Wrong! Imprisonment is not and can never be a substitute for therapy. On top of this, imprisonment in a system that turns a blind eye to the repeated brutal treatment of young pedophiles does nothing but instill within them a sense of rage. A person who is beaten, raped, and abused while incarcerated from the age of sixteen to nineteen or twenty reenters society a walking time bomb. He is still very much a pedophile, only now he is a pedophile seeking revenge against what he sees as a sadistic and unjust world. 6

Sadly, I have personal experience with this as well. For the conviction on my case, my uncle was given a certain amount of time "away" and had to register on the sex offender registry. These "punishments" were supposed to teach him a lesson. They were supposed to make sure never offended again. But he did. Again and again. Those punishments did nothing to address the core problems he faced: why he was sexually abusing and how he could fix it. Instead, he got slaps on the wrist as if that was motivation to change.

Again, I feel Alan really hits home.

More and more I am convinced that the only way that we will ever begin to deal effectively with the issue of child abuse is through public reeducation. The issue of pedophilia, which has too often been swept under the rug, must be brought to light and addressed in a realistic, concerned manner if we are ever to make any headway in preventing the abuse of our children. 7

Stone walls and iron bars do not help sick people to gain control of themselves. The public attitude concerning pedophiles offers the potential offender no hope for help. How can a kid who knows that he has what seems like an uncontrollable attraction for sexual involvement with younger children, but lives in a society that only seeks to imprison and destroy people with those feelings, ever be encouraged to seek help before he begins to act out? 7

I believe that the answer, if there really is such a thing, lies in helping the offender deal with and control his sickness and spending a much greater amount of time working to educate children as a means of providing them with the type of self-confidence, knowledge, and skills needed to avoid being entrapped by someone like me. 7

I truly believe that Alan is onto something, here. My therapist taught me a coping technique that has never left my side - it's something I do quite often and I think the sentiment is the same here. She encouraged me to put myself in someone else's shoes as much as I could when I was confronting an interpersonal issue. Example: There is a woman I'm in frequent contact with in my career. She's quite rude and snippy and she rubs me the wrong way. The first couple exchanges, I really wanted to just say something like, "what is your problem, lady? Can't you just be nice." And then I found out a little bit more about her background. She was a single mom, working three jobs to keep food on the table for her and her children (two of which have developmental disabilities). She also deals with health issues. When I started to think about her life... her daily routine... I could see how maybe her tone and lengthy explanations were not a priority. That perhaps, she was just dealing with a lot of stuff on her plate and it came out in the shortness of her emails. Regardless of the reasons why she acted the way she did, once I was able to put myself in her position, my attitude changed toward her. It wasn't an excuse for her behavior but it was understanding and acceptance. Once I accepted and understood a bit about her and her life, I was able to respond to her with more kindness, compassion and resolve some of the resentment I felt toward her.

I think the same applies with abusers and victims as well as with society. If we could all, just for a tiny bit of time, put ourselves in another person's shoes and really take an honest look at how we'd deal with the situation or how we can bring a little compassion into our exchanges — we might have a chance to stop or prevent some of these tragedies.

While there are many other topics of discussion we could exrapolate from this book, I'm going to leave you now with a big question. A question I don't think any one person has the answer to, but is incredibly important to consider anyway.

How can we build a future that aims to protect and prevent abuse by focusing on BOTH parties to make the change?


References

1 Zabin, Dr. Amy. Conversations With A Pedophile: In the Interest of Our Children (pp. 79-80). Barricade Books. Kindle Edition.

2 Zabin, Dr. Amy. Conversations With A Pedophile: In the Interest of Our Children (p. 87). Barricade Books. Kindle Edition.

3 Zabin, Dr. Amy. Conversations With A Pedophile: In the Interest of Our Children (pp. 179-180). Barricade Books. Kindle Edition.

4 Zabin, Dr. Amy. Conversations With A Pedophile: In the Interest of Our Children (p. 184). Barricade Books. Kindle Edition.

5 Zabin, Dr. Amy. Conversations With A Pedophile: In the Interest of Our Children (pp. 185-186). Barricade Books. Kindle Edition.

6 Zabin, Dr. Amy. Conversations With A Pedophile: In the Interest of Our Children (pp. 193-194). Barricade Books. Kindle Edition.

7 Zabin, Dr. Amy. Conversations With A Pedophile: In the Interest of Our Children (pp. 194-201). Barricade Books. Kindle Edition.