Note- this is the first part of a two-part series. This part will focus on the interaction of pedophiles within families and communities. The second part will focus on the things pedophiles say to their victims.
Statistically 10% of American men, and about 3-1% of women meet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual's criteria for being a pedophile. Other sets of statistics tell us that at least 90% of pedophiles are walking the streets at any given time- fewer than ten percent are in any sort of correctional or psychiatric institution. So this means that if you know more than ten men, there is a statistical likelyhood that you know a pedophile, even if you don't know that you do. Understanding the fact that you are likely to know a pedophile, and likely to know the victim of one, puts you in a situation where you can do some good in the life of a child. What follows is pulled both from my personal observations and those of professionals, about why and how people doubt their instincts, go down the path of least resistance, and let children get hurt.
#1) You know me- I would never do that!
This is the grand-daddy of all the lies our pedophiles tell us. It is based on some psychological circuitry we all have that goes something like "I'm a good person. Therefore, I associate with good people. Pedophiles aren't good people, therefore I don't associate with them". Pedophiles who actually molest children, which the leading researchers think is most of them, are guilty of doing a reprehensible, damaging, vile act. However, most of them are also capable of holding down jobs, rooting for the same team you root for, and having plesant conversations with us. Here's another way to look at it- more than 90% of children who are sexually abused are abused by someone they and/or their families know and trust. The child's family often provides them with access to their child(ren). How many families would let someone who was clearly cruel, insane, defective or dangerous have access to their children? There are very few obvious signs that someone is sexually attracted to children. As far as I know, there are only two ways psychologists can prove someone has a significant sexual attraction to children. One involves a very long, detailed questioneer, and the other measuring the bloodflow
to someone's genitals when shown pictures of children. Neither of these are things most of us subject our peers to! So suffice it to say that just "knowing" someone doesn't mean you know whether or not they are sexually attracted to children.
#2) Yes, someone accused me of doing something one time. I didn't do anything, and you know how easy it is to be accused of something like that...
This isn't necessarially a lie. But, if a perspective babysitter says it, look elsewhere. If you ever hear this one, and you are aware of children being placed in this person's care, you want to learn the circumstances under which they were accussed and to what authority they were accused. Statistics consistantly show that about 10% of the accusitions of child sexual abuse that are made to the Central Register are found to be false. Most of these stem from an adult saying "so and so abused my child", rather than a child saying "so and so abused me". Most of these false accusations come from custody disputes. There are particular sub-groups of children who will fabricate accusations, and these children are usually so far gone, psychologically, that they are deeply involved with social services and psychological experts who will know how to handle these false accusations.
People who remember the 1980's, and trials like the McMartin Daycare fiasco remember the power of a crying child on the witness stand and the weight of the mantra "children don't make things like this up". And eventually we learned that, while they rarely do make accusations up randomly, unprofessional questioning methods can cause them to give inaccurate, untrue answers. What most people don't realize is that the pendulum has swung so far the other way in the ensuing thirty years that now it is almost impossible to get a trial in a case where the only evidence is the testimony of a single child. And very often in child sexual abuse cases that is the only evidence.
The more agencies investigate a claim, the more you should worry about it. If you hear that a school district, the county CPS and two different police jurisdictions have investigated someone you're thinking about hiring to fill a teaching position, that means a whole lot of people took the accusation seriously. That means that you should, too. It doesn't mean this person needs to be ostracized, harrassed or run out of town, but you probably shouldn't take the risk in hiring them. It's also important to know that very often schools and other institutions will simply relocate an employee who's accused of sexual abuse. It makes the family of the accuser happy, because it means their child is never going to have to see that person again, and the family probably doesn't understand much about their legal options- very few people do. And it spares the employer the potential community scrutiny, bad press and liability that come with a CPS or police investigation.
False accusations happen. Trained experts can usually see right through them. Cover-ups also happen. If someone says they've been falsely accused of a sexual crime against a child, ask yourself some hard questions about putting them around children. And if they say "c'mon, you know me! I'd never do that!" refer to #1.
#3) Yes, I did sexually abuse a child. I'm ashamed of it, it happened a long time ago, I've changed/quit drinking/gotten therapy, and it's not going to happen again.
People make mistakes, people can learn from them, and people can change. To some extent.
Much to my significant other's disappointment, I'm pretty sure I'm never going to wake up one day strongly sexually attracted to women. And I'm pretty sure he's not going to wake up with a strong sexual attraction to men. The change from being strongly sexually attracted to children to not being strongly sexually attracted to children would be like someone's sexual orientation changing from hetero to homosexual. There are very specific modalities of therapy for sex offenders that seek to do just this. But they aren't DIY affairs.
There are a few situations other than diagnosable pedophilia that will cause an adult to sexually harm a child, but most of them are not the kind of things that are ameloriated by sobriety, regular-old therapy, anti-depressants or any other psychological trappings that most of us have any familiarity with. Treating sex offenders is often compared to recovering from chemical addiction- long-term sobriety can be achieved, but non-abusive, recreational drinking cannot be. Someone who says "I molested seven children, I got caught, I've been through treatment, and I know better than to be around children" is more trustworthy than someone who says "I molested a child, I've changed, I'm fine".
#4) I know he's done some bad things, but I don't care. I can keep my kids safe! or this corrilary- "He and I talked. We're going to go into couples therapy. It won't happen again".
This is the lie that is believed, which is always dangerous.
There is a catagory of sex offender who will try to get access to children by living with them- by marriage, adoption or foster parenting. These men will often try to marry the most wretched woman they can find with kids. And wretched women are vulnerable to the charms and resources that men can bring. Add in "traditional family values" that make any woman who dares raise children without a man feel like a criminal, and you have a perfect storm. Pedophiles are often as good or better at manipulating adults than they are at manipulating children. There are women who know that their current partner has sexually abused other children, who are so desperate to have what this man provides them with, that they will make themselves believe ANY excuse their partner provides in order to salve their conscious.
And the corrilary- I used to be very active on an on-line support group for sexual abuse survivors, and one survivor told a story about the day her mom caught her father abusing her. She thought it was the day of her salvation. She was so happy. And then her mother told her "we talked about it, we're going to go to marriage therapy, and if he does anything to you agian, tell me". Well, the girl felt unable to tell her mother before, and she felt much less able after that- her father used a new collection of manipulations on her. I thought that decades of increased public awareness had wiped this argument off the face of the earth. And then in raised its ugly head in a situation very close to me.
Parenting is hard work. Anyone a parent lives with will end up shouldering some of it. When one parent is running around like a chicken with their head cut off, and the other offers to bathe the kids, sooner or later the one parent is going to take them up on that offer. No parent is going to insist on their eight, twelve or fourteen-year-old child never leaving their line of sight in their own house. But the moment they do, they are vulnerable, if there is a pedophile living with them. Most acts of sexual abuse don't cause a child physical pain- so children rarely cry out during the actual act of sexual abuse. That means children can, and often are, sexually abused when their non-abusing parent is in the other room. And if the non-offending parent says they're going to install a brinks-style security system on their children's bedroom doors, the offending parent will beg, manipulate, threaten etc., until the non-offending parent backs off.
If you ever come across a family that is using either of these arguments to justify their dysfunction, and you call CPS, you're a hero.