«Return to LEAR'S FEBRUARY 1992 By Heidi Vanderbilt A Chilling Report Do you want to know what incest is? What it really is? No ...»
Joe I am talking to Joe. His daughter accused him of sexually abusing her. He pleaded nolo contendere. "But I didn't do it," he says. His sentence: four years probation, with therapy. He has been in treatment for two years. "When I first came to therapy," he says, "I had an attitude that I was being punished for what I didn't do. I had no rights, when you got right into it."
I ask how he feels about the therapy he is required to undergo now. "It's a little inconvenient," he says, "but it helps me in dealing with other people to understand them. I think it would be helpful if a lot of people could go through a program to give them understanding and another outlook, instead of being negative or feeling put down."
I ask him again about his daughter. "I never touched her," he says.
Later I talk with Joe's therapist. "Is he in denial?" I ask.
"Denial," the therapist replies, "is when someone says `She asked for it' or `She didn't say no.' Joe's not in denial. He's lying."
Chris I am talking to Chris. His sentence: 8 to 23 months in jail plus 5 years probation, with therapy. He has served 8 months and has been in therapy for 2 years.
"My stepdaughter and I had an affair when she was thirteen," he says. "It lasted a year.
I got sick and had to go on dialysis. My wife was working. My stepdaughter was taking care of me. She was like the wife. She never refused me or anything. I really believe she fell in love with me. More than like a father. She met a boy and fell in love. He was into selling cocaine. I didn't want him in the house. I slapped her. She ran to her grandmother and told. She" didn't want to take it to court, didn't want me to go to jail.
But her grandmother and Women Against Rape stepped in. The grandmother never did like me anyway. They blew it out of proportion and it got all stinky. I did what I could to keep it out of the paper. I could have beat it. I have to come here [to therapy] or I'd have to serve all my time. But if I didn't have to come, I wouldn't."
"Is there a message you would like me to pass on to the people who read this?" I ask him. "Can you tell me something that would help them?" "Yes!" he replies. "I want you to tell them that if their child gets a boyfriend, don't stand in the way. Don't say no. If I hadn't said no to her, this would never have happened."
Bob Page 21 of 56 I am talking to Bob. He, too, is in court-ordered therapy. Two and a half years ago he was convicted of indecent assault on his girlfriend's 15-year-old daughter. "She was curious about drinking," he says. "Her mother and I decided we would all get together and drink. Better at home, you know?" The first time, all three drank together. But later the drinking took place when Bob's girlfriend was away. "The first time it went okay," he says. "Then two weeks later, we did it again. I talked her into giving me a back rub.
Then I gave her one. I felt her breasts. She didn't say no. I was very attracted. She got up and went upstairs. She got on the phone, but she didn't say `Stop.' Then she pretended to fall asleep facedown. I fondled her buttocks, pulled her pants down, felt her vagina.
"She was crying. I started to get scared. For myself. I really got scared. I'm trying to figure out how to react. I ask her, `You want me to leave?' She says to me, `No. Mom loves you.' She went outside and didn't come back. She called her girlfriend whose mom works at the courthouse. The cops showed up. I was thinking, Oh shit, this is real."
Bob was given a two-year probation, with therapy. (The sentence was light because this was his first offense and the molestation hadn't progressed beyond fondling.) "She would have dropped it," Bob says, "but the courts already had it."
I ask Bob about his therapy. "I have a lot more knowledge now than I had," he replies — "about how many lives I can screw up. Every time she goes through something in the future I'm going to have to ask myself, `Was I responsible for that?' " Violent and nonviolent Males who molest children have traditionally been lumped into two broad categories, violent and nonviolent. Included in the latter are offenders who are fixated and regressed. Psychologist A. Nicholas Groth, Ph.D., founder of the Sex Offender Program at the Connecticut Correctional Institution at Somers, describes fixated offenders as adult men who "continue to have an exclusive or nearly exclusive sexual attraction toward children." Regressed offenders are attracted to their peers, but under stress— illness, loss of job or spouse—turn to children as substitutes.
To refine these categories, Robert A. Nass, Ph.D., a Pennsylvania therapist who treats sex offenders, suggests a third group: quasi-adult sex offenders—men who yearn for a loving relationship with another adult but, because of their own immaturity, are unable to have one and turn to children instead.
Incestuous Father In researching Characteristics of Incest Offenders, the most detailed study of male perpetrators to date, David Finkelhor and Linda Meyer Williams of the University of New Hampshire questioned 118 incestuous fathers in exacting detail. Based on the men's explanations about why and how the incest started and how the men felt about what
they had done, the researchers identified five distinct types of incestuous father:
the sexually preoccupied—men who are obsessed about sex and tend to sexualize almost every relationship;
adolescent regressives—men who have adolescent-like yearnings for young girls Page 22 of 56 generally and direct them toward their daughter;
instrumental self-gratifiers—men who molest their daughter while fantasizing about someone else;
the emotionally dependent—men who turn to their daughter for emotional support they feel deprived of from others;
angry retaliators—men who assault their daughter out of rage at her or someone else.
Women Abusers And what of the women who sexually abuse children in their care? What patterns, if any, are they cut from? Psychologist Ruth Mathews of St. Paul, in a study of more than 100 female sex offenders—65 adult women and 40 adolescent girls—found that they fall into four major categories.
teacher-lover—usually made up of older women who have sex with a young adolescent. This category often goes unnoticed by society as well as by the offender because the behavior is socially sanctioned. For confirmation, one has only to look to films such as The Last Picture Show, Summer of '42, and Le Souffle au Coeur.
experimenter-exploiter, which encompasses girls from rigid families where sex education is proscribed. They take babysitting as an opportunity to explore small children. Many of these girls don't even know what they are doing, have never heard of or experienced masturbation, and are terrified of sex. One girl who had seen a movie with an orgasm scene said, "I wondered if I could get that 'ah' feeling. I was waiting for the 'ah' to happen, then I got into all this trouble."
predisposed, meaning women who are predisposed to offend by their own history of severe physical and/or sexual abuse. The victims are often their own children or siblings. As one woman in this category said, "I was always treated as an animal when I was growing up. I didn't realize my kids were human beings."
male-coerced women—women who abuse children because men force them to.
These women were themselves abused as children, though less severely than the predisposed. As teens they were isolated loners but anxious to belong. Many are married to sex offenders who may abuse the kids for a long time without the wife's knowledge. Ultimately, she is brought into it. Witness a typical scenario.
Page 23 of 56 Deeply dependent and vulnerable to threats, these women are easily manipulated. As one of them said, "If he would leave me, I would be a nobody." Once such a woman molests a child, however, she may go on to offend on her own. As the mother of a fiveyear-old put it, "Having sex with my son was more enjoyable than with my husband."
While more than a third of the survivors I interviewed told me that they had been molested by women, true female pedophiles, Mathews says, are relatively rare—about 5 percent of her sample. Those she interviewed had themselves been abused from approximately the age of two onward by many family members. They received virtually no other nurturing—most of the nurturing they received was from the offender—and came to link abuse with caring.
Like male offenders, some females molest many, many children, their own and those in their care. But Mathews feels that women may take more responsibility for their acts than men do. Only one girl she worked with blamed her victim. Seventy percent of the females took all the blame if they acted alone. One half took 100 percent of the responsibility if they molested with a man. Where the men minimized what had happened—"We were only horsing around"—the women were "stuck in shame."
In Atlanta at a poetry reading, the woman sitting next to me asks what I write about.
When I tell her, she leans close. "I molested my son," she whispers. I ask if she wants to talk about it. "No," she says. "But I will say that it will take me the rest of my life to even begin to deal with it."
Therapist Kathy Evert of Michigan, extrapolating from her 450-question survey of 93 women and 9 men who were abused by their mothers, sees a more general problem. "I believe that no one, including me," she says, "knows the extent of sexual abuse by females, especially mothers. About eighty percent of the women and men reported that the abuse by their mothers was the most hidden aspect of their lives. Only three percent of the women and none of the men told anyone about the abuse during their childhood."
Instead they endured their own suicidal and homicidal feelings.
A. Nicholas Groth, the Connecticut psychologist, suggests "the incidence of sexual offenses against children perpetrated by adult women is much greater than would be suspected from the rare instances reported in crime statistics." He further suggests that women offenders may not be recognized as such because it is relatively easy to get away with abusive behavior under the guise of child care.
Female offenders wash, fondle, lick, and kiss the child's breasts and genitals, penetrate vagina and anus with tongue, fingers, and other objects: dildos, buttonhooks, screwdrivers—one even forced goldfish into her daughter. As one survivor told me, "My mom would play with my breasts and my nipples and insert things into my vagina to see if I was normal. I'm your mother,' she'd say. `I need to know you're growing properly.' She'd give me enemas and make me dance for her naked. It lasted until I was twenty. I know it's hard to believe, but it's true. I was petrified of her. Absolutely."
It has long been believed that any woman who sexually abuses a child is insane and sexually frustrated but that her abuse is less violent than a man's. None of this is true.
Only a third of the women and men in Kathy Evert's study, for example, said they Page 24 of 56 thought that their mother was mentally ill. (According to Ruth Mathews, a tiny percentage of abusing mothers are severely psychotic.) Not only were most of the mothers in the study sane, but almost all had an adult sexual partner living with them.
Furthermore, the mothers in Evert's study abused their daughters violently, beat and terrorized them, and raped them with objects. But they treated their sons like substitute lovers. Evert postulates that the abusing mothers projected self-hate from their own history of sexual abuse onto their daughters. "This causes rage and anger that don't go away," she says.
Sibling Abuse Not all incest is intergenerational, committed by adult against child. "There is more sibling incest than parent-child," David Finkelhor told me. And in Sibling Abuse: Hidden Physical, Emotional, and Sexual Trauma, Vernon R. Wiehe, Ph.D., professor of social work at the University of Kentucky, writes: "There is evidence... that brother-sister sexual relationships may be five times as common as father-daughter incest."
There are problems with numbers and definitions in this area, as in others. How, for example, does one define consensual versus forced sexual contact between siblings?
Finkelhor says that an age gap of five years implies coercion. Others feel that a fiveyear gap is too wide. What about children who are close in age but different in size?
What about children who have much more or much less power in the family? What about children: who are more gifted or less gifted physically or intellectually?
Coercion aside, "sibling abuse has been ignored in part," writes Vernon Wiehe, "because the abusive behavior of one sibling, toward another is often excused as normal behavior. Sibling rivalry must be distinguished from sibling abuse."
Certainly, sibling sexual abuse is no different from other sexual abuse in that it is selfperpetuating. According to the Finkelhor study: "The role of physical and emotional abuse in childhood should not be overlooked.... Arousal to very young children may be the result of early sexual victimization."
Prevention of Father-Daughter Incest?
The Finkelhor study has profound implications for the possible prevention of fatherdaughter incest. Over 50 percent of the men in the study reported that their sexual interest in the daughter developed slowly. Is it possible that prevention programs could have helped them clarify and deal with their feelings about her before sexual contact occurred? According to the researchers, "It is conceivable that men can interrupt the sequence of events which led to the abuse."
Cure for Incest?
Currently, the statistics on recidivism are predictably dismal. The rehabilitation of offenders has always been approached as a matter of jail, probation, or court-ordered therapy. Only some few medical institutions in the country—notable among them, Baltimore's Johns Hopkins—offer impressive in-patient treatment involving drugs and therapy, but treatment is expensive, and not all medical insurance plans will cover it.