Socialist Worker

Why do people abuse children?

Issue No. 1710

what do socialists say?

Why do people abuse children?


IT HAS been hard to find any rational debate amid all the recent press hysteria about paedophilia. Any sexual abuse of children is utterly horrific. But papers like the News of the World have deliberately exaggerated the extent of the problem.

They would have us believe that there are thousands of paedophiles ready to pounce on our children. Thankfully, however, violent sexual assaults on children are extremely rare. The News of the World claims there are 110,000 convicted paedophiles in England and Wales.

The paper uses a wide definition of paedophilia, which includes incidents like flashing and running pornographic material off the internet. According to police figures, of these 110,000 there are 50 who they define as paedophiles who have raped or abducted children.

Less serious sexual assaults can cause immense damage and suffering to children. But flashing or downloading porn is not the same as sexually attacking or raping a child. The press paint a picture of paedophiles as "evil monsters" who are strangers preying on a community from the outside.

In fact most sexual abuse takes place within the family. The latest Home Office figures show that 80 percent of child sexual abuse takes place in the home of the offender or the victim.

It is not good enough to dismiss this as the result of evil individuals. We have to look at the kind of society we live in to understand how a minority can become so twisted that they abuse children. Sexuality is not something separate from the rest of society, however intimate those feelings seem to each individual.

Wider relationships inside capitalist society have a huge impact on the way our sexual feelings and behaviour develop. Under capitalism people grow up under intense pressure to find the perfect partner, the ideal marriage andthe happy family. Yet at every turn capitalist society makes the attainment of those dreams almost impossible.

Both women and men are also expected to match often impossible stereotypes of how they should look and behave. People are often told they are "unnatural" if they are lesbian, gay or bisexual. Men, who make up 98 percent of those who sexually assault children, are discouraged from expressing their real emotions and expected to "act tough".

Some people become ashamed of their feelings or start hating their bodies. Instead of discussing sex openly and honestly, people are encouraged to treat it as something "naughty", or even "dirty" or "shameful".


That is particularly true for those from strict religious backgrounds. Many studies have found that a religious background with a repressive sexual morality is one of the most common factors in the backgrounds of rapists and child molesters.

In Southern Ireland, for example, the biggest group of sexual abusers of children is the priesthood in the Catholic church. Even in a society like Britain today, where sex seems to be openly on display everywhere, there is a shocking level of ignorance about sex.

On top of this the daily grind of life-poverty, long working hours, bad housing and so on-puts immense strain on our ability to develop good relationships. Many paedophiles have themselves been the victims of abuse and sexual violence in their childhood.

One analysis of studies into child sex offenders found that 28 percent described being abused themselves as children. Of course such statistics are not definitive and only refer to reported abuse. But they do indicate that people who abuse are not innately evil and are often those whose own sexuality has been so thoroughly twisted that they can only relate to people in an abusive way.


On top of this, in capitalist society sexuality is connected to power-and powerlessness. It is a society where relationships between men and women are unequal. Women are seen as second class citizens and viewed as sex objects. Children, who are vulnerable and often too frightened to report abuse, can become an easy target.

Many of those who fantasise and become obsessed with sex with children do so because they find adult sexual relationships difficult to form. One recent Home Office study found "a lack of intimacy and high levels of emotional loneliness" were common factors in the background of child sex offenders.

The study went on to say, "There were problems in the ability of these men to form and maintain normal relationships with adults. "Children, who are less demanding and easier to control, are used in an attempt to meet their needs for emotional intimacy."

Socialists want to see an end to all forms of abuse. But that will not come about by press witch-hunts or repressive sentencing.

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Article information

Sat 19 Aug 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1710
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