The current typologies:
As it stands there are a number of ways to categorize people whose sexual fantasies or sexual behaviors relate to children. Each category has its own particular characteristics and these categories become especially significant in the legal arena although they also relate significantly to approaches to prevention and treatment. There are child molesters who are deemed predatory, fixated pedophiles, those seen as more intractable and more difficult to treat. There are incestuous child molesters, those who molest a particular child whom they are emotionally close to rather than lying in wait for or grooming children at large and who are seen as less dangerous to society and easier to contain. There are also of course those who are sexually sociopathic, who have a number of sexually exploitive behaviors and are likely to engage in molestation of a child simply because the opportunity presents itself. Recently there is a distinction made between people who view child pornography because they are predatory pedophiles and people whose pornography addiction escalates into an interest in child pornography or in child molestation that wasn’t there before. This spreading out or escalating phenomenon may happen more readily in adolescents whose sexuality, as well as their overall cognitive development, is less well formed. Probably for this same reason, the recent data suggest that treatment outcomes are better for adolescents who have committed a sexual assault against a child.
The “maverick” molestation
In my work treating sex addicts I have seen a number of patients whose “arousal template,” meaning the well established set of sexual fantasy scenarios that drive their addictive sexual behaviors, have nothing to do with children but who nevertheless have at some point either touched a child inappropriately or had the thought or fantasy of acting out with a child or under-age youth. In these cases the encounter with a child or adolescent is not part of a pattern. Also it does not represent an “escalation” of their sex addiction. On the contrary, the addict may find themselves interacting sexually with a child or contemplating it, only to be shaken by the fact that they have done or contemplated doing such a thing. They may follow through in the moment and then realize afterward that they have crossed a line that they will never allow themselves to cross again. Or they may recognize in themselves the impulse to act out with a child in a particular situation and be so taken aback that they never again allow themselves to be in a situation in which that behavior poses a risk.
I can hear you saying “Yes but how can you believe them? What if they are actually bound to continue the offending behavior but they are keeping it a secret?” That is a possibility, but if you know the patient well enough and over the period of their recovery from sexual addiction then you know with some certainty that it was a one shot deal. Such an addict will not stop being an addict and will likely continue their preferred behavior such as anonymous online sexual hook-ups, engaging prostitutes, sexual chat rooms or internet pornography and never have another brush with child molestation. They may even continue their other offending behaviors such as exhibitionism or voyeurism but never act out against a child. It is simply not their preferred behavior and they are thus able to veer away from it.
What causes this spill over?
But although they have a distinct arousal template for their compulsive sexual behavior and although they do that behavior or that set of behaviors over and over, and although they may increase the frequency, the riskiness or the bizarreness of the behaviors, they are not destined to become child sexual abusers. I believe that this phenomenon, if it is a phenomenon, of the random act with a child, represents the fact that:
- Many sex addicts view the world through sex colored glasses. As I like to put it, “they could sexualize a ham sandwich.”
- Many sex addicts grow up in families or living situations in which there are extremely poor boundaries.
- Poor boundaries do not always represent covert incest
All sex addicts I have known are liable to see any and every situation through a sexual filter. They project their own preoccupation with sex onto the world at large and react from their own need to put sexuality first. But that is not enough to explain the spill over phenomenon. I think that those addicts who are particularly prone to have a one-time sexual brush with child molestation are those who were raised in families or situations in which there were very poor boundaries. By this I mean situations in which there was a lack of appropriate generational boundaries and a lack of personal boundaries, e.g. sleeping in the same room with teen aged children or in which male and female children and teens were thrown together in sleeping or living arrangements without privacy. Usually these are situations in which the parents or caregivers had a poor sense of appropriate boundaries themselves but are not engaging in covert molestation. In these cases, there is likely no history of actual molestation of the addict as a child. It there were it would raise the red flag of possible child sexual abuse pattern.
I believe the spill over phenomenon is a byproduct of sexual addiction caused by an extreme lack of an appropriate sense of boundaries beginning in childhood. If this is the case and if it is fully understood then I believe it helps to allay the fears of the patient and therapist alike. Whatever other challenges the sex addict faces, the behavior or fantasy of acting out with a child may truly be an atypical event for some addicts, one they can walk away from and one that may not signal a larger problem relating to children.
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