Imaging hinders insight into the problem of abuse


Warning: Due to the sensitivity of the topic, this article may trigger emotional responses. However, we think it is important to get to the heart of the problem. It is important to avoid inaccuracies.

In a recent article van Hart van Nederland called cultural philosopher and sexologist Erik van Beek pedophilia a blind spot: “Everything that has to do with the subject seems to immediately put a kind of brake on the ability to nuance or think.” Sexual child abuse is an emotionally charged subject. 

People often do not know the difference between pedophilia and sexual child abuse. We also see this in statements made about the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. This would preserve and withhold (ten) thousands of accusations regarding pedophiles. The word 'pedophiles' seems to apply to all child abusers. This is factually incorrect. 

Also, many ex-Jehovah's Witnesses seem to stumble over the word 'sin' in reference to sexual abuse. Some explanation of the use of the words 'sin' and 'crime' also seems necessary. 

80% of child abusers are NOT pedophiles

Pedophilia means that someone - an adult or adolescent - is primarily sexually attracted to pre-adolescent (and therefore not yet mature) children. This concerns children of 13 years or younger. Not every pedophile has sex with children. Someone with pedophile feelings may well realize that having sex with children is socially unacceptable and harmful to the child.

Pedosexuality is actually putting pedophile feelings into practice. Pedophilia does not always coincide with pedosexuality. Pedophilia concerns the desire for sexual contact with children, pedosexuality and actually having sex with children. 

80% of child sexual abuse is not a pedophile (National Rapporteur 2014, page 64). In most cases there are occasional offenders or anti-social offenders. In these situations there is therefore no question of sexual attraction to young children. It is therefore factually incorrect to refer to all sexual child abusers as pedophiles. It distracts from the actual problem. It presents sexual child abuse as a problem of pedophiles while it is much larger than that. 

Antisocial offenders and occasional offenders

The antisocial perpetrator does not usually care who he has sex with. Children are easy victims. Antisocial perpetrators often lack a well-functioning conscience. Where a pedophile often cherishes genuine affection for the child, the antisocial perpetrator lacks this. It is the antisocial perpetrators who are primarily responsible for the most serious cases of abuse, sometimes with fatal consequences. (Think for example of Marc Dutroux).

Occasional offenders are normally sexually attracted to adults. They have sex with a child (or children) because of the opportunity and personal circumstances contribute to the abuse. This could include a father (or mother) who, due to divorce, death of a partner or perhaps sexual problems within the marriage, is unable to fulfill his / her sexual desires and who assaults a (own) child. Sex tourism also includes casual offenders. Circumstances and the situation determine the abuse here. Another cause requires a different approach to prevention. The problems that led or could lead to the abuse must be tackled. 

As is well known, the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses keeps records of members and former members accused of sexual abuse. The vast majority of these allegations are not pedophilia. It is incorrect to refer to all perpetrators of sexual abuse as pedophiles. 

Sin versus crime

Former Jehovah's Witnesses say that sexual abuse is not a sin but a crime. The organization of Jehovah's Witnesses itself also acknowledges that it is a crime. Yet they will insist that it is a sin. This is not uncommon for a religious organization. Something can be a crime as well as a sin. A crime is a legal term used for a violation of secular law, a sin is a religious term used for a violation of (what is seen as) God's law. 

It is the context that determines which word is used. It is to be expected that sexual abuse in a Watchtower article is primarily called a sin. After all, it is a religious article that explains how complaints about abuse are dealt with within a religious organization. It would only be strange if there was talk of a crime in that context. Elders have no authority to handle crimes, because that is a violation of worldly law. They do have authority over a violation of a religious law.  

Of course we would like the police and the judicial authorities to handle sexual abuse. When it comes to situations involving child sexual abuse, there is certainly still room for improvement with Jehovah's Witnesses regarding engaging and referring to competent authorities. 

That fuss about the word "sin" in fact distracts from the real problems. You cannot achieve improvement by showing that you do not know yourself in which context you should use the words 'sin' and 'crime'. 

Focus on actual issues 

If we want a problem to be addressed or resolved, we will have to get to the heart of the problem. An incorrect use of the term 'pedophiles' draws attention to this relatively small group of people (who, moreover, are not always perpetrators!) And distracts from the much larger problem. After all, 80% of sexual abuse is not committed by pedophiles. Much abuse is committed by anti-social and occasional offenders. Different motives and factors play a role in both. When former Jehovah's Witnesses paint the picture that sex abusers are predators who hunt children, then the real motivations and causes of the problem are ignored. It may actually make the problem worse.

Jehovah's Witnesses call sexual abuse a sin. In the Bible, sexual child abuse is not mentioned as a sin. So you could also be happy that a religious organization that takes the Bible rather literally regards it as a sin. That means they morally reject it. A case can be distinguished from which perspective and in which context a (religious) word is used. Jehovah's Witnesses acknowledge that it is a crime for worldly law. The problem is not the use of the word 'sin', but the resistance to expressing internal problems and actually reporting to the authorities. 

It is understandable that the subject of sexual child abuse evokes emotions, especially if you have been involved with it yourself. Those feelings can be there. But emotions can also obscure our view of the matter. To get to the heart of the problem, it is important to avoid inaccuracies and not to get stuck in side issues or peripheral phenomena. Only by looking for the true root of the problem can a solution be worked on.

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