The unusual quality that sets this book apart from the current avalanche of sensational literature on the subject of child sex abuse is embodied in the subtitle. The author of this book invites us to consider, for a moment, why men commit abusive sexual acts against children, as we drag these men toward the chopping block. This quality is called compassion, and this book administers a sobering dose of it. In his ethnographic research, the author conducted lengthy interviews with a core group of 27 respondents, men drawn from treatment groups, prisons, probation programs and the private practices of therapists. Typically, the men were in their ‘30s, married and employed with no other criminal backgrounds. Most lived in the same households with their victims.
Some of Pryor’s research confirms what is already known. Nothing is a better indicator of a propensity toward sex abuse than a history of sex abuse. The lessons that an abused child learns about power, rationalization and self-worth (or its absence) shape the adult’s attitude toward other children. The idea that sexual abuse is somehow “normal” underpins the excuses abusing adults make to themselves to enable their own aggressions. However, Pryor finds that, contrary to the political construct of the abuser as an emotionless objectifier carrying the culture’s most unwholesome impulses to their logical conclusions, molesters are often as horrified by their own behavior as everybody else.
Though Pryor makes the explicit connection between cultural sexism and abusive behavior, he recognizes that not all men molest and that molesters themselves know this. Filled with shame and remorse not only by their own desires but, as a rule, by sexuality in general, they fall into the cycle of addiction, hoping to dam their impulses by force of will and, when will collapses, capitulating to them abjectly. Isolated in their self-hatred, molesters can only ventilate their rage through the victimization of others. What Pryor calls “the moral boundary” once crossed becomes illusive. His subjects have a way of identifying themselves as victims, of adults who molested them, of children who seduced them, of impulses they can’t understand or control.
Favoring what he calls “a peacemaking model” that will undoubtedly enrage many readers, Pryor opposes Megan’s Law and other public castigations of offenders, indeed questions the use of the criminal-justice system overall as a means of protecting children from abuse. Removing offenders from their isolation, compelling them to see the common humanity between themselves and their victims, offers the only hope for breaking the cycle of abuse from one generation to the next in the author’s view. “Until we find a way to encourage offenders to come forward with their stories rather than hide and continue with what they are doing, the situation is only bound to get worse.”
Hardback: 351 pages