Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What the Term Pedophile Really Means

The statistics are staggering. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys will be a victim of child sexual abuse during their lifetime. But what is a pedophile exactly? It’s a term that is often thrown around but largely misunderstood. Although often heard and used by law enforcement, it is not a legal definition but rather a psychological diagnosis. Not all child molesters are pedophiles and surprising to most, not all pedophiles have sexually abused children and would not be considered child molesters. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the definitive guide psychiatrists/ psychologists use to diagnose mental and psychiatric disorders, defines a pedophilia as an adult psychological disorder characterized by a sexual preference and attraction to prepubescent children. Generally, to be labeled as a pedophile, an individual must be at least 16 years of age and at least five years older than the child to meet criteria for pedophilia. Most researcher consider pedophilia a predisposition ingrained in a person and not something easily overcome, which is why recidivism rates are extremely high and most who have offended will offend again.

It’s important for parents and the general public to understand that the majority of pedophiles identify themselves as heterosexual even when abusing children of the same gender. There have been many instances where an adult male is molesting male child victims but maintains a marriage to a woman. Often this offender is discounted and his victims not taken as seriously because the offender gives the appearance of being in a heterosexual relationship. Adult sexual orientation has little to do with victim type.

It is also vitally important to understand that a pedophile can be anyone regardless of profession, background, intelligence, race or socio-economic status. A pedophile often gets away with abusing children for so long and has so many victims because they have gained the trust of everyone around them and when the abuse is disclosed it is often hard for even those closest to the victim and offender to believe the allegations are true.

Most child molesters and pedophiles have a grooming process that if you pay attention to create serious warning signs, which most simply overlook. Understanding the dynamics of this process will also help to understand how a pedophile goes undetected for so long and why there are often so many victims.

The majority of child sexual abuse victims are known to the offender in some way. They are family or close to the family such as acquaintances, influential members of the community, trusted friends or connected to the child though school, church or other activities. One of the primary reasons that the offender is able to exploit the child is because he or she holds the power in the relationship based on age and experience, size and strength, and adult status. And they have taken steps to ensure they are in a position of trust with the child’s caregiver.

·         Targeting the victim - Any child could be a potential victim. Particularly those child molesters diagnosed as pedophiles are often attracted to a certain type of child. Age, gender, hair color and other similar characteristics are often shared with multiple victims of a pedophile. Many of the victims are often vulnerable in some way – little family support, low-self-confidence or low-self-esteem and trouble making friends for example. These victims are often more easily manipulated by the pedophile.
  • Gaining trust - The offender may observe the child and assesses his/her vulnerabilities to learn how best to approach and interact. They may offer the victim special attention, understanding or someone to talk to and then engage the child in ways that eventually gain their friendship and trust. It is not uncommon especially for pedophiles to give the victims special gifts or treats and single them out with extra attention.  
  • Playing a role in the child’s life - The offender may manipulate the relationship so that it appears he or she is the only one who fully understands the child or meets the child’s needs in a particular way. Pedophiles, for instance, may seem overly involved in the lives of children – a special coach that maybe doesn’t have kids of their own who is constantly with children. Or even adults who prefer the company of children over other adults and find ways to be an important part of a child’s life in often inappropriate ways.
  • Isolating the child - Offering the child rides and/or taking the child out of his or her surroundings is one way that the offender may separate the child from others and gain access to the child alone, so that others cannot witness the abuse. Also making the child feel special or that the two share a special bond that isn’t shared by others is another way offenders manipulate and isolate the child.
  • Creating secrecy - The offender may reinforce the special connection with the victim when they are alone or through private communication with the victim such as through emails, text messages or on social media. But they reinforce that their special relationship must remain a secret because others will not understand, will be jealous or come between the relationship. The offender may threaten the victim with disclosure, suicide, physical harm to the child or loved ones or other traumas if he or she tells.
  • Initiating sexual contact - When the power over the child victim has been established, the offender will eventually initiate physical contact with the victim. It may begin with touching that is not overtly sexual (though the offender may find it sexually gratifying) and that may appear to be casual (arm around the shoulder, pat on the knee). Gradually, the offender will introduce more sexualized touching. By breaking down inhibitions and desensitizing the child, the offender will continue advancing the sexual contact.
  • Controlling the relationship - Offenders rely on the secrecy of the relationship to keep it going and to ensure that the child will not reveal the abuse. Children are often afraid of disclosing the abuse. They may have been told that they will not be believed or that something about the child “makes” the abuser do this to them. The child may also feel shame or fear that they will be blamed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Helping Domestic Violence Victims

Whether in a professional capacity as an investigator or personally dealing with a friend or family member, speaking with domestic violence victims can be a challenge. There is a level of sensitivity that is required when speaking with a victim and gathering information. It may take time for a victim to trust enough to disclose the information. Even seeking help a victim is putting their life and the lives of any children at risk. Extra care and support should be provided.

Listen and speak without judgment – The last thing a victim needs when they are finally ready to seek help is judgment about why they have stayed in the relationship so long. There are many factors why someone stays including financial, emotional, fear and often a lack of good options to leave. The scariest and most often deadly time for a victim is after they leave the relationship.

Explore and understand the type of abuse – Understand that domestic violence is different for everyone and many believe that if a victim is not being physically assaulted then its not domestic violence. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Learn and understand the types of domestic violence (financial, emotional, verbal, physical or sexual) and understand that all can be equally traumatic for the victim. More often than not, more than one type of abuse will be present.

Help the victim find the pattern and be their note keeper if necessary – There is not always a discernible patter to when the abuse occurs but on occasion there will be and no one will know this better than the victim. Pay close attention to the timing of incidents. It’s not unusual to hear a victim say that at the end of the month when money has run out, the abuser will feel more stress and rates of physical abuse occur more frequently. For other abusers who may drink or have substance abuse issues, time around pay-day can be trigger days. Make sure to keep a record of the incidents the victim can remember, fully understand what happens before, during and after. Make sure when asking these questions they are not framed in a way that implies the victim “caused” the abuse.

Just be supportive – Sometimes the best thing a person can do is just be a source of safety and support while the victim works though the situation. There are times when you want so badly to help but your hands are tied. It’s easy to become frustrated and give up on the victim or even angry if they don’t leave when you want them to. Understand the victim needs to work through the process and only they know the right time to leave. In the meantime, showing support is one of the best things you can do.

Ensure safety – Safety should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. These are highly volatile cases and can lead to serious injury or death for the victim, for investigators and even family and friends. Precautions and extra support for the victim should be encouraged.

And don’t forget to seek additional resources and help not just for the victim but for assistance in knowing the right things to do and say.

Domestic Violence and Victim Service Resources

National Center for Victims of Crime
National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards
Women’s Law
National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673
National Alliance on Mental Illness – 1-800-950-6264
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273- 8255

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Profile of Domestic Abusers

There is no one hard and fast profile of a domestic abuser. They come from all walks of life and all races, socioeconomic backgrounds and all professions. Investigators or anyone that assumes you can tell an abuser from just looking at them or from engaging in simple conversations are misinformed and putting themselves at risk.

Looking at the statistics, more men than woman are abusers. Typically, they come across as charming and are often very smart and manipulative, which contributes to their ability to abuse their partners undetected for so long. When people, even close friends or family of the victim, learn of the domestic violence many respond with shock thinking how could it be so because outside appearances portray a loving couple, sometimes with the abuser being overly attentive and almost “putting on a show” for others. There is often a marked difference between the actions an abuser shows in public in direct contract to how they are at home.

While there is no one profile to rely on, domestic abusers tend to have some common characteristics.

Intense jealousy – This is not just with members of the opposite sex but of everyone including their own children. An abuser will constantly question the victim’s whereabouts and what they were doing and why. They are jealous of the time spent away and will often make the victim feel guilty or like they have done something wrong. This can get to the point where the victim no longer will go out and be with other people because of the ongoing grief it brings at home.

Isolation – The jealousy and other actions of the abuser work to isolate the victim from family and friends. The abuser will also move the victim away from familiar surroundings and people they know and make the victim stop working so they are totally dependent on the abuser.

Holds very rigid gender roles – This is more true of male abusers. Men who abuse tend to hold very rigid gender roles and look at women as property and as “less than” in the relationship and in society as a whole. They hold fast to the notion that men are the head of households and make all of the decisions with women there only to cater to a man’s needs.

Controlling behavior – Most abusers have a high need for control in their home and in their life. For some the control they exert at home is because they feel a lack of control in other settings, and for others, the controlling behavior can be seen in every aspect of their daily lives. The controlling behavior takes all forms from when a victim can leave the house, to where they can go, people they can associate with and even who often they can speak with or when they can see family and friends.

Types of Abuse
To fully understand the mindset of a domestic abuser, the types of abuse must be understood as well. This does not typically happen at all once at the start of a relationship. Looking back victims and even those close to the victim can often point to telltale warning signs of escalation along the way but once the abuse is happening full-force, the victim is usually either too far into the relationship or too dependent to make major changes. The most common types of domestic abuse include:

Emotional – This can present as name calling, threatening the victim or threatening to harm loved one so the victim, playing mind games and even breaking things the victim cares about or killing the victim’s pets. If there are weapons in the home, abusers have been known to hold a victim at gunpoint and threaten to kill the victim and even themselves.

Financial – Most domestic abusers keep a tight rein on the finances sometimes not allowing the victim to have their own money, even if they are working and earning an income. The goal is total dependence on the abuser. A victim with the financial resources is more likely to have the means to leave.

Physical – Domestic abuse does not have to be physical to be considered abuse but psychical assault is usually the highest escalation in domestic abuse. Reports have shown abusers to punch, kick, slap, grab and chock the victim. It is not uncommon for the abuser to focus on areas of the victim’s body where bruises cannot be seen with clothing on.

Sexual – Sexual violence against domestic violence victims is not uncommon. Forcing sex while the victim is asleep, forcing the victim into sexual activity the victim does not want or have an interest is also common. Justification of the abusers action based on the bible has also been noted.

Technological – As the use and dependence on technology increases to do the methods an abuser has to track and control the victim. Use of GPS on vehicles, spyware on computers and even hacking into email and social media accounts are also common.

Cycle of Violence
The abuse that takes place is often cyclical. There are moments of both escalation and de-escalation. Early in a relationship, an abuser can sometimes go months between incidences but over time the frequency of abuse incidences rises and the cooling off period decrease. Domestic abuse more often follows the pattern of: tension building, which is marked by stress and tension building from the abuser and victims which usually an argument and explosion of violence. After the assault, an abuse often tries to make it up to the victim doing everything to ensure the victim does not leave. Buying gifts, taking trips together and even promises of it never happening again and that they will seek help are common. An investigator should assess the pattern of abuse when working on these cases to better understand the escalation and de-escalation triggers and timeframes.

Domestic Violence and Victim Service Resources

National Center for Victims of Crime
National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards
National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673
National Alliance on Mental Illness - 1-800-950-6264
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273- 8255