Why Treat Child Molesters and Child Rapists?
Why treat the
child sexual abuser? Why help the person who has caused all the pain
and emotional turmoil for the child victim and his or her family? Most
people want to punish the abuser severely. Lock him up and throw away
the key! “Treatment” is just letting the abuser “get off easy.” Why
would we bother to help the abuser?
In fact, reasons for helping the abuser through treatment involve
concerns for the abuser as a person, concerns for the victim of the
sexual abuse, and concerns for society in general, especially for the
children the abuser will meet in the future.
Treating the Abuser Benefits the Abuser
Some people want to help sexual abusers for humanitarian reasons. Some
believe that an individual, no matter what crimes he or she has
committed, no matter what injuries he or she has caused, is still a
fellow human being who deserves our understanding, compassion, and
assistance. It may be easier to look at the abuser this way if we
remember what statistics tell us about abusers. Studies indicate that
most sexual abusers were themselves victims of
child sexual abuse. If we
think of the abuser as a former victim, we may be more willing to try to
understand the difficulties that have led to the abuser’s behavior.
From a more personal standpoint, we may wish to help the abuser because
the abuser is someone we care about very much, a close friend or
relative. This is often the case in incest situations, when the abuser
may be our uncle, mother, husband, sister, son, grandfather, or another
loved one. Emotional, financial, and personal ties with the abuser
usually remain strong, even after the abuse is disclosed. Family members
may not be willing to “write off” the abuser, simply because he or she
has victimized one of them.
Treating the Abuser Benefits the Victim
Another reason to provide help for the abuser is to benefit of his or
her victim. If the abuser knows that treatment is available, the chances
are increased that he or she will seek help, thus ending the abuse.
Additionally, people (including the victim) who are aware of the abuse
are more likely to report it if they know that help is available for the
abuser, not just punishment. This is particularly true when the abuser
is a friend or family member, as in 80% of all child sexual abuse
situations. Additionally, when the victim knows that he or she has
helped the abuser get help by reporting the abuse, the victim is less
likely to feel guilty about disclosing the abuse.
Providing treatment to the abuser can also emphasize two important
concepts to the victim: (1) the
sexual abuse happened
was “wrong” with the abuser, not with the victim, and (2) the victim did
the right thing in disclosing the sexual abuse so that the abuser could
get the help to live a better life.
Finally, involving the abuser in appropriate individual, family, or
group treatment is often needed to promote successful treatment for the
victim. This is especially true in incest situations. Helping the victim
of incest means treating the while family system, not just the
Treating the Abuser Benefits Society
From a philosophical standpoint, improving the mental health of any
member of society improves the overall quality of our society.
From a more practical standpoint, treating the abuser usually reduces
the risk of that person sexually abusing other children in the future.
The laws of our society do not permit sexual abusers to be “locked up
forever.” Even if the sexual abuser spends time in prison (which is not
always certain), at some point he or she will be among us again in
society. If the abuser’s mental health has not improved while he was
locked up (it is usually males who are imprisoned), the abuser is
probably going to abuse other children once he is released (or other
inmates while he is incarcerated). If we can help the abuser change his
or her abusive behavior through treatment, then we can spare others from
Finally, from an even more practical standpoint, it is much cheaper to
treat a sexual abuser on an outpatient basis, or even on a short-term
inpatient basis, than it is to send the abuser to prison. Certainly such
treatment is not appropriate for all sexual abusers. But allowing
appropriate abusers to remain free while receiving treatment does allow
them to continue working and supporting their families, rather than
adding to taxpayer burden.
Thus, many valid reasons exist for treating the abuser. We cannot just
victim of child sexual abuse and ignore other aspects of the
problem. We must treat the abuser as well if we want to solve the
problem of child sexual abuse in our society .
Books by Dr. Lynn Daugherty about Child Sexual Abuse . . .
Voices of Survivors
Child Rapists, and
Child Sexual Abuse
Help for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse