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Unspeakable Acts: Why Men Sexually Abuse Children

Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 362
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  • Book Info
    Unspeakable Acts
    Book Description:

    The sexual abuse of children is one of the most morally unsettling and emotionally inflammatory issues in American society today. It has been estimated that roughly one out of every four girls and one in ten boys experience some form of unwanted sexual attention either inside or outside the family before they reach adulthood. How should society deal with the sexual victimization of children? Should known offenders be released back into our communities? If so, where, and with what rights, should they be allowed to live? In Unspeakable Acts, Douglas W. Pryor argues that much of this debate, designed to deal with abusers after they have offended, ignores the important issue of why men cross these forbidden sexual boundaries to molest children in the first place and how the behavior can possibly be prevented before it starts. Incorporating in-depth interviews with more than thirty convicted child molesters, Pryor explores how men become involved with breaking sexual boundaries with children. He looks at how their lives prior to offending contributed to and led up to what they did, the ways that initial interest in sex with children began, the tactics offenders employed to molest their victims over time, how they felt about and reacted to their behavior between offending episodes, and how they were ultimately able to stop. The author expands our understanding of this often reviled, little understood group, leaving us with the uneasy conclusion that the moral wall separating us from what is defined as extreme, sick behavior is not as opaque as we would like to believe.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6893-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ONE Studying Offenders and Their Behavior
    (pp. 1-30)

    The above example is unsettling. It is meant to introduce the topic of this book: men who have molested children, either their own children or those of relatives, neighbors, or friends. The mere mention of offenders and their acts can stir intense emotions, including anger, contempt, shock, and disgust.¹ I know. I have experienced these and other feelings across the course of the investigation that led to the book you are about to read, and have experienced them particularly strongly because I myself am the father of two young daughters. But however repulsed one might feel about the issue to...

  5. TWO Blurring of Boundaries in Childhood
    (pp. 31-60)

    Why would an adult turn to a child for sex? Where does the interest start? How do people become so unglued morally that they engage in such behavior? May be some individuals are genetically disposed to become molesters. May be certain men have core personalities that make sexual abuse inevitable. Or is this conduct more possibly the result of social experience and learning? The answer begins, I think, with the last of these. Child molestation involves the violation of sexual, physical, age, emotional, and even parental boundaries, an act widely thought to inflict enormous harm. What I wondered as I...

  6. THREE Escalating Problems in Adulthood
    (pp. 61-90)

    From abusive childhoods, we move forward with the offenders to their adult years, focusing primarily on the months, weeks, and days just prior to their initial engagement in the act of child molesting. Nearly all the men described a period of mounting troubles, personal tragedies, and unhappiness, a situation of acute life problems that seemed to facilitate an emotional slide and to isolate and disconnect them from others.¹ Sexual, marital, familial, and occupational problems and issues were widely reported. Feelings of boredom, anger, aloneness, depression, worthlessness, emptiness, lack of appreciation, inadequacy, and powerlessness routinely escalated to what were said to...

  7. FOUR Shifting into an Offending Mode
    (pp. 91-122)

    The distinction between “situational” versus “fixated” offenders is widely recognized in the literature on child molesting.¹ The sexual preference of the situational offender is primarily for other adults, while that of the fixated offender is directed exclusively at children. In this study, 97 percent (twenty-nine out of thirty) of the men classified themselves as situation-based offenders. That is, they reported either a history of sex with other adults, or if they had not yet had sex with someone of legal age, as being attracted to and interested in adults, prior to their involvement in sex with a minor. These same...

  8. FIVE Approaching and Engaging the Victim
    (pp. 123-156)

    Research and media coverage on intrafamilial child molesting since the late 1970s have revealed a dramatic image about the ways children are victimized. In particular, studies have shown that offenders employ a range of tactics to gain sexual compliance, tactics such as verbal coercion and intimidation, seduction, misrepresentation of sex as a game or as something innocent, physical force or blitz attacks, or the use of enticements like money or candy, to name a few.¹ Most discussions of this topic, however, provide only a cursory profile of tactics. Surprisingly, there has been no real effort to look closely at what...

  9. SIX Snowballing from One Act to Many
    (pp. 157-188)

    It is generally accepted in the literature on sexual abuse that men who molest children do not stop their behavior after one sexual episode unless they are caught. When offenders know their victims, especially if they happen to be parents, relatives, or family friends, the same victims often are molested multiple times.¹ This pattern of repetitive victimization of the same person or persons is the one dimension that makes sexual abuse in or around the family unique compared to most other types of crime. So far, I have attempted to explain how men initially become offenders. Equally important is understanding...

  10. SEVEN Continuing with Regular Offending
    (pp. 189-220)

    As the offenders I interviewed drifted and shifted in and out of sexual control on a subjective level, the number, frequency, and duration of the sexual violations they committed increased proportionately How extensive was the sexual abuse in which they participated? Only four men said they molested one victim just one or two times. Conversely, 40 percent said they had engaged in sex with some one under sixteen twenty-one or more times, 57 percent eleven or more times. As a group, there were at least 1,540 estimated episodes of sexual contact.¹ The total number of offenses per offender ranged from...

  11. EIGHT Exiting Offending and Public Exposure
    (pp. 221-250)

    So far this research has focused on documenting the multiple transitions and stages that explain involvement in child molesting—how the shift into the behavior unfolded and how the men who engaged in it progressed into a pattern of regular conduct. Equally as crucial, I believe, is the process of exiting from the sexual offender career,¹ the movement from the status of the “discreditable,” or being a secret offender, to entry into the status of the “discredited,” or becoming known to others.² But more, the broader concern of such an analysis is with how offenders shift out of sexual behavior...

  12. NINE Answering the Question Why
    (pp. 251-284)

    The premise of this research is simple: If we want to understand why sexual abuse occurs, then we must examine the perspective of offenders about the acts in which they have been involved, on both an objective and a subjective level. Why is the study of men who molest children important? Why should we listen to the stories and accounts of the adults who engage in such behavior? The answer is obvious. Adult-child sexual contact in all its varied forms, according to the empirical research,is an issue that dramatically affects the quality of life of millions of peoplein...

  13. Table 1: Recent Studies Measuring Sexual Abuse
    (pp. 285-288)
  14. Appendix A: Topical Interview Guide
    (pp. 289-293)
  15. Appendix B: Research Consent Forms
    (pp. 294-296)
  16. Appendix C: Statistical Data on Cases
    (pp. 297-299)
  17. Appendix D: The Retrospective Interpretation Problem
    (pp. 300-302)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 303-335)
  19. Suggested Reading
    (pp. 336-342)
  20. Index
    (pp. 343-352)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 353-353)