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The Man Behind The Mask - Child Abusers

But he’s normal” and “he doesn’t look the type” are a few of the reactions that people have when someone they know is arrested on child abuse claims and allegations.

Over the last few years, many a story have been published in the media that have left us shocked at the allegations of child abuse, paedophilia and other heinous acts committed against children by famous and respectable individuals.

  • Michael Jackson was accused of child sexual abuse in 1993, the victim the son of a close friend.

  • Renowned director Woody Allen was accused of sexual impropriety by his adopted daughter when she was seven years old.

  • For more than a decade allegations against everyone’s favourite TV dad Bill Cosby have been laid against him. In 2014, more than 30 women came up and spoke about his victimisation of them, dating back to events that took place in 1969.

  • Filmmaker Roman Polanski was arrested and charged for sexually assaulting a 13-year old girl in 1977.

These are but a few examples of individuals that one would never expect or believe to be perpetrators of child abuse.

What this shows is that sexual offenders and abusers cannot be picked out in a crowd. Contrary to popular belief, abusers are normal and don not fit a specific “mould”. Child abuse is mostly committed by men, women, and teenagers (statistics indicate that more than a third of those who engage in sexual activity with children are under the age of 18 themselves), other children, our neighbours, and friends and in some instances religious leaders. They are from all walks of life. Research shows that victims are known to the abuser and there is often a close relationship that is taken advantage of.

Who are the (wo)men behind the masks?

The majority of sexual abuse is committed by makes but research suggests that women could be responsible for almost 5% of sexual offences committed against children. Both men and women commit physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect- this is oftentimes dependent on which parent/caregiver spends the most time with the child.

Child abuse often takes place in the home with someone the child knows and not a stranger.

Researchers identify three models to explain abuser-victim relationships:

  • Inappropriate relationships- here, an older abuser uses the physical, emotional or financial power over the victim and the victim lives believing that they have a sincere relationship with the abuser.

  • The “boyfriend” model- a conventional relationship exists which involves normal dating activities. However, the abuser often manipulates the victim into performing sexual acts with others (often seen in peer abuse)

  • Organised exploitation and trafficking- children are abused by more than one adult in a network that may involve trafficking victims across countries.

It is a sad reality that we have to look deeper into the various relationships and interactions our children have- even with those we trust. Paranoia and panic are not the best responses to have. But because the abuser does not come dressed as a monster but instead as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it is imperative that we equip ourselves with the knowledge and information of what signs to looks for, what questions to ask and what we can all do to prevent this becoming an even greater epidemic than it already is.

Nelly Kgoabi

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