The evil of child sexual abuse is the individual wrong that I find the most incomprehensible and the most despicable. For instance, I can at least make sense of how somewhat might commit a murder. For example, if Susan killed a person’s infant child, I can make sense of how there would be so much rage on the part of the parent whose child has just been killed by Susan that the parent would attempt to kill Susan. I will not rank order the wrong of child sexual abuse and wrong of the rape of an adult woman by an adult man. But if an evil individual forced someone to choose between (i) the rape of a child and (ii) the rape of an adult person (female or male), it seems to me that (other things equal) the someone in question should choose (ii) over (i)—and not merely flip a coin. My explanation here is that child sexual abuse undermines—and in some cases destroys—in a most dramatic way the proper development of the moral sensibilities of a child. There is the saying that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Is it likewise better for a person to have had a deep sense of self-worth and then to lose it over having subjected to systematic mistreatment than never to have had a sense of self-worth at all on account of having been systematically mistreated from the very beginning of her or his life?
This is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I am focusing upon the most horrendous wrong done to the most innocent of all, namely the sexual assault of children.
The wrong of child sexual abuse is inextricably tied to a deep form of moral depravity on the part of the wrongdoer. For it is not even possible for the sexual abuser to have the fantasy that the child will enjoy being subjected to the sexual encounter. So it is even in an era where by way of television, music and the internet children are exposed to sexuality at a far younger age than was the case in the past. Exposure to the contrary notwithstanding, children do not have the emotional and psychological maturity to have sexual fantasies. No 5-year old male child looks at an adult female with lust and thinks to himself “Wow! Her breasts are nice”. Likewise, no 5-year old female child lustfully thinks to herself “I wonder how large his penis might be”. The two-pronged point that I have just made is known by every child sexual abuser. And that very fact is central to why child sexual abusers are so morally despicable. What mightily distinguishes the wrong of child sexual abuse from the wrong of rape is that the child sexual abusers willfully take advantage of the developmental innocence of the child.
In the past, male rapists often made the ludicrous claim that the woman would enjoy the sex even though the sex act was entirely involuntary on her part. No child sexual abuser can have that thought about sex with a child. The rampant child sexual abuse on the part of Catholic priests was not in any way tied to the belief on the part of the priests who so behaved that the boys actually enjoyed the sexual interaction to which the priests were subjecting the boys. And that is why the sexual misbehavior of priests was invariably tied to an exercise of power that constituted a form of entrapment of the young boys.
Are there unforgivable wrongs? My own view is that if any wrong is unforgivable it is the wrong of child sexual abuse. Here is why. First of all, the difference between a child and a young adult is ever so apparent. Everyone rightly acknowledges that there is a significant developmental difference between a 5-year old and a 13-year old. Yet, precisely what is true is that child sexual abusers wilfully exploit the innocence of children even as the child sexual abusers grasp that children are not psychologically engaged by sexual desire. So, an unexpurgated truth is that child sexual abusers are not even self-deceived. They do not suppose that in point fact the child is actually getting pleasure out of the warped sexual encounter. Indeed, precisely what they seem to delight in is the reality that the sexually abused child is not developed enough psychologically to get any pleasure out of the sexual encounter with the abuser. So what we have with child sexual abusers is none other than an utterly horrific moral and psychological configuration on their part.
The psychological configuration of the child sexual abuser is so warped and is so unequivocally constitutive of the person’s character that there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to think that any form of moral redemption on the part of such an individual is possible. So it is even if the person should go on to repent; for child sexual abusers invariably return to their despicable behavior. Decades ago we may not have grasped that truth about child sexual abusers. But we do now.
I can think of only one consideration that is a mitigating factor with respect to child sexual abusers, namely that no one chooses or would choose to be a child sexual abuser. In that sense, child sexual abusers are hostage to an evil psychological configuration that they had no role in choosing. In that respect, child sexual abusers are victims of a most horrendous case of moral bad luck.
© 2014 Laurence Thomas