On Child Abuse

This is a guest post by Ralph Sabella.

I read a short story at a read-aloud group. The plot involved a 30 plus year old woman seducing a boy of 13. The seduction, rather delicately done, only involved the woman being provocative in her dress and having the boy massage her feet. The reading produced considerable discussion, the most interesting element being the difference between the women’s and men’s reactions. The women expressed sorrow for the boy, for his confusion and the frustration he had experienced, but also for the seductress in her need to use a child to alleviate her own sexual frustrations. All the men couldn’t get past wishing they had been in the boy’s shoes. None of the latter voiced upset with the woman’s behavior.

How would it have gone if the sexes were reversed, i.e. a man and a young girl? There would have been a general outcry against the man, certainly no feelings of compassion for his having to relieve his sexual tensions through the mild and delicate luring of a girl, and, I’m sure, great concern for the girl’s welfare. No disclosure to any sexual arousal here by men or women.

This is not to condone the actions of the adults in either scenario, but interesting questions are raised if the attitudes of my small group of friends are those of the general population, and indeed the basis of how child molesters are judged and sentenced: men harshly and women less so.

I consider myself a non-sexist, liberal who generally believes in equal rights for everyone, and I’m a male to boot, yet I’m not disturbed by the legal gender inequity when it comes to child molestation, and I’m not sure if I shouldn’t be upset with myself.

Why should a man, say, for the same crime be given the more severe punishment than a woman? I think there is the understandable fear that men are often physically dangerous in such circumstances but to sentence a man on that basis seems to be convicting him of a crime he didn’t commit. If it’s meant as a warning or deterrent then, considering that women as care givers and teachers of children are far more conveniently positioned for wrong doing with the young, wouldn’t it make sense to warn and deter them more strongly?

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  1. I agree with you mate. Most guys, me excuded, seem to put themselves in the situation, instead of in the boys shoes.

    If anyone says that the boy is lucky, tell them that psychologically, there is equal trauma from molestation from both men and women.

  2. But is there equal trauma from molestation from both men and women? Isn’t the (obvious?) difference that boys of 13 want sex and girls of 13 don’t? Or to be exact, boys of 13 want sex with pretty much anyone who offers and girls of 13 are, at the least, much more selective.

  3. Amos: Hello, Ralph. Good to see that you got a chance to blog

  4. Hmm… this is my just justifying the distinction…. I’m not actually sure I believe there should be the distinction.

    I think there is a difference in power, typically in the sex act itself, and how the sexes relate to the act and their own sexuality. Now this isn’t a universal difference, but it is broad enough for us to treat them relevantly differently in general.

    Not to say there isn’t trauma inflected on young boys, and if its comparable to young girls (how could we ever know?), then the crime deserves equal punishment.

    A 13 year old boy having sex doesn’t typically change him. A 13 year old girl having sex changes her physically assuming virginity and hymen and all of that.

    I think sex in some ways is very different for men and women in at least one sense, almost always, sex is pleasing. Sex isn’t always pleasureable for a woman, and the displeasure can be increased because of proportions of body members, which increase in likelihood when dealing with a young girl, and an older man.

  5. Interesting. I think both Ophelia and Wayne raise important points. There are genuine differences between men and women. The differences in desire In Ophelia’s example are rooted at least in part in the way testosterone works. Fact is, testosterone has really significant effects on desire. There is a reason that many teenage boys think about sex 24 hours a day and the reason is the testosterone surging through their bodies. Second is the physical question of the way sex works mechanically as Wayne points out. This is a significant difference in how the sexual experience is able to play out. The two factors combine to create a genuine difference in the physical ground of the experiences that men and women have around sex. Such physical differences are no 100% determinative of one’s sexual feelings and attitutdes but it is clear that the differences in attitutdes that men and women and society have about sex are grounded not in arbitrary distinctions but at least in part in the way the body affects the consciousnessess instantiated in them.

  6. I can’t start to think about the harsher treatment of males who molest underage girls until I know there actually is harsher treatment. In the US we have had several notorious cases in the last couple of years involving female teachers who had sex with underage boys. They were sent to prison, sometimes for many years. A sad element of several of these cases is that the teachers were mothers who were thus prevented from raising their children. So … who are these women who are being let off so lightly, compared to their male counterparts? (I mean…in real life, not in fiction.) What are the facts here?

  7. Jean raises a good point, can we get a link to punishment stats?

  8. At age 13, I would have been overjoyed if a 30 year-old woman had seduced me or rather she wouldn’t have had to try very hard to seduce me, because I was willing. In fact, I lost my virginity at age 17 to an older woman, about 23. Technically, I may have been under the age of consent, but I consented. The relationship did me no damage, and I still correspond with her from time to time, not about sex, but generally about politics or about our families. In fact, I gained a life-long friend. And since at the time I was badly in need of a mother-figure who was less rigid than my mother, she helped me grow up.

  9. Jean and Faust,
    When writing my post I googled something like “child abuse men” and “child abuse women.” From the latter, I read of complaints, not only by parents but prosecutors as well, that women generally are handled more leniently in these cases. Yes, I read of the female teachers having sex with underage boys going to prison. The cases that come to light still are rare enough to make the front page of a lot of papers. Considering the fact that females (other than the mother) play such a prominent part in children’s lives isn’t it surprising how few sexual molestation cases come to light?

  10. Ralph: When you use the words “abuse” and “molestation” to describe sex between adults and underaged adolescents, you’re moralizing a situation in which, in my experience, there is not always either abuse or molestation. For example, I know a woman, now married,, who at age 14 began a sexual relationship with a man in his 40’s. No harm done. The relationship lasted several years. In fact, the man in question ended up as a friend of the girl’s whole family.

  11. “Isn’t the (obvious?) difference that boys of 13 want sex and girls of 13 don’t? Or to be exact, boys of 13 want sex with pretty much anyone who offers and girls of 13 are, at the least, much more selective.”

    – Assuming that the 30 year old woman made the boy want to have sex with her, I thought we were comparing it with a 30 year old man seducing a 13 year old girl to want to have sex with him.

    Maybe I misunderstood?

  12. “I know a woman, now married,, who at age 14 began a sexual relationship with a man in his 40’s. No harm done.”

    – You’ve either just reduced this discussion to an uncomfortable silence or made it really interesting :p

    I’m not sure I’d take it that lightly – that woman might have made okay, but I don’t think we have enough research done on stuff like that to allow people to take those kinds of risks.

    At the very least, it would make a certain impact for an underaged adolescent to find out that he/she has just participated in something a lot of people consider worse than murder!

  13. Amos,
    I think that “abuse” and “molestation” are the terms used here in the US when a child is involved with an adult, even in those cases of mutual consent.

  14. Christer: I doubt that she considers that what she did was worse than murder. Remember there was consent on her part. The relationship was accepted by her family, a family which is unconventional and open-minded, to say the least. In lots of cultures woman are married very young to older males. The ancient Greeks considered relationships between older males and teenage boys to be normal and be part of the learning process: the boy learned from the wiser adult. As to whether such relations are worse than murder, lots of people consider abortion to be worse than murder too.

  15. Ralph: in the relation I’m describing there was no abuse or molestation, just a long-term (several years) sexual relation between two human beings.
    They are still friends, as far as I know.


  16. The differences between how men and women of such a young (13) age react to sex have been pointed out, and I agree that they’re there for the most part, but it seems a large part of that has to be cultural and therefore pretty flexible. I think this is what allows for amos’ and his friends’ attitude towards it, our own inconsistencies (the original post), and general variances over time.

    It also seems to me that we really do a disservice to ourselves by delaying the time we’re expected to act or be mature. I’m assuming that the 13 year olds in question aren’t pre-pubescent, and I also know that puberty can be pretty batshit crazy, but I don’t think that sex during that age has to be traumatic at all, and that when it is, it can in large part be blamed on how many religions put such a horrible stigma on it, especially for women.

    I can easily imagine a culture where children are taught responsibility and understanding of what’s going to happen to them later in life, preparing them for what’s inevitable instead of chastising them for not being chaste when mother nature has made it too damn hard.

  17. To me something that is really obvious as to why I personally would judge a male peodophile harshly would be because of the physical damage a man’s genitals could do to a girl’s small body. You can’t really inflict that amount of pain on a young boy’s genitals unless we’re talking about bondage.

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