Vilifying child abusers

Content note: child sexual abuse, child pornography, mention of rape.

Reading this (I’m yet to see her film) reminded me of Tshepang, a South African short and theatre-piece on baby Tshepang’s rape, although the latter wasn’t puppetry but it featured half of the adults’ bodies (the above halves of the witnesses were houses) as well as representation of the baby through an object, and video animation in the case of the short, using bread as the object. I cried an entire sleepless night after the first time I saw it, it shattered my imagination in which previously a 9-month old baby wouldn’t be gang-raped. I’ve lost certain emotions, through a pathology, since but reading Raven’s story shatters me to my core.

Raven Kaliana wants to get away from the kind of demonisation of perpetrators that comes automatically perhaps, the kind that featured in comments when I shared this on facebook. I understand such views but I fail to Raven’s love for her parents. I’d say that abuse is not necessarily generational, it becomes normal when unquestioned. Dissociation and denial while perpetrating abuse are different it seems to me, from cases I know well. People with access to counselling, or who counsel and who well know that child abuse is acknowledged by society, abuse children. People abuse children when they know they can get away with it, either through the child never telling (never being able to tell or never being believed), or because their institution tolerates abusers or because society will tolerate the abuser perhaps, thinking they were abused too so it is rather condoned. Here is a cartoon speaking about this.

At the same time, some abuses are tolerated while others are not – in that context Raven’s views may begin to make sense. If one compares different kinds of abusers, some are considered part of normal society while some are not likely to reintegrate easily (allegedly). When it comes to child abuse, it depends where we look at and what type of abuse it is perhaps.

In a family or any active relationship where an abuser and a survivor is present, complete vilification of the abuser would be desirable and perhaps therapeutic for the victim to achieve. Not every abused or previously abused child has the privilege of cutting ties with their abuser/s and I’m thinking of those staying in abusive environments whether due to age, disability or other forms of disempowerment. Also many project blame on themselves as the abusers do and many struggle with putting enough blame on the abuser, even after the abuse ends.

I think that in the bigger picture, the vilification would be beneficial too. If we could extend that sentiment to every abuser and do something about it, it would help. I doubt that it makes us unlikely to act or that it is counterproductive to encourage such feelings among people, would the opposite not lead to apathy? (Note I don’t know the Jimmy Saville case, nor read any media coverage about it yet).

I know survivors who get negative reactions from others with whom they spoke of abuse done to them. Some have been passively and perhaps not consciously vilified discriminated against or avoided or rejected, by those even close to them. Child abusers and abusers are generally seductive or persuasive people who often manage to convince the child’s environment of allegations of false accusations. Ought we remind ourselves that this is the society in which it is hard for an abused child to get support, at that age or later, or where rates of conviction of abusers are low? I have lived in a society where child rapists get a couple of years, if ever they are convicted, then they have a “normal life”, have a child and predictably, rape their child.

The context is a society within societies where other forms of abuse on children are often not even recognised and where discrimination against children or hatred of children, misopedia, is never named. The family unit being a microcosm of society there are more things at play than simply the abuser’s agency in Kaliana’s case as in others, and blaming abusers shouldn’t mean forgetting the bigger context.

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