The myths and common misconceptions surrounding many issues relating to the hidden crime of childhood sexual abuse often assist sex offenders by silencing victims and encouraging public denial about the true nature of sexual assaults against children.

Julie Brown, One in Four's Clinical Director, a psychoanalytic psychotherapist who has worked in the area of sexual violence for seventeen years took the time to write this:

After reading a news article about recent court hearings – centred on online sexual offending - I feel compelled to address two highly damaging myths about child sexual abuse that were ventilated. Firstly, it was stated that the court sees a pattern that people who are victims of abuse have a tendency to develop a sexual interest in children later in life. Secondly, it was highlighted that people who commit the sexual offence of viewing Child Sexual Exploitation Material (CSEM), referred to as child pornography, are not the same as the person who subjects the child to the abuse. Unfortunately, this distinction means little to the child who experiences the abuse and who lives the rest of their lives in the knowledge that such images exist forever for the sexual gratification of countless, mostly men, across continents.

Victims of child sexual abuse pay a high price for the erroneous belief they are more likely to offend themselves. The father who never once shared the joy and appropriate intimacy of bathing his baby daughter and the young mother crying because she felt so uncomfortable about toilet training her toddler are just two examples of victims re-traumatised by that myth.

These good and thoughtful parents have no sexual attraction to children. They are living in bodies that were violated. Adults in positions of authority and care used touch to target them for sexual purposes, so now touch doesn’t always feel safe. Indeed, even innocuous touch can trigger terrifying flashbacks.

Cognitive distortions are false beliefs that facilitate harm, in this instance, the abuse of children. For offenders who commit the crime of viewing CSEM, their very specific cognitive distortions effectively support and facilitate their offending. Key amongst them is their absolute conviction their offending is not harming children; they are not culpable because they did not create the image. Unfortunately this view was perpetuated at recent court hearings.

Context is crucial. Comments made by professionals in court have a particular function whether in prosecution or defence. Those same comments, however, have the potential to be taken out of context, understood partially and have impacts outside of the legal arena. I acknowledge that I too am also writing form a particular position for a particular purpose.

As a therapist I made a deliberate decision to work with both victims-survivors of child sexual abuse as well as those who commit sexual offences against children. I understand that for some this may jar. But where there exists a victim, there exists an offender. The nature of intervention with victims-survivors or with offenders is of course very different depending on the client group. As Clinical Director of One in Four, I am privileged to support victim-survivors as they begin the long journey of trying to reclaim what was taken from them.

Having worked in the area of sexual violence for eighteen years I have learned three lessons from survivors: (1) the impacts of child sexual abuse are profound, enduring, and often life-long; (2) survivors show incredible resilience in their capacity to heal and to live well; (3) preventing offending is immeasurably preferable to cure.

It is this third lesson that informs my work with offenders. That work focuses on risk management as a core child protection strategy. The myths cited above have the potential to undermine the therapeutic work with victim-survivors and with offenders; increasing fear, shame and self-doubt for some who have been harmed while fuelling the cognitive distortions of those who seek out CSEM at a rate, in just one of many networks, of hundreds of searches per second. The fragile bodies and inchoate psyches of the Asian, Russian, and Pilipino children featured in much of the imagery are no different to those of Irish children.

I am writing predominantly to survivors and to those who have offended against children. To any reader though, I would like to say that child protection is everybody’s business and each of you has the potential in your own community and family to makes things better. You can do this by contributing to an informed discourse on child sexual abuse and by containing your understandable outrage with those who harm children. Such outrage militates against those people coming forward for help. Similarly, it leaves the families of those who have offended, and who are already in shock and dismay, terrified of community reprisals. People living in fear often may not make the best decisions in relation to reporting concerns.

Julie Brown 

Clinical Director 

One in Four