Sex is an undeniably strong factor in the lives of most people, for obvious reasons: The sexual reproductive system evolved to ensure survival of the species by making sex feel physically pleasurable (as in really GOOD) among animals with higher intelligence and lesser instinctive preconditioning. So it’s fair to say that humans have a certain amount of control over when they have sex that lower, instinct-driven animals do not have.
Over the course of human history, that control has lent itself to two very tragic realities. The first is that certain societies, religions and cultures used human control over sexual urges to suppress and repress all manner of sexual activity among non-sanctioned consenting adults. The other was that, partly because of this organized repression, the strong increasingly preyed sexually upon the weak and innocent. While this sexual predation, assault and rape occurred against innocent victims of all ages, the absolute worst crimes were committed against children. And despite increased public awareness of these crimes, it still happens today.
The recent Penn State University football sex abuse scandal involving assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who is accused of sexually assaulting at least eight minor-aged boys over 15 years is a example of this abhorrent sexual behavior, as is the Syracuse University sex abuse scandal involving assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine who stands accused of sexually abusing at least three minor boys several years ago. And, of course everyone has heard or read of the long-running child sex abuse scandals by clergy of the Roman Catholic Church.
In all of these cases, unsuspecting young children were sexually abused by adults to whom they admired, respected and often idolized, sometimes seeing them as god-like or even extensions on Earth of a deity. The systemic reason why this is even possible is present on our cultural programming. It teaches children from infancy to trust adults, authority, religious representatives, sports heroes, etc as perfect. In other words, these very young children are indoctrinated by their parents, their religious institutions and others to believe in the unbelievable, to not question authority, to believe that adults always tell the truth, and that authority figures are trustworthy and special.
Thus, if one of these authority figures calls upon a child to do “something” that, so the child is told, will make them very special, some of these children will believe it. They are ill-prepared to be skeptical and to demand proof because their own parents may have taught them that priests, coaches, boy scout leaders and the like are adults to be trusted, with special powers and/or authority over a wide range of enviable things and events. And if the “grooming” these children have been subjected to is strong enough, they will agree to submit to the wishes of the adult authority figure, even though these children might be uncomfortable or even traumatized by the actions of the adults and/or their participation in those acts.
Obviously, not every child will allow this to happen, even if the child was raising in a way that might enable such victimization. People have different genetic predispositions, and even in the same environments, children will experience different developmental stimuli. But the fact that it does happen to as many children as it does (and those we hear about are only the tip of the iceberg) indicates a systemic problem that facilitates child acquiescence to such activities by sexual predators, especially in those cases in which the abuse occurs repeatedly over time.
Obviously, no caring parents and no moral adult authority figure would knowingly set a child up for such an action. But the operative word is “knowingly” . In case after case of child sexual abuse it has been established that the parents and non-involved authority figures had no idea the abuse was happening or even how or why the child agreed to participate, albeit reluctantly. And yet, in case after case the victims reveal that they knew the abuser, often for years, before the abuse started. They will also reveal that they implicitly trusted the abuser, and that they had been encouraged by the trusted adults in their lives to do so. Because of that encouragement, the victims believed the abusers’ rationalization for the abuse, such as “this is God’s plan”, or some similar statement about how special and righteous it is.
If there is one thing that parents, teachers, clergy and other moral and caring adults should do, it is to teach children from infancy to think for themselves and question authority, as Dr. Timothy Leary used to say (albeit not the for exact same reasons). They should be taught reality, and some basic codes of conduct that all people should follow, such as to reject inappropriate touching by any adult, as well as the need to be respectful, but vigilant.
Because if people keep teaching children in the same old way, children will continue to be victimized in the same old way.