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Falling in love with the abuser compounds, not excuses, their crime

By Barbara Biggs - posted Thursday, 28 October 2004

With all the stories that continue to surface about child sexual abuse, including the latest Pitcairn Island story, there is a dearth of information that can lead to a deeper understanding of this disturbing phenomenon in our society. I can see some people asking themselves if, in this tiny isolated community shut away from usual morality, if sex with young girls really is, normal, as the islanders are saying.

We’re hearing it in the media every day. Who is disputing it?

Maybe the taboo on child sex is just a cultural construct and isn’t really damaging at all. Maybe they’re right. Maybe, away from civilized morality, girls are really “hot” for it, as one island woman professed.


Without analysis, or detailed, honest stories told by victims themselves, questions are left unanswered. What are we to make of a ten-year-old girl who says she hoped her abuser would marry her? What do we make of a community ready to save itself at the expense of its female children? Reporting of such bald facts leaves everyone curious. The public want an understanding beyond yet another story and to be more informed rather than titillated or outraged. Again.

Yet I, for example, who have an important story to tell about the emotional attachment to the abuser - the most disturbing issue raised in the Pitcairn Island case - am still told by editors (particularly of women’s magazines strangely enough) that people don’t want to hear too much detail about child sexual abuse. Even an executive producer on Enough Rope, after reading my book, said a Denton audience, “Wouldn’t be expecting something like this”. I wondered… if not on Denton, where?

Not only do I not buy that, but also in my view, the dangers of failing to educate ourselves as a community about the complex psychological layers of this kind of abuse, far outweigh any discomfort of hearing about the disturbing details. In my opinion, the media has a responsibility to inform and educate its audience, particularly politicians, judges and lawmakers, about this issue.

I recently returned from Europe where, like here, new and horrifying child sexual abuse cases are surfacing daily. The public are outraged. Yet more outraged still are they about lenient sentences handed down to offenders.

There are, for example, 55 lenient child sex abuse sentences under review in Scotland alone. Why? Because the issue of emotional attachment to the abuser and the fact that some victims have orgasms (like some in the Scot Volkers case) are still misunderstood. In one case the abuser was sentenced to a two-year suspended sentence because the girl had an orgasm and was therefore seen as a willing participant. Another man received 90-hours community service because the girl, then 8-years-old, said she was “in love” with her abuser.

What does this mean?


In my view, far from making the crime less serious, this emotional attachment, so common in cases where there is no violence, is the most damaging aspect of the abuse. It gives girls a skewed idea of love at an age where they are forming their new, adult sense of self. This warped view often prevents victims from forming healthy relationships for the rest of their adult lives.

Many child protection workers are frustrated, confused and stumped by the emotional attachment their clients often feel for their abusers. But in my experience, it is a normal reaction by a young girl who is usually emotionally needy and also vulnerable because she is entering puberty. At the fragile age where a girl is trying to work out what the adult world is about and her place in it, and having grown up on a diet of Hollywood romance, why would the Pitcairn Island ten-year-old NOT hope her abuser would marry her? This is the only model she has. Where, anywhere in her worldm has she ever seen a movie suggest that a man can use a child for sex and not care about her at all?

She has no frame of reference in which to process this experience. No one has told her that there is sex and there is love and sometimes they go together and sometimes they don’t.

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About the Author

Barbara Biggs is a former journalist and author of a two-part autobiography, In Moral Danger and The Road Home, launched in May 2004 by Peter Hollingworth and Chat Room in 2006. Her latest book is Sex and Money: How to Get More. Barbara is convenor of the National Council for Children Post-Separation,

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