Is feminist analysis of child sexual abuse lacking? Cont.

Trigger warning: child sexual abuse and rape, rape culture.

Following up on the first post, Somatic Strength had some further thoughts on where critiques of rape culture fall short when it comes to child sexual abuse, which she also gave me permission to share here. I think she’s absolutely right that we talk about perpetrators of child sexual abuse as though they can’t control themselves, which is completely at odds with how feminist critique addresses rape and assault when both perpetrator and victim are adults.


What I was more wanting was the ways that we tend to focus on everything but the perpetrator and how that fits into a wider social context.

Like, when talking about rape and rape culture, we will say, “It’s all the rapists fault!” but with childhood sexual abuse, we’ll say…what could the child have done, what could others have done…not, “it’s the perpetrator’s fault!” and then looking at how we can re-examine the ways we look at children and those power dynamics and how the patriarchy enables that.

Like, not just finding ways to get involved to stop it, but also figuring out the whys behind it happening. How we view children as less than us, as a possession of the parents, etc. How to look at our family dynamics and maybe even consider that the current family model might be structured to contribute to abuse.

Like, feminists have already figured out that trying to find ways to dodge rapists just isn’t effective. But with csa, it’s like we’ve just decided that abusers will abuse, they are who they are, nothing we can do about it. And that’s really depressing, as a survivor. In feminist circles, I don’t feel like anyone cares enough to bother. Or, as I’ve said, I often feel like it requires that we figure out the ways that our own levels of power and influence have allowed this to happen. And feminism is notorious for wanting to deflect away from self-examination.

I guess that’s it. We view perpetrators of csa as “well, there’s no rehabilitation, they’ll reoffend” like it’s…something so inherent in them and is not a part of any wider social context. And that let’s us off the hook from examining how it works. I was abused because my father could get away with it. Because my father liked power and domination, just as much as he liked it when he could control my mother through submission; my brothers through physical violence. Because he was selfish and I was his possession, and he liked to make sure that was known.

And then the conflation of pedophile and abuser; as though abusers are just sexually drawn to children so overpoweringly much that they just CAN’T help it. OH MY GOD IT’S A CHILD MY AROUSAL IS TO A LEVEL I CANNOT STAND I MUST ABUSE is ridiculous, and feminism is quick to knock down that belief in rapists, while supporting it in those who sexually abuse children.

And I think we also view csa through the lens of Lolita, as though it’s not about violence and power, but is always some delusion of the abuser that it was actually a relationship. Which, while I’m sure there are abusers who have a distorted view of reality that way can I just say this – ABUSERS CAN LIE. Just because the abuser tells the kid, “oh, this is just how we love each other” doesn’t mean they actually believe it! Just because they tell the world, “But it’s just love!!” still doesn’t mean they actually believe it.

But we want to believe it. Heck, wanted to believe it…”maybe he just loved me and didn’t know how to do that right.” Which is really really hard when you’re sitting there with that harsh voice in your ear, “you get what you deserve, you sick little girl”. Hence why we use words like “molestation” no matter if it was rape or not; we want to skirt away from the belief that people could actually be so horrible as to get off on stripping the power away from a kid through sexual abuse.

I want feminism and social justice activists to look at those who sexually abuse children with the same critical eye that they look at rapists and rape culture.

One Comment

  1. I wonder if part of the problem with discussion surrounding these two different types of rape is (and I really hate this term) the concept of “gray rape” when it comes to both perpetrator and victim being adults. Like when the woman has been drinking, or she seemed to be into it and then changed her mind, or she didn’t seem to resist too much. From a lot of discussion I’ve seen surrounding these types of scenarios, there’s an idea that the men who commit these kinds of rapes may not actually realise they have done anything wrong, or at least not anything violent or illegal (witness: that stand-up “comedy” video that made the rounds a while back), and that all they need is someone to tell them they did something terrible, and they’ll be all, “Oh, shit! I didn’t realise! Mea culpa!”

    Whereas, in the case of a child-rapist, that person is usually either seen as mentally ill (can’t help themselves), or as someone who *knows* they are committing a really heinous crime. Which is to say that they are going to do it in spite of it being illegal, and so the only way to deal with it is to focus on training kids and parents in what to watch out for.

    I don’t know. What do you think?

    (I hesitated a long time over posting this reply because I don’t know if I said what I wanted to say as clearly as I could have, and I don’t want to offend anyone. Really, I’m just thinking about the way society at large understands these kinds of narratives.)