Sexual abuse is a crime against humanity
The sexual exploitation and abuse of one human being by another is a crime against humanity because it is a violation of who that person is in their very identity as a sexual human being. Our sexuality is an integral facet of who we are in our distinctiveness as human beings. We are living beings with a capacity to not only relate to others and to care for them but also to do so in a great variety of distinct ways, with degrees of intimacy and expression appropriate to our age, gender, the nature of the relationship, what it is that we want to express or give, all of which is deeply tied into our freedom as individuals and our capacity for meaning and responsibility.
Sexual and other forms of abuse are particularly heinous when committed against children and other vulnerable, fragile, or innocent beings. They become doubly tragic when those perpetrating the abuse are themselves the distorted product of having in their turn suffered sexual or other forms of abuse, often at an early and deeply impressionable age.
One benefit, admittedly an incalculably costly one, of the current scandal of sexual abuse of children and other innocent and vulnerable people and by virtue of the actions that have been courageously taken by victims, those who support them, and those individuals and agencies who represent them, but also by virtue of church leaders who have made manifest their willingness to receive complaints, is that social taboos are shattering and it is becoming more possible to talk of these things openly and therefore to begin to work together towards solutions and better safeguards.
The complex nature of the human person and sexuality
The fundamental and horrible truth of the matter is that human nature, including our sexuality, has been weakened, damaged, tainted since the dawn of human history. The abominable practices and the pain and suffering engendered by misuse of human sexuality is primarily what has caused - almost across the board worldwide - religious leaders to condemn sexual infidelity and all forms of unusual sexual practices as evil or at least to be avoided if not condemned.
Human history, literature, and culture chronicles the many ways in which human beings cause others to suffer whenever they use their sexuality as a way of taking pleasure, often at the expense of others. While men and women differ by design in their naturally occurring genders - with males more intrusive and females more inclusive - sexual predators can and do exist among members of both genders, even if they admittedly can appear and operate very differently with different degrees of destructiveness in the consequences and aftermath of their sexual activity.
Particularly in our day there is an increasingly universal acceptance that sexual expression and even experimentation are acceptable providing they take place among consenting adults. Yet, increasingly there are those bold and aggressive enough to contend that such sexual activity and experimentation is even acceptable by adults to children and youth. These opinions and ideological positions do not take into account the human developmental process nor the subsidiary process of eroticization.
If we are ever to understand what is going on, how the trends in human thought, feeling, conviction, and practice are constantly evolving - and often in ways that bode ill for the common good - we need to have a closer look at the nature of the human person and of our sexual dimension in a dynamic way that makes provision for and takes into account our developmental process.
If sex were not pleasurable, then there would be little need for this dialogue because few if any human beings would engage in sexual activity. It is precisely because of the pleasure that sex can and does afford that the human impulse to engage in it is so strong. The pleasure principle in general and in sex in particular is of itself ambivalent at worst - neither good nor bad - at best high and noble, and in the middle with the average view that sex is simply good, when it is not great.
Sex is good, yes, but not in every instance
Even reluctant or prudish religious authorities have traditionally granted that sex was good with the belief that it was designed and created by God, if only for the transmission of life and the survival of the species. Those with a more objective, realistic, and appreciative eye go further in acknowledging that human sexuality also has benefits for human couples when engaged in by one woman with one man for life; in that the power of sex binds them together, allows them to mutually give pleasure and comfort, and over time can evolve and grow with them and their relationship so as to intensify their mutual attachment, fidelity, and solicitude, that is, their disposition and motivation to look out for the other and to deliberately put the other's interests first, ahead of their own.
Pope John Paul II, the Bishop of Rome from October 16, 1978 to April 2, 2005 was of this view and went much further and deeper in his development of thought on what he called the "theology of the body", which emerged over time from the philosophical reflection he engaged in from his youth on human meaning, freedom, love, and "the acting person". He was of the view that human beings give meaning to their lives by their deliberate choices and that the highest meaning comes in the freedom to make of oneself a total gift to the other. He called this the "law of the gift". His work continues to be promoted all over the world for the common good.
Why do people pervert sex into violence?
Because human sexuality is so deeply tied into the integrity of the human person, our freedom, our capacity for giving meaning to our life, and our capacity to be open to and care for the other, sexual abuse is particularly bad for the pain it inflicts, the deep damage it causes, and the lasting harm it does as a violent act, and it is increasingly evil the more grievous its effects on the victim, the one whose freedom, integrity, meaning, caring, and openness have been violated.
Why do people then perpetrate such violence one upon another? The answer can only be found in the toxic mixture of the beauty, goodness, attractiveness, power, high purpose, and desirability of sexual expression on the one hand, and the distorted nature of the humanity of the perpetrator on the other hand. By analogy we understand that a hammer in the hand of a sculptor like Michelangelo can be instrumental in creating such inspiring sculpture as the Pieta, but in the hand of a vandal can destroy a thing of beauty, or wound or kill living things and even people.
The beauty and power of human sexuality
So it is with our human sexuality, which can be seen as a capacity for tenderness. Human beings don't simply have sexuality, but we are sexual beings. Our sexuality informs, colors, and is informed by our whole being at every level. Comforting a child engages our human sexuality, our capacity for tenderness, but in a healthy person does not generally engage one's genitals or erotic stimuli or responses. These tend not to activate without specific stimulation, unlike our other functions which operate automatically.
Our sexuality can be considered healthy when we have effective safeguards allowing us to distinguish different types of relationships giving us freedom to express a wide range of tenderness - actively in giving and passively in receiving - without any confusion from sexual arousal in ways appropriate to the nature of each relationship, time, circumstance, and the meaning we wish to express. Sexuality can be considered most noble when it seeks and effectively accomplishes the good of the other.
Genital sexuality adds to the expression of tenderness other meanings related to the union of a man and a woman and the outcome of their sexual fertility in the procreation of children, the transmission of life itself. Sexual activity outside of a woman / man couple with a mutual commitment for life sets aside the procreative function, the stability of a life commitment, or other dimensions which all have repercussions on those engaging in sexual expression and those affected by it, such as the offspring.
Human sexual development requires mentoring
However, it is easily observable that human beings don't just fall into a perfect experience and sexual life stance, but that this requires careful upbringing, learning, mentoring, and living. We also need to learn to seek and give forgiveness when our expressions of tenderness and sexual union are clumsy or selfish and manipulate, take, and hurt rather than give and care. When our sexuality and capacity for tenderness are poorly formed, mistakenly informed, or incompletely matured, all kinds of harm can be done in the abominations that occur.
We can see this in every generation and just about in every life. Married couples must invest selfless effort to develop their sexuality so that it becomes a mutual venture that enhances their union and bears good fruit for others around them beginning with their family. The more selflessly parents live their sexuality as a couple, the more benefits there are for their children who develop a more healthy sexual outlook from the mentoring they receive.
Wandering away from the original design
Other forms of human couple have the additional struggle of not having the differentiation and complementarity inherent in the basic man-woman couple, or the permanence and stability of being committed to each other for life, or the deepening of their relationship that comes from long term fidelity and exclusivity, or the deeper freedom that comes from sharing a deep personal relationship with their Creator God as the true and existential source of their love, fidelity, and fertility. When fertility is regarded as a curse or medicated as a disease might, it is easy to understand how sexuality can become an arena of disagreement and unpleasantness if not of selfish manipulation and abuse.
When children are brought into the world in a family where at its center the parent couple do not live their sexuality with the purest of motives and the clarity and freedom of unselfish love, one can begin to understand how all kinds of misunderstandings, manipulation, hurts, and deviations can occur. It is the tragic truth that it is most often and primarily in the family that children are abused in various ways including sexually, where parents or other adults abuse children precisely because they cannot assert themselves and are in their innocence most vulnerable and easy to manipulate and exploit.
Once sexuality is in this way perverted in the young, they struggle for their whole lives to live a more wholesome sexuality in accord with our fundamental design for happiness and togetherness. Those who are fortunate are able to gradually sanitize or make healthier their sexuality, but others become inclined to reproduce in their own lives the abuse and perversions of sexual tenderness that marked them in their innocent years. It is much like the children of alcoholics who tend to gravitate towards another alcoholic when they are seeking out a spouse or life partner simply because that is the type of human personality with which they became familiar while growing up.
Exquisitely sensitive spouses or dangerous rapists
It is the very same raw material of human sexual personality that begins at conception and develops through gestation, birth, infancy, childhood, youth, and adulthood. Why, then, do some become exquisitely sensitive and loving spouses, some struggle with clumsy attempts to please, others have trouble setting aside their own desires and come across as "taking" rather than "giving", and still others become manipulators, violators, rapists, pedophiles, ephebophiles, in short, dangerous offenders and monsters?
It is impossible to understand these differences outside of a "developmental model" of the human person as a sexual human being as opposed to a human being who simply happens to have sexual organs. A human being is a single living entity, and all of its experiences interact with all the others throughout its developmental stages and then continuing throughout its entire life cycle. You cannot examine or understand a person's sexuality without striving to understand the entire person, because everything within them is interrelated. You "pull" on one aspect and the whole fabric is pulled along.
Human development is a long and complicated process
Before the advent of discoveries and advancement in our understanding of the human person, it was generally thought - and many people have not caught up with the social sciences and still think - that a person is "born that way", the way they are, and that they cannot change. Advances in scientific observation, analysis, theorizing, and experimentation have revealed that the living entity called a human being as a physical and psychic organism has a wide and complex range of emotive experience as well as expression, and in addition has a more mysterious spiritual dimension that is more difficult to observe and quantify.
The human being begins its development with the genetic material it "receives" from its mother and father and from the moment of conception also absorbs untold billions of "impressions" from both the mother and the father during gestation in the womb and then continues to take in untold quantities of "impressions" from its parents, other people, other living thinks, and everything else that exists all around it, as well as its own inner processes, which in turn are also very complex.
Each individual has received from its genetic material certain "predispositions" to a variety of conditions, inclinations, sensitivities, and sensibilities. As time passes and as it takes in quantities of sensations and experiences, the individual undergoes the ongoing cumulative effect of all that it is taking in, its ongoing growth, and a developing and constantly operating process of "updating" or "rebooting" for understanding and interpretation, judgement and orientation, responsibility and freedom. Sensations, perceptions, emotions, thoughts, interpretations, awareness, feelings, moral judgements, free choices, the acceptance of responsibility and responsibilities, freedom to change, deliberate commitments, ongoing learning, admission of fault, and efforts to improve are only some of the multiple facets and operations taking place more or less simultaneously that taken together are in a continuous way formative of the human person.
Human development - becoming a person
In the social sciences it is now generally accepted that the human being is a dependent entity from the moment of its conception until it reaches maturity. One becomes a mature adult, with at least the essential elements and abilities of an adult, after having experienced 8 developmental stages between conception and the early twenties. These stages are: fetus, body identity, identity of the doer, individual identity, psychosexual identity, psychosocial identity, identity of the self, and early adult.
We more easily recognize them as gestation, infancy (0-1), toddler (1-2 1/2), budding individual (2 1/2 - 3), Oedipus Complex or nightmare stage (3-6), the "flocking" by gender stage (6-12), teenage (12-18), and "getting a life" (18-22). Along the way, each person develops "preferences" of sensation, outlook, expression, reaction, and action. During the first year of life after birth, some become more "captative", active, or outreaching, while others prefer to become more "receptive", passive, or wait expectantly. During the "potty training" stage, some become more "retentive" and hold things in, hold onto things; while others become more "eliminative" and release things, let them go more easily. This generalizes to every aspect of life from personal hygiene to money to generosity of time and spirit.
From the stage where children "fall in love" with their opposite gender parent (3-6), some males befriend their "intrusive" mode (generally experienced as wanting to be like Daddy) - which is inscribed in the very design of their body - and let it become their natural way of being manly in the world; while some - either because they have been harmed by extreme forms of male intrusiveness or simply lacked an available model - prefer the female "inclusive" mode (they prefer to be like Mommy or like a very inclusive father; with the result that being intrusive takes more effort and energy every time they need to employ that mode, particularly if the mother was intrusive in a way that felt angry or controlling or threatening.
During that same stage when little girls "fall in love" with their Daddy, some females befriend their "inclusive" mode (generally experienced as wanting to be like Mommy) - which is inscribed in the very design of their body and let it become their natural way of being womanly in the world; while some - either because they have been harmed by extreme forms of female inclusiveness or simply lacked an available model - prefer the male "intrusive" mode (they prefer to be like Daddy or like a very intrusive mother; with the result that being inclusive takes more effort and energy every time they need to employ that mode, particularly if the father was inclusive in a way that seemed weak or withdrawing, or humiliating.
In their teenage years, boys and girls try out their newly discovered personal preferences and abilities and find that they are energized when they are with others and may become increasingly extroverted, or they may find that being with others is more draining than energizing, so that they may become more introverted. These dispositions may also tend to vary in accord with the size of the group and their familiarity with the others and degree of acceptance by the others. Some will be more inclined to be leaders and others followers and still others, either role depending on the circumstances and the others involved.
Most of us have some "wrinkles" in our development
Social scientists, philosophers, theologians, varied other professionals, and people in other walks of life will define what is a human person from a variety of viewpoints and a wide range of parameters. What does it take to become fully human? If an individual gets stuck in the first stage of life, infancy, when it was the center of the universe and the mother was still felt to be part of its own body, then as an apparent adult, this individual turns out to behave so selfishly with such little conscience that we call them sociopath - without awareness of others as having a life of their own - or psychopaths - so intent on using others for their own ends that they are actually dangerous to life and limb.This is the case of those who in the face of the prospect of being abandoned will kill their spouse, children, and finally themselves, because they suffocate emotionally at the very thought of being abandoned.
Those who get "stuck" at the potty training stage may appear as extremely retentive or miserly or up tight, on the one hand, or on the other hand eliminative or spendthrift or irresponsibly carefree. Such an individual may be developmentally incapable of caring for others - unable to put out what it takes to care for others or unable to conserve what resources or time or energy that caring for others takes.
Those who get stuck at stage four - 2 1/2 to 3 - may never have become an "individual" in their own right, either because they became so merged with a needy parent or parents that, discouraged from paying attention to their own feelings and needs, they became incompetent as an individual human. Such an individual, perennially deprived of individuality or personal identity, would be hard pressed to properly care for others, being ever depleted for lack of self care. If they manage to heroically care for others, it would then be at extreme cost to themselves, being unable to distinguish differences in priority among the needs and wants of others and their own needs and wants, unable to reconcile those of others and their own.
Those who experience difficulties in befriending their own gender come to such difficulties from any number of factors: the degree or lack of masculinity of their father, absence of a father, frightening or humiliating distortion of a father figure, or unsteady, unstable character of their father; the degree or lack of femininity of their mother, absence of a mother, frightening or humiliating distortion of a mother figure, or volatile, unreliable character of their mother; which factors can be exacerbated by one or several occurrences of one or more forms of abuse: emotional, physical, psychological, sexual; or deprivations that are normally associated with social instability, poverty, and violence such as war, unemployment, racial or other forms of negative discrimination, religious or other forms of persecution, and so on.
Healthy, impoverished, or damaged development at any of these earlier life stages has cumulative effects when the individual enters into the subsequent more social stages of human development, which in turn can accentuate or open up delays in development of various facets of the emerging human person. Childhood and teenage bullying, social pressures to conform and even to perform anti-social or criminal acts, neglect or abandonment by significant adults, extreme social upheaval and countless other factors can enhance, hold back, or demolish an individual's human development up to that point in their young lives.
The initial result when the individual "comes of age" and is recognized as "an adult" will be a human individual that is capable of a minimum of self care, awareness of others as independent individuals with their own value and right to exist, ability to live and act in the world and society, and ability to assume the rights and duties of a citizen and member of society. For many, this initial plateau or goal is delayed until later as they struggle to survive, to help their family or basic group to survive, all the while trying to welcome the challenges and events of life as opportunities to continue to grow and to develop into fully functional human persons.
The role of "eroticization" in becoming a human person
Distorted human beings - undeveloped or "petrified" persons
to be continued....