Mind of a Predator
As the nation watches what may be one of the worst cases of sexual abuse of children ever, we wonder: What makes a pedophile? The possibilities will frighten you—but not for the reasons you may think.
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His wife, diagnosed with depression, had been admitted to the Rockford Center for treatment, leaving him to care for her 13-year-old daughter. The abuse began, he says, when he caught glimpses of her as she was trying on dresses for a school dance. Then came the accident in the garden, when he asked her to help him remove the splinters.
“I then began lying in order to get her to do things, like back massages,” he says. “Then I gradually talked her into doing more and more. It evolved. It became a different kind of thing.” He fondled her breasts at first, then her buttocks. Then he asked her to massage lotion onto his penis because, he told her, it still hurt from the accident.
“In my mind, it hadn’t reached the point yet where I felt it was wrong, but when I began to touch her orally, it was if a switch had flipped in my brain that said, ‘This is wrong. This cannot happen.’”
He says he stopped the activities immediately, but a veil of secrecy had been erected in the home. For the next three years, he had wanted to speak with his stepdaughter about the incidents, but chose not to. It was safer that way.
When he threatened to ground the girl, then 15, a couple years later, the veil came down. Shortly after she told her mother what had happened, the man was arrested for continuous abuse of a minor. That was in 1997. He issued a statement, waived all rights, and served one year at Gander Hill State Prison and 10 years at what is now the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna.
“A rape is about anger and control, but the sexual abuse of a minor is about sexual attention,” Carroll says. “I used to wonder, ‘How is it that someone can do so much hurt to someone and not feel?’ I realized that it is nothing to hurt another person when you have hurt inside of you. It’s hard to feel for others when you’ve shut it down inside.”
When it comes to pedophiles, however, most experts believe that the largest motivator is their need to have absolute control over the powerless.
The woman looks down at the tissue in the palms of her hands. All she can remember with any clarity about being molested as a child—for four straight years—is looking through a basement window of her home toward another house and seeing flowers, radiant and bursting. It was a keen observation for a girl of seven.
She is now 53, a mother from Hockessin, sitting on a couch in her therapist’s office in North Wilmington. As she recalls, her abuser, a family friend, had a special word. “Whenever he used the word, I would go under the table and rub up against him,” she says.
It began under the table, but then the word started being used in other places: the bathroom, her bedroom, in the basement room where he lived. She felt like she was doing something wrong, but she continued to see him nearly every night. “If you tell your parents, they’ll hate you,” he said. “They’ll say it’s all your fault”
“He was a salesman, forcing me to make a decision and knowing that I didn’t yet have the tools to make the right decision,” she says. “That’s how abusers operate. They find the little things in a person that aren’t strong.”
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