Many men and women suffer from terrible guilt and shame, because in their childhood or early teenage years they had sexually molested other children.
This is one of the recurring themes in cries for help I have answered.
Each person's situation was different, and so my replies have also varied, but, inevitably, there is a large overlap. Having just received another cry for help from a young man who is disgusted with himself for his behaviour in earlier periods of his life, I decided to have a single answer I can refer future people with this problem to.
I am deliberately keeping this explanation calm and informative. At the end of the essay, I have listed links to several answers, in each of which I've responded with passion and caring to an individual.
A sexual predator -- rapist or (mis-called) paedophile -- feels no guilt or shame. What they feel is pleasure, and pride. The fact of disapproval from society and the law adds a spice of danger, but they are inevitably arrogant, and are sure they're too smart to be caught.
For sexual predators, the lives they may have destroyed don't matter, but are tokens to be scored up, the subject of secret bragging, or of real bragging to others with this monstrous attitude.
Guilt is a wonderful motivator. It can set people on the right path, for life. It is the realisation that you have done wrong, and makes sure you won't do it again. It is a sign of maturity, and of spiritual growth.
So, the people who contact me or post at Queendom because of their guilt are in fact on the right path. They are now good people, precisely because they have made a terrible mistake in the past. Even if they have repeated this mistake a number of times, once they are tortured by guilt, they stop, and grow.
This does not excuse sexual molestation. It is better to learn this lesson without risking harm to another person. But everyone makes mistakes, of one kind or another. The behaviour was wrong, and needs restitution. Feeling guilt is good. At the same time, once the person has learned this lesson, it is time to move on.
Children are curious, and they are programmed to explore. Sexual issues are no exception. A very high proportion of boys and girls engage in sexual play like masturbation, looking at and touching other children, playing games with a sexual motive. Those with exposure to inappropriate television programs, internet sites or movies are more likely to do so.
In the overwhelming number of cases, this is a passing phase. Learning sexual taboos is part of being socialised into the culture, and it usually happens without any problems. Sex education in school helps, as does a calm, loving but firm prohibition from parents. Anger, shaming and punishment will cause worse problems. A calm, loving explanation of why this kind of thing should not be done will allow the child to learn and grow.
When the other child is significantly younger, or physically less powerful, the sexual contact can cause damage. That child could be traumatised for life, and her (or his) enjoyment of adult sex might become compromised. This is not because of the sexual play, but because of the power imbalance. The problem is when the victim feels helpless, unable to have a say in how her or his body is being dealt with. It is when the victim feels disgusted at what's being done, but has no ability to stop it.
The older or stronger child who initiates the sexual play will suffer damage if he or she does so despite knowing it is wrong (temptation too strong at the time), or when later realising that the action was harmful and immoral. All the people who seek me out are in this situation.
People who ask my help have taken the first, most important step: they have acknowledged to themselves that what they've done is wrong.
However, many become suicidal, or intend to report themselves to the police.
These reactions are unnecessary, and damaging, as what I've written so far shows.
First, a child perpetrator is a child. Children don't as yet have the maturity and development to exercise self-control, to resist urges, to think of long-term considerations, to put themselves in the other person's situation. While there are children who are vicious sexual abusers of other children, they are the ones who feel no guilt or shame. The ones who do are not criminals, don't need to be punished, and certainly don't need to kill themselves.
Second, typically the feelings of guilt and shame have gone on for some years. A person caught robbing a bank will get a jail sentence of so many years, then can start a new life. The same should apply to sexual abuse. The years of self-bashing are punishment enough.
Often, there is a desire to apologise to the victim. This may or may not be a good idea.
In a great many cases, the younger child has no memory of the abuse situation, and has suffered no damage. Disclosing to that person with an apology may be traumatising, causing harm that was not there before.
However, when the victim is known to have lasting trauma, an honest apology from the heart can be healing for both parties.
Each of these question and answer exchanges addresses somewhat different issues. If the matter of childhood sexual abuse is important to you, read them all.
How can I live with having committed sexual abuse?
I'm a sexual molester
Do I deserve to be forgiven?
I did a horrible thing as a teen
Facebook contact says I'm a sexual abuser
I am filth
Help! My little daughters are sexual with their father
Teenage molester grown up
I'm a disgrace
I am a sexual abuser
Guilty of sexual abuse
I molested little kids
I am evil