Denial, Repression, and Dissociation in Child Sexual Abusers

Statistics show that, the vast majority of accusations of child sexual abuse, are true.

So, withholding the obvious reason for a perpetrator to deny the accusations (they don’t want to get caught), another explanation may be that the abuser has dissociated from their crimes. However, with the perpetrator, it is presumably more of a deep-seated denial, instead of amnesia-dissociation, which victims sometimes experience.

In Betrayal of Innocence, a man describes how he began being sexually aroused, when his four and six year old step-daughters made a game of playing with his penis. He would tell them not to do it but admits that he didn’t really want them to stop. (We are left to wonder how often this happens, and how frequently this is the inception of father-daughter incest)

The perpetrator’s wife worked late, so he soon began engaging in oral sex with both girls. The man explained that a piece of him would “just kind of disappear” during the oral sex with his daughters. He said he shut down and felt as if he was dreaming or not really there. He says he saw himself from a distant place, as if watching someone else perform the acts.

In a New York Times article, another perpetrator explains, “It doesn’t make sense how my daughters had become sexual objects to me. It was a force I don’t fully understand. What I do know is that even as I was offending, I didn’t want to be doing what I was doing.”

Another man, convicted of sexually abusing his daughter, relayed how he was able to disconnect and convince himself there was nothing wrong with his actions. He admitted to “manipulating” his mind into believing that what he was doing “wasn’t hurting her.” He even told himself, “she won’t remember.” In order to commit the abuse, he trained his mind to believe what he wanted to believe. Both the victim and the perpetrator can tell themselves that nothing bad happened.

These men have described methods commonly used by perpetrators (who have a strong motive), to mentally remove themselves from the crime they are inflicting against the child, and to eventually deny the accusations with a certain degree of sincerity. Human beings have the ability to block out harm they do to others, as well as harm done to them.

Evidence even suggests that sexual offenders who have amnesia for their crimes, also have a tendency towards more violent acts against their victims.

Other contributing factors to an abuser’s amnesia, is blackouts due to alcohol.

According to a therapist who treats sex offenders, eighty percent of perpetrators retain denial during their first therapy session. Bowen says that abusers can vacillate between denial, and acknowledging their problem, and do so throughout many years. He says the offender will often admit to the acts in the court-appointed therapy sessions, but refuse to be honest with their family.

This shows that perpetrators will vehemently deny the abuse to their family and the victim –even when they have a therapist who could help them objectively and without consequences for being honest. The vast majority of those who are accused of sexual abuse are not in therapy, and have not been court-ordered to attend therapy, so this shows that the vast majority of offenders will never be truthful with their families.

Former FBI agent, Ken Lanning, says the first time the child abuser is confronted with their acts; he or she is in complete denial. He says they often act dumbfounded and some become furious. Lanning says they might even say they “do not remember such a thing.”

In a few cases of repressed memory, the person who was accused of child sexual abuse, committed suicide or at least attempted it. Those who support the belief that all repressed memories of child abuse are false, make it a point to claim the suicide attempts were an indication of innocence.

Yet Lanning says child molesters from a middle-class background with no arrest record, may be at high risk for a suicide attempt.

Lanning has observed that child abusers even deny to themselves that they are sexually degenerate, and says they often believe they are morally fine.

Research shows that up to half of perpetrators can have amnesia for part or all of their crimes. However, in cases of repressed memory, the perpetrator has more likely convinced himself (or herself) that he (or she) is innocent because decades have passed, giving them plenty of time to suppress what they did.

As Whitfield notes, it is the perpetrators, who deny their crimes, who have a “False Memory Syndrome.”



Betrayal of Innocence: Incest and its Devestation, Dr. Susan Forward and Craig Buck, Penguin Books, 1988, page 39-40

To Prevent Sexual Abuse, Abusers Step Forward, Linda Villarosa, New York Times

Sex Offenders Who Claim Amnesia for Their Alleged Offense, Bourget D, Bradford JM, Bull Am Acad Psychiatry Law 1995; 23(2):299-307 from: Forensic Service, Centre Hospitalier Pierre-Janet, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Amnesia for Criminal Offences, Taylor PJ, Kopelman MD, Psychol .Med 1984 Aug; 14(3):581-8 Memory and Abuse: Remmebering and Healing the Effects of Trauma, Charles L. Whitfield M.D., Health Communications Inc., 1995 page 121

Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis for Law-Enforcment Officers Investigating the Sexual Exploitation of Children by Aquaintance Molesters, Fourth Edition September 2001, Kenneth V. Lanning, Former Supervisory Special Agent Federal Bureau of Investigation, Copyright 2001 National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, page 129-131

Close to Home, Mark McGwire Foundation for Children and Big Year Productions, Vanessa Roth and Alexandra Dixon Producers, Discovery Health Channel, 2002

This entry was posted in Child Abuse, child molestation, child sexual abuse, dissociative amnesia, female sexual offenders and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Denial, Repression, and Dissociation in Child Sexual Abusers

  1. Laurie says:

    I aggree with this comment. Where is accountability and agency. He is totally responsibile for what he has done and was too in reality not disassociating because he was committing the act. The Victim wasn’t. It is all evil selfishness. Why don’t they castrate these men . They are taking away a childs innocence, and making them feel like a worthless object. They discust me to the utter core. I have 7 daughters and why any man would do this to a young girl is beyond me. They are so twisted in their thinking.

  2. manuela says:

    Sorry, maybe I am more than ignorant, but this quote “The man explained that a piece of him would “just kind of disappear” during the oral sex with his daughters. He said he shut down and felt as if he was dreaming or not really there. He says he saw himself from a distant place, as if watching someone else perform the acts.” – is just making me sick. I can not believe his sayings…just can’t.

    If he really had the feeling of guilt reasonably developed, then in the second moment of his dirty THOUGHTS, he would have asked for help or to be killed.

    But he done that only for his sick pleasure…to enjoy himself, no matter the ways or consequences. He was and is a weak person – every single word of him states that – in order for him and us to understand and accept him. No way, not me…

    • Alethea says:

      My apologies Manuela. I have been super busy.

      I think the reason I posted the man’s ‘out of body’ experience is because I still have issues with why those who hurt me seemed to have blocked it out –or they are just really good liars. I am always trying to figure out how a person who abuses a child can deny it so vehemently when accused of the crime.

      • manuela says:

        Well, from my point of view – the abuse blocking system represents a developed form of the conservative instinct.

        In the moment that this system is failing…their entire existence is going to go down – they will not be able to lie, to deny, to intimidate and so on…SOOO GOOD.

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