more frequently than other men.
The problems of interpretation become most acute when we address the case of the offender who denies his offending. It comes as no surprise to find that some offenders deny the offences with which they have been charged. But the disposal of a denying burglar, for example, rarely involves the intensive therapy that some sex offenders receive. Since most forms of therapy for sex offenders require their cooperation, denial of the offence in the early stages of assessment makes the prognosis extremely difficult.
interviewed while a member of an offender's group at a Florida rape crisis centre, is a good example of a denier. The extent of his admission is unclear in the sense that the dialogue takes us up to a point but no further. He was 45 years old at the time of interview. Originating from Hawaii, he describes himself as an ex-soldier
-- a hand-to-hand combat instructor. He was married for 12 years when he was in Hawaii and has four children from that relationship:
"It wasn't my wife's fault, it was my fault. It's just that I didn't feel comfortable, I felt
... well she was working and I wasn't working, and I felt like ... she could find somebody better
... and then I just left ...
[M]y wife brought up the kids, they all went to college, and I respect her for that. My first wife, you know, all my kids went to college, they have college degrees
... three of them have college degrees, the last one is just going to college now."
However, he has a back injury from his previous work as a swimming pool constructor. Bennie had settled in the southern USA a few years before the offences. He has been with his present wife for 13 years but had been married only for about a year before the interview:
"We have got one [a boy of our own], but I have two stepchildren, daughters, one is 13, one is 15
... I brought them [both up] when her first husband kicked her out of the house ...
My stepdaughter Teresa (... she'd just turned 13) ... made accusations that I sexually abused her
... [but] not having sex with her ... I didn't think it would have gone this long
... she would really come up and tell the truth ... 'cause I am a lovable person, I play with the kids a lot and they play with me
I use to bathe them when they were babies until they were six years old, and when they got about six I realized they were too big for it
... I don't bathe them no more ... [L]ast year sometime, we were watching a television programme
... and I was laying down on the carpet and she was over there by me. [W]e sat playing
around -- I sat kissing her by her chest. [S]he says things that I did which I didn't do
... may God help strike me dead if I am lying."
" And what you are saying is that you had some sort of physical contact?"
"Oh, wrestling around that's all, and then kissing her by her chest that's it."
"What does that mean, kissing someone by their chest ... 'cause it could mean several different things?"
"In the report it says kissing her breasts ... you know it was for may be 10-15 seconds
... that we are just playing around and kissing, I was kissing her like the skunk [in the television
programme], and that was it."
"Did you kiss her on the breast?"
"May be I did may be I didn't ... [when you are arrested] they try to use psychology on you, they make you say you did
... so I am going to say I did."
"... that's no use to me ... I don't want to know what they say, I want to know what it is
"... maybe I probably did?"
"Does that mean that her breasts were bare?"
"She was using a loose tank top, one of my tank tops, and she is a small girl, and it exposed
... you know ... "
"... her breasts ... would be exposed?"
"Yes ... in the report it says I yanked this shirt off her ... and I kissed her all over the breasts
... She had a loose tank top, one of the big tank tops, and every now and then she use to wear and I told her
after that ... I say hey don't go wearing the things I got around the house ...
you know after I moved back in ... I told her don't go wearing things like that."
"... did you kiss her on the nipple?"
"... did you see her nipples?"
"... yes ... "
" ... so where did you kiss her?"
"On ... above it ... "
"... above the nipples?"
"Yes ... "
"... and when you say kiss you mean kiss not suck or anything?"
"And you say that took about 15 seconds?"
"No I am talking about wrestling and kissing and it was about 15 seconds ...
"... and what do you mean by wrestling?"
"Just ... you know hugging and rolling around, just about 10-15 seconds that all happened
... laying down on the carpet ... watching TV me and her ... I was laying down and she came and laid down over there, we were watching the cartoon character and
... I guess we were kind of playing around, hitting each other, and she was bugging me
... I told her she better stop it then ... we were watching the TV then I see the squirrel, I don't know, the skunk and the squirrel or whatever
... and I grab her and 'cause she likes to aggravate me ... and then that's how we started. Then it didn't take more than 10, 15 seconds
... then it was a commercial I think ... "
"Did you know what you were doing?"
"Yes I knew what I was doing."
"And did you think it was wrong or risky ... ?"
"... no I didn't think it was wrong ... but they say it's wrong and I respect that
... and believe me I hope I will never touch that kid again. I consider my daughter
... I brought her birth in the hospital... ok ... when I was playing with her and kissing her by the neck like that
... then [inaudible] I went down and kissed ... her breasts ... I didn't have no intentions of raping her or
... I didn't have any bad intentions of pursuing any further ... it was just a split second thing that we were just kissing like that and that was it
"... and she was 13... ?"
"... no ... she had just turned 13... "
" ... but it sounds like you are saying ... it's not an unusual thing to do, it's not a strange thing to do."
"No, 'cause ... whenever they go some place, go to church or like that ... they sometimes kiss me on the lips, sometimes they kiss
me on the cheek, or they come and hug me like that ... or they come and sit down and show me their homework, sit on my lap, show me their homework and help them with their problems
... then ... it wasn't ... I didn't find it ... anything unusual or aggressive ...
but how HRS [child protection agency] put it I was wrong and hey if I am wrong I am wrong."
"... you didn't think it was wrong what you did ... is that right?"
"Yes ... but now HRS say it's wrong and I accept that ... [L]et me put it this way
... you know if I grabbed her breasts like that ... and sucked on and for a while like that
... then started arousing myself, then I would think something is wrong, but just a kiss, I don't think that was really wrong, my honest opinion, I don't think it was wrong. As plain like that. If I prolonged it and when for half an hour like that, 15-20 minutes, then I can see hey wait a minute, that's not
right, or even 5 minutes, hey that's not right, but not for that short period of time."
"How would you explain doing it ... the incident?"
"Just showing affection as a father ... I mean ... "
"... are you saying that is normal... showing affection?"
"To me I say yes ...
Another thing, ... they all use to wrestle against me ... and you know ... we use to just play around like that a lot of times, but we didn't think anything wrong
... and that's the case you know, I think they should set some kind of guidelines to [inaudible] people and say hey you cannot do this, 'cause I would say
... maybe 85 maybe 90% of all males are guilty of sexually abusing their child
My oldest stepdaughter, she just got raped now ... just this past year ... but I wasn't there and I feel responsible for that
... 'cause ... in that predicament I would say you couldn't have gone ... you are too young to go out nightclubbing
Do I see my wife ... I cannot have no contact with her, that's what is really eating me up
... No, she wants to but ... she says if I don't put a restraining order on you, they are going to try and take the kids away from her.
So I say hey I'll do anything so that the kids be home, I don't want the family to be separated
... and you know it hurts me a lot ... every minute of the day, it's not easy going through a pain that I am going through, but I think that's
... it's worse a pain than being away from my wife and kids, than the pain in my back
"Do you have a criminal record at all?"
"... [T]he HRS said I had all kinds of record, I don't have no criminal record
... I once turned myself in because they said they had a warrant for my arrest."
Bennie did have a further report of sexual abuse made against him while he was
still at home with the family. He was also convinced
that several of his wife's girlfriends wanted to have him sexually. When questioned about how he knew her friends wanted sex with him he suggested:
"... because you know how women are they talk about men, about their husbands, and I guess she did it too
... and then she said oh yea, I will have to ... she says my husband had ...
we maybe do it once a month or something like that ... so ... I guess that's a reason why."
The denial processes manifest in this interview are quite subtle. The major one appears to be minimizing the event in terms of its time duration, since the whole episode, including
the "wrestling" is described as happening in a few seconds. A further aspect is the way in which an unusual behaviour, although not apparently the worst act of abuse imaginable, is normalized.
Not only does Bennie believe that there was nothing wrong with the act on the grounds that it is part and parcel of the growing up process, he also argues that virtually every father is equally likely to be unfairly accused of abuse. There is also a grudging acceptance of the "wrongness" of his activities when he sees the abuse through the eyes of the authorities. The slightest question as to his true beliefs reveals him not to accept the truth of his comments about the abusive nature of the act. Throughout the interview he inserts rhetoric about his truthfulness and, in the full interview, his concern about children and their well-being. Everything is presented as a spur of the moment innocuous bit of play. It is quite informative, then, when he mentions that he had previously expressed concern to his stepdaughter about the revealing nature of the tank top she was wearing at the time of the abuse.
In the final section of the interview he alludes to his belief that his wife's girlfriends want him sexually. His justification of this is as inarticulate as anything else in the interview. There seems no basis to the belief in anything his wife had putatively mentioned to him. Indeed, his wife had merely said that a particular friend liked him. He moves from this to forcibly arguing that under no circumstances would he have sex with this woman, who did not arouse him anyway! Had Bennie been more open about his thoughts about his stepdaughter, we might have detected signs of distorted thinking about
her sexual desires for him.
Ramon presents another variant on the theme.
A Texan of Mexican descent, he was 38 year old at the time of interview at a Florida rape
crisis centre, which he was attending for group therapy. He had served in the armed forces and had been married twice. His first marriage lasted 10 years and he was in his 9th year of marriage when the interview took place. He lived in the marital household where stepdaughters were present:
"Having problems with the wife ... problems at work ... I was at home ... I guess I had too much time on my hands and I guess
... she use to parade in front of me ... naked sometimes from room to room or just walk up to me
... and I didn't know how to handle it from the beginning ... and ... I had mentioned to my wife once or twice about her walking in on me
... she use to walk in to me in my bedroom, I would be taking a shower or sitting in the chair
... I guess it's just something that just happened without thinking ... I actually didn't sit there and plan it out ...
it's been pretty painful the past couple of months ever since it happened ...
"There were weeks maybe days ... [when my wife] she just wasn't interested [in sex]
... [S]he complained she had headaches or she wasn't interested ... and weeks went by
... my brother's and I of course all my kids were all pretty close ... we would ask her if she wanted to go to the beach or go bowling or do something
... but she just wanted to stay at the house.
So we used to do our thing ... go and have some fun ... and we did a lot of things like that bowling, movies, go out to eat
... of course wife she didn't want to go, she had a headache or didn't feel like it, or she was on her monthly thing
I guess I just grew that more attached other than normally ... I guess to my kids. My wife knows that we all love each other
... I am not exactly a person who sits there and studies the Bible all the time, but I was brought up in a Catholic background and I guess throughout the time
... my daughter and I actually got closer ... more closer
"Well my daughters were very young when I married ... the oldest ... when I first met my wife
... she was about 5 ... the other one was about 2 or 3 ... so I actually came into the marriage bringing them up
... the little one had a skin condition ... I don't know what you call it ...
came out of the skin ... so [we] used to take turns putting lotion on her ...
and there would be times that I told her to go and put it on herself ...
I was too busy ... and then when she turned 9 or 10 around ... she started developing
... and of course I put lotion on her breasts ... or her legs, or her arms, shoulder and so on
... this continued on for awhile and then ... sometime around when she was ...
well actually when she was 9 years old ... I got after her because her and her friends use to get together and read
... not read but look at some magazines ... you know they have magazines for men
... magazines for women, I don't know how they got it, but they had a magazine
[I] kind of let her have it ... and assumed at that time she was pretty
interested in magazines and I myself had to admit I use to keep some male magazines
... and as soon as I knew that she was getting curious ... she would walk in ...
I mean ... in the shower ... and I'd usually try not to react like get out of here
... I would just try to act normal... and ... of course the lotions, putting the lotion on
still... went on ... and then one day one night I was watching TV she walked in naked and she asked me to put on some lotion, and that was when mum was asleep
... and I put lotion on her, of course down in her vagina and her breasts, her back her neck, completely covered her with
oil... and ... that went on for a little while ... and... then one day
... the police came in ... I was doing it for so long that to me it seemed like it was natural to me
... I admit I wasn't taking it in I guess ... I didn't think it was wrong either
... I just wasn't thinking ... and ... err it bothered me ... but I just it was an impulse thing I just did it anyway."
The way in which Ramon accounts for his offending is largely to hold his wife responsible for the abuse of his stepdaughter; she was not always as sexually providing as he seemed to wish and also a let-down as a mother. He took over the caretaking role in his account and grew overly close to his daughter. Because he had rubbed lotion into the skin of his stepdaughter when she was small, he claims that it did not strike him as unnatural that he was rubbing lotion into the vagina of the girl when she had reached pubescence.
His account creaks in a number of places. In particular, he was aware of the sexuality of the girl and disturbed by her appearing before him nude and he discovers her growing sexual interest but nevertheless still rubs lotion into her vagina.
provides a rare attempt to systemize the concept of denial. She mentions an interesting situation in which denial featured in the misinterpretation of an offender's admission. Salter was asked to provide a second opinion:
"... on a psychological evaluation of an offender in which the offender admitted some inappropriate touching, but denied the extent of the offense as stated by his adolescent victim.
The psychologists writing the evaluation used the offender's admission that he had engaged in some sexually abusive behavior (pulling the adolescent girl's underwear down and pulling her pubic hair to 'tease' her) as proof that the offender had not engaged in oral sex and other more extensive activities with which the victim had charged him; this assertion was supported by the claim that sex offenders either deny everything or admit the whole truth."
(Salter, 1988, p. 96)
According to Salter, this view is mistaken, and offenders initially reveal only the tip of the problem.
Denial is seen by Salter as a spectrum with all sorts of hues. It includes