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Picture two boys growing up in the same neighborhood. Both are 10. Both live in middle-class neighborhoods. Both are in-telligent. Both witnessed their fathers beating their mothers. Their fathers beat both of them. Both experienced sexual abuse. The person who sexually abused Rob was his father. The person who sexually abused Marty was an older kid in the neighborhood.

One will grow into responsible adulthood: optimistic, a lov-ing husband and father, and a dependable employee. The other will become a prison inmate.

What creates the difference in these two lives?

Rob: Trust in Others

Rob confided in a friend named Pete when his father beat him and when he had worries about school, friendships, and money.  He learned from Pete’s father how to fix electronic equipment. He tried to be like his friend’s father.  He liked school and enjoyed playing with other kids at school and in the neighborhood

As Rob grew older, his circle of friends widened. He devel-oped hopes and dreams for the future.  He kept a diary where he recorded secret stuff about his troubles in his fami-ly, his feelings for girls, and how his day went. He got drunk at a party when he was 16 and didn’t like the feeling of being out of control. After that he drank only occasionally, and not too much.

As a young adult, Rob sought help with his feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration about the abuse he experienced as a child.

Marty: Broken Trust

Marty, at the age of eight, confided in a teacher that his father beat him. He also wanted to tell the teacher about the older boy in the neighborhood who sexually abused him, but he thought he would wait to see how the teacher handled the news of his physical abuse. The teacher called his father, who said he had never beaten Marty. When Marty got home from school, his father beat him for telling the teacher.

Marty never confided in anyone again. Instead, he tried to be tough, like men he saw in video games and on TV. They didn’t feel hurt or helpless.  They took what they wanted.  They were in charge.

By the age of 10, Marty was stealing from stores and harass-ing other children, physically and sexually.  At 11, he joined a group who stole and sometimes attacked others, vandalized property, and used alcohol and drugs. Marty told himself he was having fun.

At 14, Marty was in a juvenile correctional center. Five years later, he was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison for criminal sexual conduct.

Similar Risks, Different Outcomes

As children, Rob and Marty were both at risk for committing violent acts.  One had on-going relationships with people he trusted and in whom he confided about personal, sensitive information. Doing so helped him feel better. Positive expe-riences and relationships were protective factors.

Marty had some protective factors, but a pile-up of risk fac-tors overwhelmed them. His life might have been far different had their been early and effective responses to his report of physical abuse at home.

Many people have risks for outcomes like Marty’s, but most people with these risks turn out like Rob because they have many positive factors in their lives that they use to help them work through the effects of these risks.


Such people are resilient, meaning they have learned to cope with adapt to, or overcome risks, because they use the posi-tive things in their lives.  Other people are not resilient.  In Marty’s case, he made a decision early in life never to trust anyone else.  He was far too young to understand the conse-quences of his decision.

When we look at the numbers of children who are hurt and afraid, what can each of us do to help these children build the trust required to begin to deal with the difficult events in their lives?


We cannot provide hurt children with the professional help they require, but perhaps many of us can become bridges for hurt children, bridges that lead to safe and secure relation-ships with competent professionals who can help children deal with the harsh realities in their lives.

In the best of all worlds, the children’s parents will walk with their children across that bridge to professional help. When parents cannot do this, then their children will have a tough-er time, but they may be lucky as Rob was and find a network of people who will care about them and stick with them over the long term.


Gilgun, Jane F. (2006). Children and adolescents with problematic sexual behaviors: Lessons from research on resili-ence.  In Robert Longo & Dave Prescott (Eds.), Current perspectives on working with sexually aggressive youth and youth with sexual behavior problems (pp. 383-394).  Holyoke, MA: Neari Press.

    Gilgun, Jane F., & Laura S. Abrams (2005).  Gendered adaptations, resilience, and the perpetration of violence.  In Michael Ungar (Ed.), Handbook for working with children and youth: Pathways to resilience across cultures and context (pp.  57-70).  Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
    Gilgun, Jane F. Christian Klein, & Kay Pranis. (2000). The significance of resources in models of risk, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14, 627-646.
Gilgun, Jane F., & Alankaar Sharma (2008). Child sexual abuse. In Jeffrey L. Edleson & Claire M. Renzetti (Eds.) Ency-clopedia of Interpersonal Violence (pp. 122-125). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
    Gilgun, Jane F., Susan Keskinen, Danette Jones Marti, & Kay Rice.  (1999). Clinical applications of the CASPARS instruments: Boys who act out sexually. Families in Society, 80, 629-641.


Listening to boys' troubles makes them sissies.

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Comment Preferences

  •  since ancient times (4+ / 0-)

    philosophers have been trying to figure out how to rear a good man.  You can see differences in outcome even when there is no egregious abuse.  Rich men who adore their sons sometimes get criminals.  

    But there is one commonality when it comes to outcome - boys who have a good role model, a man who is a stand up guy, who shows the little boy how to make it in the world, and works along side the child to help him learn the joy of hard work and the satisfaction from doing one's best, a man who enjoys the respect of other adults because of his decent characteristics, have an edge when it comes to growing up decent.

    But, you sometimes meet these guys after they've completed a prison sentence.  They were decent and stand up guys in prison, but they got arrested and convicted of something - perhaps being with a friend during a robbery, or most often being an addict and then using poor judgement.  

    Not to seem like a sissy, but the fact of being convicted of a crime does not equate with not being a decent, and stand up guy.  

    "oh no, not four more years of hope and change?" Karl Christian Rove

    by anna shane on Tue Jan 01, 2013 at 10:59:09 AM PST

    •  Excellent. (5+ / 0-)

      There are good mothers and fathers who no matter what have a child who falls into the system (not enough money for a good lawyer) and others who are just plain mean.

      There are terrible mothers and fathers who no matter how horrible they were have great kids who grew up to be lawyers, doctors, teacher, etc.

      Sometimes it is who who reach out too.  Sometimes it is the parents, the environment, the bully who may shape and person's final being.  

      And many times it is a variable of all and everything.  One never knows why until you work with the individual. There is never one reason why.

  •  Reminds me of a lesson I learned long ago (4+ / 0-)

    I met an older man, president of a bank and a nice guy, who told me that the most valuable lesson he ever learned was from his secretary when he was a young man learning to be a banker and he treated ne of the customers with disdain . She set him straight that NOBODY sets out to be an ass.  People do act like asses because of life circimstances or learned behavior or mental health issuses but nobody sets out to be ass. So, from his secretary, he learned to treat people with respect and compassion, but still setting boundaries.

    In my personal case, I wish I understood why my values and actions so different from those of my siblings ... they are mostly learned values because I did not like those that were taught to me by my family of origin.  So I wonder why I found/find those values and actions sodistasteful but my siblings are quite OK with them and are passing them on their children.

    Interesting questions you raise.

    "Life without liberty is like a body without spirit. Liberty without thought is like a disturbed spirit." Kahlil Gibran, 'The Vision'

    by CorinaR on Tue Jan 01, 2013 at 11:48:35 AM PST

  •  Role models (4+ / 0-)

    make a huge difference. I'm female but experienced something similar to your first scenario. I had extremely abusive parents who nearly destroyed me, but my neighbor's mother was always encouraging and spoke a lot of positive things into me, and she became my role model. I also had a couple teachers in grade school who saw that I was downtrodden and tried to build me up, which I greatly appreciate.

    Over the years, when in various situations, I always asked myself, "What would Mrs. X [the neighbor] do?" She was almost like a second mom to me, but the kinder, nurturing mother I wished I had. I credit these three people with the fact that my life turned out okay in the end.

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