A History of Child Abuse
Warning: This article may be triggering for those with a history of childhood sexual abuse.
By Lloyd deMause
In several hundred articles published by myself and my associates in The Journal of Psychohistory , we have documented extensive evidence that the history of childhood has been a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken. The further back in history one goes--and the further away from the West one gets--the more massive the cruelty and neglect one finds and the more likely children are to have been killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized and sexually abused by their caretakers.
Indeed, my conclusion from a lifetime of psychohistorical study of childhood and society is that the history of humanity is founded upon the abuse of children. Just as family therapists today find that child abuse often functions to hold families together as a way of solving their emotional problems, so, too, the routine assault of children has been society's most effective way of maintaining its collective emotional homeostasis. Most historical families once practiced infanticide, erotic beating and incest. Most states sacrificed and mutilated their children to relieve the guilt of adults. Even today, we continue to arrange the daily killing, maiming, molestation and starvation of children through our social, military and economic activities. I would like to summarize here some of the evidence I have found as to why child abuse has been humanity's most powerful and most successful ritual, why it has been the cause of war and social violence, and why the eradication of child abuse and neglect is the most important social task we face today.
THE CHILD AS POISON CONTAINER
The main psychological mechanism that operates in all child abuse involves using children as what I have termed poison containers--receptacles into which they project disowned parts of their psyches, so they can control these feelings in another body without danger to themselves. In good parenting, the child uses the caretaker as a poison container, much as it earlier used the mother's placenta as a poison container for cleansing its polluted blood. A good mother reacts with calming actions to the cries of a baby and helps it "detoxify" its dangerous emotions. But when an immature mother's baby cries, she cannot stand the screaming, and strikes out at the child. As one battering mother put it, "I have never felt loved all my life. When the baby was born, I thought he would love me. When he cried, it meant he didn't love me. So I hit him." Rather than the child being able to use the parent to detoxify its fears and anger, the parent instead injects his or her bad feelings into the child and uses it to cleanse his or herself of depression and anger.
Consider an infanticidal and incestuous culture, the Bimin-Kuskusmin of New Guinea. As is typical in pre-literate cultures, the mothers have long post-partum taboos against sex with their husbands, sleep naked against their children until they are about six years old, have orgasms while nursing them and regularly masturbate them. One three-year-old boy describes how whenever his mother was sad or angry she masturbated him so roughly that it hurt him, and he struggled to get away, complaining of a pain in his penis. "It hurts inside," he told the ethnologist. "It goes 'koong, koong, koong' inside. I think it bleeds in there I don't like to touch it anymore. It hurts when I pee..." Sometimes, after his mother hurt him while masturbating him, he wounds himself in the thigh and abdomen with a sharp stick and draws blood, looking at his penis and saying, "Now it hurts here, outside, not in penis. Look, blood. Feels good..." Although he is only three years old, he understands quite well that he is being used as a poison container by his mother to relieve her depression. He says, "Mother twist penis, tight...Hurt inside...Mother angry, hurt Buuktiin's penis. Mother sad, hurt Buuktiin's penis...Mother not like Buuktiin's penis, want to cut off..."
Maternal incest and pederasty by men are quite common in preliterate groups and were common during early human history. In my study "The Universality of Incest" I concluded that rather than the incest taboo being universal, it is incest itself that has been universal for most children in most cultures in most times, and that a childhood more or less free from adult sexual abuse is in fact a very late historical achievement, limited to a few fortunate children in a few modern nations, mainly in the West. To give you some idea of the extensive evidence I have gathered for such an unlikely conclusion, I would like to begin by summarizing the statistical evidence which exists for the sexual abuse of children around the world today.
THE SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN TODAY
In America, the most accurate scientific studies, based on lengthy interviews, report that 30 percent of men and 40 percent of women remember having been sexually molested during childhood--defining "molestation" as actual genital contact, not just exposure. About half of these are directly incestuous, with the immediate family, the other half being with neighbors, but with the complicity of caretakers in at least 80 percent of the cases. These experiences of seduction are not just pieced together from fragmentary memories, but are remembered in detail, are usually for an extended period of trime and have been confirmed by follow-up reliability studies in 83 percent of the cases, so they are unlikely to have been fantasies. The seductions occurred at much earlier ages than had been previously assumed, with 81 percent occurring before puberty and an astonishing 42 percent under age 7.
As high as these molestation rates seem, however, they represent only a portion of the true rates, not only because those interviewed do not include populations that have been shown to have extremely high rates--such as criminals, prostitutes, juveniles in shelters, psychotics, etc.--but also because only conscious memories were counted, and the earliest seductions of children are almost never remembered except during psychotherapy. Adjusting statistically for what is known about these additional factors, I have concluded that the real sexual abuse rate for America is 60 percent for girls and 45 percent for boys, about half directly incestuous.
Other Western nations have made fewer careful studies. A recent Canadian study by Gallup of 2,000 adults has produced incidence rates almost exactly the same as those found in the United States. Latin American family sexual activity--particularly widespread pederasty as part of macho sexuality--is considered even more widespread. In England, a recent BBC "ChildWatch" program asked its female listeners--a large though admittedly biased sample--if they remembered sexual molestation, and, of the 2,530 replies analyzed, 83 percent remembered someone touching their genitals, 62 percent recalling actual intercourse. In Germany, the Institut fuer Kindheit has recently concluded a survey asking West Berlin schoolchildren about their sexual experiences, and 80 percent reported having been molested.
Outside the West, the sexual molestation of children is a routine practice in most families. Childhood in India begins, according to observers, with the child being regularly masturbated by the mother, the girl "to make her sleep well," the boy "to make him manly." The child sleeps in the family bed, witnesses and most likely takes part in sexual intercourse between the parents. The child is often "borrowed" to sleep with other members of the extended household, leading to the Indian proverb that "For a girl to be a virgin at ten years old, she must have neither brothers nor cousin nor father." Childhood is so eroticized that, as one Western observer put it, "The little Hindu girls are deflowered by the little boys with whom they play, and repeat together the erotic lessons which their parents have unwittingly taught them on account of the general promiscuity of family life throughout India. In all the little girls of less than ten years of age the complete hymen is wanting...Incest is often the rule rather than the exception."
Childhood in China has historically had the same institutionalized rape rituals as in India, including the pederasty of boys, child concubinage, the castration of boys to be used sexually as eunuchs, marriage of young girls to a number of brothers, widespread boy and girl prostitution and the regular sexual use of child servants and slaves. So prevalent was the rape of little girls that Western doctors found that, as in India, few girls entering puberty had intact hymens. Even the universal practice of foot binding was for sexual purposes, with a girl undergoing extremely painful crushing of the bones of their feet for years in order that men could make love to her big toe as a fetish, a penis-substitute.
Childhood in contemporary Japan, although somewhat more Western than that of other Eastern nations, still includes masturbation by mothers "to put them to sleep." Parents usually have intercourse with the children in bed with them, and "co-sleeping," with parents physically embracing the child, often continues until the child is ten or fifteen. One recent Japanese study found daughters sleeping with their fathers over 20 percent of the time after age 16. Recent sex surveys report memories of sexual abuse even higher than comparable American studies, and "hot lines" of sexual abuse report mother-son incest in almost a third of the calls, the mother saying to her teenage son, "It's not good to do it alone. Your IQ becomes lower. I will help you, " or "You cannot study if you cannot have sex. You may use my body," or "I don't want you to get into trouble with a girl. Have sex with me instead."
The sexual use of children in the Near East is as widespread as in the Far East. Historically, of course, all the institutionalized forms of pedophilia which were customary in the Far East are documented extensively for the Near East, including child marriage, child concubinage, temple prostitution of both boys and girls, parent-child marriage (among the Zoroastrians), sibling marriage (quite common among Egyptians), sex slavery, ritualized pederasty and child prostitution. Masturbation in infancy is said to be necessary "to increase the size" of the penis, and older siblings are reported to play with the genitals of babies for hours at a time. Mutual masturbation, fellatio and anal intercourse are also said to be common among children, particularly with the older boys using younger children as sex objects. The nude public bathes (hammam) are particularly eroticized in many areas, being especially notorious as a place of homosexual acts, both male and female. Girls are used incestuously even more often than boys, since females are valued so little. One report found 80 percent of Near Eastern women surveyed recalled having been forced into fellatio between the ages of 3 and 6 by older brothers, cousins, uncles and teachers. The girls rarely complain, since "if there is any punishment to be meted out, it will always end up by being inflicted on her."
Arab women, of course, know that their spouses are pedophiles and prefer having sex with children to having sex with them. Their retribution comes as follows. When the girl is about 6 years old, the women of the house grab her, pull her thighs apart and cut off her clitoris and often also her labia with a razor, thus usually ending her ability to feel sexual pleasure forever.
A recent survey of Egyptian girls and women showed 97 percent of uneducated families and 66 percent of educated families still practiced clitoridectomy. Nor is the practice decreasing--UN reports estimate that more than 74 million females have been mutilated, with "more female children mutilated today than throughout history."