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Marc Okner can't understand this. "Why does the system work toward trying to get these families back together?" he says. "Why don't they try to get bank robbers or arsonists and their families back together? Why is there this push to get molesters and their families back together?"

He notes that people often minimize the trauma of incest out of shame. That could explain the determination by families to circle the wagons when allegations of sexual abuse rain down on them. Other sexual abuse, like that of boys, could be downplayed by families and victims because of society's macho BS propaganda. Like the sly winks and the "attaboys" you may have heard from people when a female schoolteacher was discovered to have seduced a teenage male pupil. And in the case of incest, some experts contend it may be more of a taboo to talk about it than it is to perform it. For centuries, children were portrayed in European child-rearing manuals (which influenced many of our ancestors' upbringing) as wicked, sly creatures who naturally needed to be controlled and stifled and who were at the absolute mercy and disposal of their parents. Physical and psychological abuse of children was encouraged, as Swiss psychiatrist Alice Miller points out in her chilling book For Your Own Good.

It was nearly a hundred years ago that Sigmund Freud promoted the theory about children's unconscious lust toward their parents. But Miller and others point out that at a slightly earlier point, in 1896, Freud actually believed that the sexual nightmares he plucked from his patients' unconscious really happened to them, that they really were molested. Freud, however, abandoned that idea in favor of his "Oedipus complex," which is based on the story of the guy who killed his dad and married his mom and then gouged out his own eyes when he found out what he had done. Miller and others take the view that Oedipus, as a child, was actually a victim, not a perpetrator. His dad had abandoned him with the intention of killing him. And Oedipus, after all, unwittingly wound up killing his dad and marrying his mom. Was the abused child Oedipus to blame for all this?

There's a growing awareness at the end of this century that sexual abuse of children is no fantasy--it's a horrendously huge and very real problem that cuts across economic and class lines.

Marc Okner has never even heard of Alice Miller, but he doesn't need psychology books to understand the pain of molested children. There are other advocates for children who agree with him, but aren't crazy about his unorthodox methods.

Given a description of Okner's masquerade as a sex offender in denial, Parents United spokeswoman Terri Muessig is skeptical, saying, "If the purpose is to fan anger against the offender and the purpose is to stop incest, I don't think it will help. I don't see where the hope is. If it makes people afraid to get help, there's no hope. If we just throw away the offenders, write them all off, there goes our hope for the entire world. Our society is in deep, deep trouble. Ninety percent of the prison population are people who were abused as children."

Okner has a different slant on that statistic.
"I had a problem because I couldn't quite explain to somebody when they said, `You know, 90 percent of offenders have been abused. Don't you feel sorry for them?' I finally realized what the answer is: I feel sorry for that child having gotten abused. I don't condone the actions of the adult.

"Because when we tell children in therapy that the reason he molested you was because he was abused, we're telling that child, `You're going to grow up to be a child molester.' And we're taking people's accountability away from them."

Muessig says Parents United, a nationwide group that advocates therapy for the whole family--including the abusers, listens to children's expressed desire for a reunified family, but she acknowledges that "Yes, we do get a lot of criticism. It's easier not to treat the offender."

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Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy