Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Slaughter of Innocence

Child Molestation

A child molester is described as an older person, male or female, which experiences any type of sexual act with another person who is a child. The majority of child molesters, more than 95 percent, are male.

Mary Kay Letourneau with baby
Mary Kay Letourneau with
baby

America's most famous female child molester, Mary Kay Letourneau, is currently serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence in a Washington state prison for her sexual involvement with a 13-year-old boy(3). The relationship began when the victim was a student in her sixth-grade class. Letourneau has given birth to two daughters fathered by the youth. One was born in prison. But Letourneau's case is rare. It does not seem to be part of the psychological composite of females to sexually molest a child. That compulsion, whatever its origin, seems to lie deep within the male psyche.

Molesters engage in sex with children for a variety of reasons and sometimes these reasons have little to do with sexual desires. This type of offender, called a situational child molester, does not possess a genuine sexual preference for children. Rather, the motivational factors are criminal in nature. In some cases, the offender's sexual abuse of young people is a natural outgrowth of other forms of abuse in his life. That abuse is a continuation of a process by which he has mistreated his friends, colleagues, spouse and family members. He will have low self-esteem, maintain poor moral standards and view sex with children as an opportunity to prolong the violence that is already an active component of his existence. Other situational offenders see children as a substitute for an adult partner. Although these types of offenders do not harbor a singular sexual desire for children, they may react to a built up sexual impulse or anger, that to them, is irresistible. However, the victim is incidental. It could have been a store clerk, an elderly person or simply a woman walking down a lonely street. Because of the circumstances at hand, such as the Polly Klass incident, the victim happened to be a child. His main criteria for a victim is availability. The situational child molester will usually have few victims, sometimes only one, and never repeat the event again. He could be a social misfit or a psychopathic personality who harbors a seething resentment and hostility toward society in general.

The second classification of sexual offender is defined as a preferential child molester. These offenders have a sexual preference for children and usually maintain these desires throughout their lives. Preferential child molesters can have an astounding number of victims and these crimes can remain undiscovered for many years. In 1995, a child molestation case in Texas caused a national uproar when the suspect was due to be released from prison after serving a six-year sentence for the rape of a 6year-old boy. He told the police that he got away with abusing over 240 children before getting caught for molesting a single child and if released, would do it again(4). One long-term study of hundreds of sex offenders found that the pedophile child molester committed an average of 281 acts with 150 partners. These types of offenders wreak havoc upon society far out of proportion to their numbers.

The preferential child molester exhibits distinct patterns of behavior that are common among his kind. They will seduce children by buying gifts and appealing to their emotional weakness. This requires the offender to develop a friendship with the child or utilize an existing relationship with the victim. In more than 90 percent of the rapes of children less than 12 years old, the offender knew the victim (U.S. Department of Justice). Other offenders will engage in self-exposure or personally harass children. Simply stated, the preferential child molester is a pedophile who has carried his fantasies and desires into reality. A small minority of these types of offenders may be sadistic in nature and inflict pain or torture upon their victims. These individuals, like any other criminal, can be brutal and sadistic. Such an individual was Britain's most famous and despised child molester, Bill Malcolm.

In 1981, Malcolm was convicted of raping a 3-year-old girl and sent to prison. When he was released in 1984, he returned to rape the same terrified girl who was then 6 years old. Malcolm was angry that she had identified him as the rapist. He later told cops he wanted revenge. He was charged again in 1994 with rape and assault on four children who he allegedly tied to a bed and forced to perform sex acts. A judge later made a favorable ruling in Malcolm's case and he walked out of the courtroom a free man. But child molesters evoke little sympathy from the general public. On February 18 2000, two men showed up at Malcolm's doorstep and promptly put a bullet in his head. One person said what a lot of Londoners were feeling: "Whoever did this deserves a medal!" N.Y. Post, February 20, 2000).

 

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(3) Time magazine reported on her sentencing in their issue of February 16, 1998

(4) This defendant's threats caused a renewed interest in castration as a form of punishment for child molesters. See The Dallas Morning News for a series of articles on the Larry Don McQuade case (1996).

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