Recognizing harmful thoughts
It is important to learn to recognize and challenge one's harmful thoughts and the contents of one's mind in particular when one is tempted to engage in detrimental, or illegal activity towards children. Everyone is capable of learning to recognize the emotions and thoughts within one's mental images. No matter how highly sexual your mental images of children in their meaning for you may be, it is possible to try and change them.
The basic idea of cognitive behavioural therapy is that thinking, emotions and our bodily sensations affect our behaviour. Behaviour, in turn, affects our thinking and emotions as well as our bodily sensations, so changing the way we think can change our behaviour. This means that one's own sexual interest in children and the possible related detrimental activity could also be learnt to control. It is important to learn to recognize what aspects related to thinking, emotions, bodily sensations and behaviour your sexual interest in children entails, and how the related possible activity can be controlled.
Appropriating a new way of thinking and acting requires practice; this self-help programme aims at offering tools for accomplishing this. The exercises in this section help you control your thoughts and the emerging impulses to act in a way that is detrimental to a child. Practise reduces the risk of engaging in sexual activity that is seriously detrimental to a child and a crime. The feeling of being in control of one's behaviour that can be gained through the exercises often reduces the anxiety and fear related to harmful sexual interest.
Mental images guide perception
A mental image refers to an image of a certain issue in our mind, for instance what is a "dog" or "a good-looking woman/man". Mental images are individual and different visual, aural, sensory or olfactory sensations. Mental images stem for instance from our experiences, upbringing or through the media. Our values and principles also affect the emergence of mental images. People often have differing mental images of a certain thing. For instance, "a dog" in one person's mind can be large, black and dangerous whereas in another person's mental image a dog is depicted as small, fluffy and cute. Mental images affect how we interpret things, what kind of thoughts and emotions they evoke in us, and how we behave. For example, if our mental image of a dog is " large, black and dangerous", it is likely that we avoid encountering dogs, and vice versa.
Our mind is also perceptive to things. The more meaningful something is, the more it occupies the mind. How we experience things or situations has a lot to do with mental images. We pay much more attention to things that enforce our existing mental image of a certain thing. For those sexually attracted to children, child-related mental images may be dominant. For example, if child-related mental images are highly sexual, a person often interprets his or her perceptions of a child as sexual. A person sort of sees things and interprets them through "suggestive lenses". So, a child who wants to be cuddled may be erroneously interpreted as behaving in a sexual way while the child only wanted to be held. Also, children's friendly messages or conversations via digital media may be interpreted as sexual even though the child has only been friendly and polite.
Mental images guide perception and interpretation and so also reinforce themselves. A strong feeling of urge to act is often related to mental images. For someone sexually interested in children, a mere thought or an image of a child may evoke in his or her mind sexual activity and the related pleasure.
It is important to learn to recognize and challenge the contents of one's mental images. Everyone can practise and learn to recognize the emotions, thoughts and urges to act that are enveloped in one's mental images.
The first step in learning to control one's behaviour is the recognition of the sexual mental images of children and the related thoughts and emotions. If the mental images of children are sexual, it is important to practise changing them into, for instance, activity that is less sexually enticing.
Though the following exercises you can learn how your mental images affect your thinking, emotions and behaviour. The exercises aim at giving you a clearer picture of how disturbing and/or compelling you experience the mental images of children you have. Moreover, you will learn to recognize the types of things or situations that evoke child-related sexual thoughts, or what kinds of mental images increase the desire to act in a way that is detrimental to a child.
The exercises also aim at allowing you to become better aware of the types of mental images, thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations and behaviours your harmful sexual interest in children evokes in you. Awareness is important so that you can later learn qualitatively new and responsible thinking and behaviour. Exploring your sexual interest in children and the related mental images may be distressing. Nevertheless, it is worth your while to complete the exercises because awareness is the first step in gaining control over your own activity and changing your behaviour.
Child-related sexual mental images
With the help of the following exercises you may explore your child-related
mental images and sexual thoughts and the
emotions and bodily sensations you may experience. The exercises draw your attention to
situations and occurrences that make you think about children in a sexual way. Such situations are called triggers. It is important to identify these triggers because it helps you understand what sexual interest in children is all about in your situation. The exercises also give you an opportunity to ponder on what kinds of feelings and bodily sensations (e.g. sexual arousal) emerge when you think about children in a sexual way. Emotions and sensations in their meaning can be experienced as positive, negative, or neutral. It is a commonly accepted fact that if something is experienced as positive in its meaning (e.g. thinking about children in a sexual way feels good and turns me on), it is likely that one is reluctant to give up something that yields positive emotions and sensations. The same works vice versa: an unpleasant experience does not encourage continuing.
The following exercises solely focus on
child-related mental images and sexual thoughts (e.g. "a child looks nice and it seems that the child wants to talk to me". Thoughts are inner speech that other will not hear. Child-related sexual acts (e.g. watching images of children online) will be dealt with later in a separate section.
Task 1Task 2
Child-related sexual activity
In the previous exercises, you have reflected on your child-related sexual thoughts and mental images. Not everyone, who has sexual thoughts about children, brings their child-related preferences into action (e.g. look up online material that sexualizes children or depict child sexual abuse). Proceeding from
child-related thoughts to
child-related action does not happen instantaneously. It requires that the individual give him or herself permission to proceed from the level of thoughts to the level of action. Giving permission refers to all the excuses and rationalizations that a person would give oneself to make the act/activity feel permissible and non-detrimental. These excuses may include e.g. the following: ”I only watch images, I am not abusing a child", "I only talk to children, how can I help it if some of them want to talk to me about sex things", "the child could stop the conversation whenever if it wasn't something that they'd like", "watching photos never hurt anyone".
Furthermore, proceeding from child-related sexual thoughts to action that sexualizes a child, requires that the perpetrator find gratification in the activity. For example, watching online images that sexualize a child may energize someone after a stressful day, or watching the images may lead to sexual arousal, which feels good. Or an online chat with children may alleviate feelings of loneliness. A person who sexualizes a child this way is trying to fulfil the natural needs everybody experiences, the need of intimacy, feeling of being in control, sexual fulfilment, feeling of coping and being able, friendship and a feeling of being in control of one's life and the related stress factors. The goal/objective of the activity is just and acceptable but the means to this end (sexualizing a child) is detrimental to a child, and in some cases also sexual offences as stipulated in Penal Code. One can, however, change one's behaviour so that all the needs listed above are fulfilled but one's activity does not damage oneself or others.
The following exercises allow you to reflect on what has lead you to proceed from thoughts that sexualize a child to activity that sexualizes a child. What, you feel, is the reward of the activity for you, or does it disturb you? What is the nature of the activity, i.e. what do you do, what functions as the trigger for the activity that sexualizes a child? How do you justify engaging in the activity and what kinds of emotions and bodily sensations are involved? In addition, you will be provided with tools with which to reflect on how you could behave in a more responsible way in future and increase meaningfulness and well-being in your life.
What contributes to my acting in a way that sexualizes a child?
The following task examines the nature of the situations that can function as triggers for you to engage in activity that sexualizes a child. What is going on in the activity, how often does this take place (daily, weekly, monthly)? In addition, you will be having a closer look at the thoughts you use to justify your actions that sexualize a child.
Thoughts aimed at changing the activity
Giving permission refers to all the justifications and excuses you use to convince yourself that the child-related sexual activity you engage in is permissible, or to explain to yourself how the harmful behaviour is less harmful than it is in reality. An example of such justification: "It does not hurt the child in the picture that I watch it and that's why I can watch pictures", or "it is only a picture, all I do is watch some pictures".
How could I act differently?
The previous exercise drew your attention to what could it be all about concerning your child-related sexual activity. You reflected on what kinds of situations or issues contribute to your beginning to act in a way that sexualizes a child (e.g. you search for images online and/or watch such images). You also reflected on the justifications you use to give yourself permission to watch images and what is the positive you get out the activity that sexualizes a child. Next, focus on gaining a deeper understanding of your child-related sexual activity. For you to be able to act differently in future, you first need to recognize in yourself the issues that contribute to your behaving in a way that sexualizes a child, and also what do you see as the possibilities and obstacles for you to act differently.
The effects of child-related interest in my own life
We all have at least an idea of how we spend our time. A balanced and good life is often based on a functioning daily life that includes activities and rest in balanced proportions. Sexual interest in children and the related activity may have an effect on several dimensions of one's life. They can affect what we find interesting, with whom we spend time, what is our spare time like, how we experience our sexuality, how happy and content we are with our lives.
The following exercise focuses on all the aspects of you and your life that your activity that sexualizes a child has affected.
Reflect on the drawbacks and benefits
In the previous exercise, you evaluated how your sexual interest and the related activity have affected you, and the different dimensions of your life. Next, you could go deeper into the short- and long-term benefits and drawbacks there might be for you and your life with regard to your child-related sexual interest and activity. Generally speaking, someone is not likely to change his or her behaviour before the drawbacks of the activity begin to outnumber the benefits.
Considering other problems
Stress, anxiety and fear may become risk factors for losing control and self-regulation. Someone who is sexually interested in children may feel that it makes no difference what he or she does because people hate such persons anyway. It is, however, important to remember that sexual preferences and acting upon them are two entirely separate issues.
Sexual interest in children may be connected to other problems. For instance, feelings of shame and anxiety are fairly common with those who are sexually interested in children. Also, various symptoms of depression and anxiety are fairly common.
Problems related to criminal sanctions
Child-related, harmful sexual interest and the connected activity come with multiple feelings of strong concerns, fear and anxiety – but also with significant criminal sanctions. Sexual activity directed to under aged children is illegal and always detrimental to the child. Depending on the specific offence, you may be charged and convicted to a fine, or to serve a non-custodial or custodial sentence.
An entry in the criminal records for a child-related sexual offence often complicates getting a future job and hinders certain career paths altogether. The negative effects are often also reflected in relationships: important ties to friends and family may be cut out. The negative effects are connected to all dimensions of life and impair mental health and well-being.
Responsible and meaningful sexual behaviour never puts others' or one's own well-being at risk. The Penal Code of Finland is very unequivocal in terms of child sexual abuse offences, and abiding the law is very simple indeed: A child cannot be used as a means to fulfil one's sexual needs.
The Finnish law protects everyone against sexual violence, abuse and exploitation. According to the law, it is sexual abuse to perform a sexual act on a child below the age of sixteen years, said act being conducive to impairing his or her development, or inducing a child to perform such an act.
The age of consent is 18 years when the adult in question is the child's parent, or comparable who is in a position of authority or supervision (coach, teacher, councillor, next of kin, etc.) over the child. Also, purchasing sexual services from a child under the age of 18 by promising or giving remuneration in exchange for performing a sexual act is a crime.
A child is vulnerable and needs special protection and care. Also grooming, luring a child into one's own sexual purposes, is a crime. If the activity so much as touches on preparation to perform a sexual act, it is a question of attempted sexual abuse of a child even if an actual physical encounter with the child never took place.
Consensual peer-to-peer sexual activity, when there is no significant difference in age, psychological or physical maturity, is not sexual abuse. However, a child younger than the age of consent (16) cannot, according to the Finnish law, give consent to a sexual act that fulfils the characteristics of a sexual offence. The legislation governing child sexual abuse or grooming, covers also digital media. Perpetrators of sexual acts against a child who have performed the acts via digital media have been charged and sentenced. For example utilising so-called "child pornography", material depicting sexual abuse of a child may fulfil the characteristics of a crime as such. Also grooming is criminalized. Do not commit a sex crime – seek help!
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