For a novel that’s currently in progress I have been doing research and reading on the topics of child marriage, forced marriage, honor killings, and child prostitution. It’s a depressing topic. (The book will not be depressing, though. Trust me.)
Tell Me Why
In the face of all the information I have scrolled through, scanned, read in depth and shaken my head over, one question has emerged over and over again: Why do so many men want to have sex with children, usually girls? Whether it’s legalized or not, what does child marriage say about them as human beings?
Okay, lots of men have fantasies about high school girls in cheerleader uniforms. I’m talking about what they actually do, not what goes on inside their heads or on hotel room TVs. Nor am I talking about nubile teenagers—although they’re legally underage until their 18th birthday. Shotgun marriages may be a staple of jokes and movies but even they usually deal with two teenagers who have gone too far.
Men Who Marry Children
No, I’m wondering about men who are driven to having sex with children of 15, 12, 9 or even younger. It might be a grown man getting a girl’s parents to make her marry him, an ISIS fighter raping his Yazidi slave, a football fan at the Super Bowl hiring a child who has been trafficked into the city, a middle-aged Fundamentalist Mormon perusing the Joy Book for his next child bride, or a father of four slipping into the local “massage parlor” for a quickie with a girl younger than the daughters he left at at home. These are all real situations, in which real men force themselves on defenseless children.
- It’s a global thing. Lest you think that these phenomena happen only in villages of the Middle East, be aware that it happens right here in America.. And it’s legal, too. Individual states set the minimum legal age for marriage and 17 have no legal minimum. Even in states that do, parental consent and judicial approval allow a minor child to be married—even to a much older person. Ninety percent of the children in these forced marriages are girls as young as 12, compelled to marry men in their twenties and thirties or older.
It crosses religious lines. Forced child marriage occurs among Muslims, Hindus, Fundamentalist Mormons, Christians, Buddhists, and Orthodox Jews.
- It affects all economic brackets: Rich men and poor men, tribal leaders and paragons of business, men of faith and atheists alike are guilty. Politicians do it, football coaches do it, even ministers and priests do it.
Back to my original question: But why? A normal well-adjusted man will be sexually attracted to a mature woman or man, not a pre-pubescent child. Likewise he will want his partner to receive pleasure from the act, just as he will be pleased by her (or his) cries of pleasure. He will not be turned on by the screaming, the pleas, and the tears of a child who is being raped. Nor will he convince himself that she “wants it” and his actions are doing no damage. Statutory rape is defined as sexual intercourse by an adult with a minor and it does a great deal of damage.
The Biology of Pedophilia
Dr. James Cantor, head of research in the Sexual Behaviors Clinic in Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, thinks he has found the cause of pedophilia. It’s not enough “white matter” in the brain. This is the neural “cabling” that connects areas of the brain together. Dr. Cantor says that,
“ . . . there’s either not enough of this cabling, not the correct kind of cabling, or it’s wiring the wrong areas together, so instead of the brain evoking protective or parental instincts when these people see children, it’s instead evoking sexual instincts. There’s almost literally a crossed wiring.”
While that makes sense, in a way it’s also a relief to think there’s a pathology behind the deviant sexuality rather than a moral failing.
Accounting for Volume
I don’t think, however, that this explanation accounts for the sheer volume of abuse going on in the world right now. Could all these men possibly have brains that are hardwired incorrectly? Does every man in the photograph above have inadequate white matter?
Or do some of them like the power of controlling a child who can’t fight back? Maybe they’re sadists who enjoy the screams and cries of their victims. Perhaps they’re too insecure to have a mature sexual relationship with another adult and can only relate to a child who is too powerless to criticize or humiliate them. ISIS men say they’re devout Muslims following the literal rules of the Quran and pray before and after they rape their slaves.
Whatever the reason, there seems to be an awful lot of sexual violence in the world, particularly against young girls. Perhaps there was always this much but we never paid attention to it before or considered it unthinkable in our civilized world. It’s likely that we dismissed a lot of it as culturally based, a factor of poverty, religious extremism, or sexual adventuring.
Well Past Time to End Child Marriage
But I think it’s well past time that we figured out what’s behind it all and put a stop to it. We can’t change the world but we certainly can do something in our own country. It is beyond belief that people become outraged about gay marriage between consenting adults but have no objection to children being raped by grown men.
Only 10 states and jurisdictions in the United States have laws on the books to prevent or punish child marriage. Virginia, Maryland and New York are considering bills to curb child marriage. That leaves 47 states, including my own, that offer no protection to girls who are threatened with beatings, ostracism or even death unless they marry the man their parents want. Judges often don’t even talk to the girl before issuing a judicial approval. This is unconscionable. We have to stop it.