Skip to main content
November 20, 2018

What drives men to sexually abuse minors

Muhuri officials shield a minor who was defiled by her father in Bamburi, Mombasa county. /FILE
Muhuri officials shield a minor who was defiled by her father in Bamburi, Mombasa county. /FILE

The menace of incest and defilement of minors has been on the rise, despite harsh penalties meted out on paedophiles by courts.

Although many cases remain unreported, those that reach the authorities have earned perpetrators stiffer penalties, including life imprisonment.

Psychologists link defilement of minors to paedophilia, a psychiatric disorder in which an adult develops sexual desires for children and prepubescents.

Elizabeth Gichimu, a psychologist, says literature cites several theoretical frameworks to explain the disorder. For example, it could arise from some neurodevelopmental perturbation while the child is in the womb, a theory that is still being studied.

Gichimu says it could also be caused by growing up in dysfunctional homes and by past trauma experiences characterised by deprival. Disorders in genetics predisposition are also a possible cause of paedophilia, but nothing is conclusive on that front.

People with such disorders get sexually attracted to a child who is not in a mental capacity to make choices about whether or not to have sex, and the only treatment modality known include a form of hormonal therapy that aims to suppress sexual drive.

“From what research further says, any form of abuse is usually about power and exerting it. The man himself has undergone a form of trauma, and part of regaining the power he felt he lost is by perpetuating abuse. I agree with the saying that ‘hurting people hurt people’,” she says.

“Most perpetrators are trauma victims themselves and grew up in highly dysfunctional homes. Any form of maladoptive behaviour stems from the environment one grows up in.”

But Gichimu says due to the sensitive nature of this phenomenon, many researchers shy away from carrying out research on it. The biggest burden is overcoming the shame that goes with any abuse that makes many people avoid reaching out, she says.

“This has implications on where one can seek help for the disorder because again, most professionals shy away from attending to that population. It is estimated that the number of men who are paedophiles is high, only that they make a conscious choice not to act on those impulses,” Gichimu said.

“And this is because they understand the repercussions of acting on them. Nonetheless, we do have those who go ahead and act on these impulses, and most often you will discover they, too, were victims.”



Gichimu says men who were abused in their childhood are likely to be abusive in their adulthood, to exert authority. This abuse on those close to them is exacerbated by victims’ silence.

“Abuse is made possible by the silence surrounding it, and this is mostly because it has been normalised,” she says.

The psychologist says there is no straight answer on the question of why fathers defile daughters. “But the first thing [in ending the vice] is to break the silence. Make it safe for people to talk openly within their family environments about their experiences, and provide spaces where people can reach out to talk about their traumas,” she says.

“In Kenya specifically, I have not heard of anyone who works with the population. However, I do know there is an online forum called ‘virtuous paedophiles’, a support group, of paedophiles who choose to not act on the impulses and have actually integrated into society well, have married and even have children. And membership is anonymous, you can understand why.”

Victim shaming and blaming causes so much damage and could perpetuate the sense of hurt that is not healed or released.

“At the core, people cause harm because they themselves are hurting. And this is not to abdicate anyone from the consequences of causing harm to others. Rather, it’s an invitation of the society to look for something that would work, as what we are doing now is not working very well,” Gichimu says.

Florence Machio, Equality Now’s campaigns officer, says there are adequate laws protecting children from sexual exploitation. She cites the Sexual Offences, the Children’s, Anti-FGM and Sex Trafficking acts.

However, she says structures are needed to make the laws operational and make duty bearers take responsibility.

“The first point of getting justice is reporting. We need to create space for children to trust us enough to report without having to go to a police station or a health centre first. There should be a one-stop centre, where a violated child can find a doctor and a psychologist to exam them, a policeman who will take a statement, and a lawyer who will advise on the law. In that place, a person is given back their dignity,” she said.

“Because you find when somebody is defiled or raped, first of all they feel they need to wash, yet if you wash, you destroy evidence. So if there is a one-stop centre, even if it is one in a county, it will help reduce the chances of people not getting justice, because it starts from reporting.”

Poll of the day