The Difficult Question, “Why?”

Why? The most basic question of all survivors of childhood trauma.


Trying to figure out the why’s of a perpetrator’s choice to harm children is an exercise in futility. However, it is also a very natural and normal question to ask. The things perpetrators do to a survivor’s life are irreparable and cause a lifetime of pain

The Important Question

Millions of people enter therapy every year due to the severe side-effects of childhood trauma.  The road they face ahead is daunting, to say the least. The memories that resurface, the disbelief of what happened, and the sudden acknowledgment of a missing childhood are extremely painful. However, during this venture to gain peace one of the most powerful questions survivors find themselves asking is why.

Why did they hurt me?

Were they hurt when they were kids?

What causes a perpetrator to begin harming children?

These are questions that haunt not only survivors but therapists, researchers any thinking caring, adult.

What Are the Payoffs to Perpetrators?

I have been faced with this question many times. Sometimes I’ve asked it myself, and other times I’ve had other people ask it of me. There seems to be a fundamental drive for folks to understand why children are targeted.

Why would someone who seems to the rest of the world to be stable and pillars of the community decide to harm children?

What on earth could they see in the bodies of children that could possibly excite them sexually?

What payoff do they receive in beating, molesting or humiliating a child?

Why are people who seem to have what they need in life materialistically willing to risk it all to hoist unnecessary power over children?

There are Many Theories

The truth is that no one understands what motivates an adult to crave harming a child. Not only this, the jury is out on what the triggers are that start a perpetrator to begin to abuse.

There are many theories.

One is that the perpetrator was abused themselves when they were children. But then the question arises as to who started it? Who was the first person in that family line to decide to abuse children? What was the trigger?

Another popular theory is that the perpetrator feels that they have little or no control over their lives. Perhaps they have an abusive spouse or were ostracized as children due to a physical defect. The problem with this theory is that many people who harm children were never the brunt of cruelty by children and they are, on the surface at least, happily married.

What about the theory that the perpetrator is insecure in some way, and needs to harm children to feel superior? This seems to make some sense. Yet many perpetrators are in leadership positions and have power of hundreds if not thousands of people. Sometimes they are ministers or priests who wield enormous emotional power and have great prestige from their congregations.

In times past, people thought that perpetrators of crimes against children were committed by folks who were substance abusers or those who are known to be mentally ill. Neither of these two categories explain the myriad of perpetrators who are ardent non-drinkers and who have never been diagnosed with any type of mental illness.

Then we have the strangest theory of all, that people who are in the LGBTQ community are more likely to abuse children than anyone else. What? People who have this type of alternate lifestyle are far more likely to become a victim of perpetrators than to be one themselves. This is a far-fetched and unfair belief that adds to the already high stigmatization of LGBTQ folks.

You Cannot Tell By Looking

On stigma. It must be stated here and now that no single group is guilty of trauma against children. Perpetrators come in all shapes, sizes, colors, economic standings, religions, and positions in the community. To blame any group for child abuse is ridiculous. However, there is also no single group who is totally innocent either. Child abuse crosses all demographic boundaries.

You cannot look at a person and say, “Oh, he/she is a child abuser!” In fact, most perpetrators exist in plain sight and in the most trusted positions in society. They can be company executives, preachers, nurses, doctors, hobos, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, women or men.

Many Perpetrators Appear to Be Pillars

The person or groups of people who find the answers to these questions will become extremely wealthy. I have myself spent many hours in discussion on this topic with my therapist, and we always seem to end up at a dead end. Therapists and researchers have spent many years trying to understand the reasoning behind adults choosing to see children as beings to harm rather than to cherish.

One sad fact is that many perpetrators are considered by their neighbors and coworkers to be very stable people worthy of respect who do many things to help their communities.

Some Advice

My heartfelt advice to anyone who has embarked on the journey down the road less chosen is as follows:

Ask your questions, and mull it over for a while, but don’t get stuck there.

While you are doing so, remember always that what they did to you was NOT YOUR FAULT! You did not and could not cause a normal adult to choose to hurt you. The illness is theirs, not yours. I don’t care if you walked up to your abuser and asked to be harmed, it is not a normal adult behavior to choose to use and harm a child.

The Importance of Letting Go

After you have mulled it over, let it go. A person can spend so much time trying to figure out why they are abused that they can lose track of their recovery. In this case, the question why becomes a trap. I know. I have spent many hours thinking on this subject, and the discussion always ends where it began. It’s a circle without a resolution. At least today.

I’ve had to make the mental decision to let the question go for now. I have concentrated instead on making myself a better person, and trying to help others escape the traps that can imprison survivors.

We Need Research!

We desperately need research to find out what makes these people tick. Perhaps in the future treatments can be found to end a perpetrators interest in children. There must be another answer other than locking them up or chemical castration. Perhaps in the future perpetrators can receive successful treatment and children will be spared from the lifelong harm done to their lives.

We can only hope.

Asking Why is Normal and Natural

Asking why is very normal and natural, just don’t allow yourself to remain in the maze of trying to figure out your abusers. Take measures to help yourself conquer the ways their actions have made your life hell, and concentrate on getting peace.

Good luck on your travels through the puzzle of life my friends.

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t’ have a clear beginning, middle and ending. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what is going to happen next.” Gilda Radner