Dr. Michael Ian Rothenberg, LCSW holds a faculty appointment at the University of Central Florida School of Social Work where he teaches courses in Human Sexuality and Child Abuse Treatment and Prevention and is the Founder and Clinical Director of the Center for Counseling and Sexual Health of Winter Park (Orlando), Florida where he provides counseling and therapy for straight, LGBT, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adults, children and adolescents and specialized treatment for sexual addiction, pornography addiction, hypersexual behaviors and male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Dr. Rothenberg has served as a keynote speaker, conference presenter, guest lecturer and panel participant at venues including Yale University, Peking University (Beijing, China) and The German Society for Social-Scientific Sexuality Research (Munich, Germany).
Q. Dr. Rothenberg, the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse case has brought the nation’s attention to the subject of pedophilia. Are the experiences the young men testifying against Mr. Sandusky fairly common? Do they follow a known pattern?
The men who are testifying in the Sandusky case are describing having experienced, as boys and teens, the classic signs of grooming behavior. Grooming behavior is regularly employed by pedophiles and those who molest children and is a systematic attempt by an adult to establish friendships, develop trust, and solidify relationships by providing gifts, time and attention while slowly increasing the level of both physical and sexual contact with unsuspecting and vulnerable children and youth.
Adults who molest children will often focus on emotionally susceptible children who need and crave attention and affection much like the children Mr. Sandusky met though the charity he ran, the Second Mile. Boys who are molested as children and teens can experience lasting and detrimental effects from sexual abuse that can negatively impact their ability to trust and establish healthy adult relationships as well as lead to lasting challenges with substance abuse, anxiety and depression.
Q. What are typical reactions of the family of the victim? Are they likely to believe the child if the accused is a high-profile and respected member of the community like Mr. Sandusky?
While many family members will, indeed, rally and support their children this is, unfortunately, not always the case, especially when the accused is a well-liked, respected and high-profile member of the community. Often, we do not want to believe that the people we know and care about could be harming our children but, statistically, those individuals who sexually abuse children are, in many instances, the very people who both children, and their families, know and trust.
Q. In the Sandusky case, it is alleged that he maintained a relationship and sexually abused vulnerable adolescent boys for years. Can you talk to us about how pedophiles rationalize their behavior to themselves?
Pedophiles often do not recognize the very destructive nature of these sexual behaviors and can rationalize that they have genuine feelings of love and affection for the children that they are abusing. These relationships do, sometimes, last for years and might end only when the child grows older and the pedophile no longer finds the older child sexually desirable or when the older child utilizes his or her resiliency and inner-strength to tell a trusted adult and end the relationship.
Q. How can a licensed clinical social worker like your help survivors of sexual abuse? Is years of therapy required?
As a specialist in human sexuality and sexual behavior, I work, extensively, with adult male survivors of sexual abuse and can tell you that there are many men who are adult survivors who have never sought help or have spoken to anyone about their childhood sexual abuse. Sometimes, extensive therapy is required to counter the effects of years keeping secrets, guilt and shame. As a Sex Therapist, I work with many men whose childhood sexual abuse has had a negative and deleterious impact on their lives and has led, directly, to challenges with personal relationships, sexual performance, sexual anxiety and sexually impulsive and compulsive behaviors.
It is believed that one in six boys has experienced unwanted sexual contact before the age of eighteen. It is vitally important for Licensed Clinical Social Workers to familiarize themselves with these issues by attending professional workshops and conferences and establishing contacts in their communities to serve as referral sources.
The National Association of Social Workers in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers with nearly 145,000 members. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.