Differences Between Child and Adult Rape

Photo by deflam - http://flic.kr/p/N5FHR - For illustration only

Reader’s Question

After much research and discussion, I’ve noticed that even castration is rarely mentioned as a penalty for adult rape, yet “a poll of over 1,800 Americans showed that about 40% would support the death penalty for child rape” (Editor: according to a Wikipedia article on Revenge).

I guess the attitude is that adults will ‘just get over it.’ Why is there this age discrimination? Is it due to parental instinct and its sentiment for children, maybe? Judging by the statements of rape victims, age has very little or nothing to do with coping with rape. Both groups are defenseless and vulnerable, with a lifetime of trauma following it. Could it be that no one cares for adults because they ought to take care of themselves?

Is this another rape myth and misconception of the masses? Yes, I’ve read some of your previous articles.

Psychologist’s Reply

I think the rape myth you’re referring to is the one in which people tend to blame rape victims for their attack. This particular myth states that the victim somehow caused the rape (by being young, attractive, dressed a certain way, acting sexy, drinking alcohol, being in a certain location, not being clear about saying no, or any number of other irrelevant variables). However, it is much more difficult to blame a child, especially a very young child, for the rape because we tend to view children as not being sexual, or not having much control over some of the variables mentioned. Moreover, I think what you’re tapping into is the anger people feel over any violation of a child. People who abuse children in any way, shape or form are often the ones who do poorly in prison because even fellow prisoners do not like or accept them.

Moreover, there are some distinct differences between children and adults. First, children’s smaller bodies tend to mean a larger likelihood of physical damage. Second, children have very little experience of the world, so the cushion they have to fall back on is smaller than that of an adult. For example, if you know a large number of kind and gentle men, you will not be as likely to conclude that all men are cruel and violent. Third, societies in general tend to believe that adults are supposed to protect children, not harm them. Thus, the sense of betrayal inherent in child rape is larger. Finally, children have not yet had the opportunity to develop coping skills. Thus, their ability to manage their emotions is smaller than that of an adult.

Try Online Counseling: Get Personally Matched
(Please read our important explanation below.)

However, even given all of these differences and the fact that people feel very protective of children, I don’t think the logical conclusion is that adults will ‘just get over it’ or should take care of themselves.

Especially in the Western world, there are many resources available to adults who have been raped. There are rape crisis centers and special safe houses for victims of violence; and there are legal protections in place. These may not be as numerous as we would like, or function exactly the way in which we wish they would, but they are there. I hope that will soon be the case all over the world. Or, if I really were wishing, I would hope that rape would stop occurring, and none of this would be needed.

Please read our Important Disclaimer.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. Originally published by on and last reviewed or updated by Pat Orner Oliver on .

Ask the Psychologist provides direct access to qualified clinical psychologists ready to answer your questions. It is overseen by the same international advisory board of distinguished academic faculty and mental health professionals — with decades of clinical and research experience in the US, UK and Europe — that delivers CounsellingResource.com, providing peer-reviewed mental health information you can trust. Our material is not intended as a substitute for direct consultation with a qualified mental health professional. CounsellingResource.com is accredited by the Health on the Net Foundation.

Copyright © 2022.