If you are separated or divorced from a sex addict you may have concerns about child custody and visitation issues.
If you are a recovering sex addict such concerns should not surprise you, even if you think that your addiction has nothing to do with underage kids.
It is common for people to want to protect children from even the remotest possibility of harm. I have seen people be hyper vigilant but I have also seen people who were not vigilant enough.
I will draw on my clinical experience in treating sex addicts, as well as my past experience with sex offenders, to give what I think are some general things to consider in making a determination of danger.
As a note of caution: this is a complicated area and most people will want also to have a more in depth discussion with a treating professional who is experienced with sex offenders.
The main factors
There are at least three major factors which I will discuss. These are all at play in determining the safety of children around a known or suspected sex addict. These are:
- The addict’s past history
- Whether the addict is in good, long term recovery
- The age of the child or children
Here are some ideas about how these things weigh in the equation and why. This is a complex issue and what follows is not intended as an exhaustive discussion. (Note: I will use the male pronoun to refer to the addict but there are female addicts and who can also be predatory.)
A history of sexual acting out with children or other offenses
When a sex addict has a history of child molestation, viewing child pornography, inappropriate photographing/videotaping underage kids, or voyeurism with underage kids this obviously raises the alert level to a high degree.
It does not mean that the addict will never recover but it means that you have an obligation to prevent that addict from being around underage kids if you want to minimize any potential risk. That said, there are also cases of addicts who have a one-time brush with someone underage (for a discussion of this see my earlier post). As I describe below, such an addict if he is in good recovery may not represent any danger at all.
It should be noted that even if the addict does not physically molest the child, they may consciously or unconsciously say and do things which are inappropriately sexual or suggestive. This is potentially damaging to children in a subtler way. The latter is true of all sex addicts, not just those who prefer underage kids and it suggests that the family members must be aware of this possibility and do something to prevent it. See also my post on sex addiction in families.
If the addict also has a history of criminal activity this may suggest more serious psychopathology and should be evaluated by an expert.
Amount of Treatment and Recovery
An untreated sex addict is an unknown quantity for a variety of reasons. First of all, even if the addict has no sexual history with children, he may engage in any kind of sexual behavior quite unpredictably. This is a result of the fact that sex addiction like all addiction will escalate over time. The sex addict may need more frequent or more intense experiences in order to get the same “high”.
A practicing sex addict may try something new just to seize an opportunity. He may never do it again, and this is often the case when sex addicts cross a line. Sometimes this will make the addict recoil from what they have done and be motivated to get help. But you can’t count on that.
Also an untreated addict is an unknown quantity because he is probably still lying to everybody. There is no real way to know the extent and nature of his sexual behavior until much later on.
Age of the children
For the addict with no child-related sexual acting out history it may be wise to be cautious in early recovery and have supervised contact for a time. But the expectation is that they will not cross that line.
All sex addicts who are not in solid recovery or who are new to recovery pose a potential risk to teen age kids. This is partly because sex addicts who never target children may be undiscriminating about whom they act out with as long as the target has achieved some level of sexual development. This could be a teen of almost any age.
Addicts in good recovery may still have less than perfect boundaries in general. And as I have mentioned above addicts can be inappropriate verbally or in other ways that do not involve direct contact with the teen.
A recovering sex addict who has a track record of staying sexually sober and staying engaged in treatment and who has no prior history of targeting children in any way is probably no more of a danger to young children than anyone else. If his addictive behavior was limited to adult pornography, prostitutes, affairs, cybersex or other adult oriented activity, he will be highly unlikely to suddenly slip out of recovery and into inappropriate contact with a young child.
Note: If you are facing this kind of situation, I strongly urge you to consult with a sex addiction therapist or other sex therapist who works with sex offenders.