Can Perpetrators Feel Shame? The Wisdom of Anneke Lucas

Anneke LucasAnneke Lucas with teddy bear.  Photo:

by Mary W Maxwell, LLB

This website,, has a continuing sympathy with abused children, and sense of anger about their predicament, especially in Australia.  I rarely mention my sympathy with the abusers, the “perps.” After all, they have done horrific things to innocent kids.

But Professor Freda Briggs said that 80% of the perps were abused as kids. We naturally want the perp, once confronted, to offer an apology. But maybe they are psychologically blocked from apologizing or acknowledging their wrong-doing.  I think they deserve new consideration.

Anneke Lucas, a survivor of sex slavery, has come up with a very important interpretation of this matter, based on the power of shame. She writes, at her website

“For most perpetrators, the shame that would be appropriate to feel, for the harm they have caused, is enmeshed with shame once unfairly imposed on them, when they were mistreated or abused.  The threat of feeling shame, or any implication they should be ashamed, would trigger the original, humiliating feeling from a time they themselves were victimized … leaving them with the horrendous feelings of being deserving of the abuse, or being unworthy of better treatment — of being bad….

“Shame is the currency of abuse in our culture. The inability to differentiate between toxic, imposed shame, and natural shame of which the purpose is to correct behavior, is the reason that child abuse victims sometimes pass on their abuse and become perpetrators, rejecting shame altogether, becoming shameless.”

At the top of Ms Lucas’ website is a link to her blog. That blog has a unique Table of Contents page, itself a small, aesthetic masterpiece. Gumshoe will now print that page here with the author/artist’s permission.

If you want more of Anneke, you can hit the Read More buttons, or flip back to the Home Page to see her TED talk.


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