The very institutions that are supposed to protect our citizens from harm are now embroiled in conflict as they contend with the secrecy and shame of sexual abuse. The fabric of our culture has been shaken to the core by the perpetration and deception surrounding sexual assault.

What should be a healthy sexual instinct and act has become a deadly, destructive weapon when it is used by those who are not conscious of the depth of their inner-darkness. One’s “seedy-side,” in need of transformation, remains sublimated rather than redeemed. Twisted thoughts, urges and behaviors get linked to sexual desires that must be wholesome and foster a positive connection with our most intimate, significant others.

We have been down this path before, and yet continue the destruction. Sexual abuse and secrecy have rocked the Catholic Church, and more recently, educational entities and institutions such as Jerry Sandusky and Penn State University, and governmental entities and individuals, such as the alleged activities of presidential contender, Herman Cain.

I believe this sordid mess starts as a family problem. A troubled childhood is the breeding ground for most adult sexual abuse. What doesn’t he get processed in the past, gets replayed as a toxic narrative in the here-and-now. The same worn-out scripts or adverse childhood experiences get activated and are linked to inappropriate, stunted sexual development and behavior. Adult perpetrators of sexual abuse are not able to stop their activity, because they have never responsibly addressed the full emotional impact of the abuse directed towards them.

Like a bad video, sexual abuse gets passed down from one generation to the next unless the process is consciously altered. It takes supreme courage for those who have been abused, through parental neglect and aggression, to deal with their own fallout so they don’t offend others in adulthood. It is every adult’s responsibility to seek help for their own troubled childhood experiences.

Sexual abusers experience fallout from bad parenting, with characteristics of extreme power and control, emotional unavailability, hostility and aggression, and harsh, critical treatment. Some are exploited sexually, but many are wounded in other ways. With their spirit broken from childhood, these to-be-offenders are primed due to angry, shame-based feelings connected to childhood trauma.

Adults who have experienced abuse during childhood can process the past and learn to release the shame and blame that haunts them. With support, they can learn to reframe their present thinking and behavior and treat themselves and others in a healthy manner.

If our society is to be restored from the vestiges of sexual abuse, we must all be committed to preventive strategies and interventions, and vigilant reporting, to make sure that our citizens, including children are shielded from potential harm of sexual predators.

James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC, CCBT is an educator, writer, licensed professional counselor and nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He specializes in treating anxiety and depression for adults and children. He served as a teacher and guidance counselor for 30 years and has taught graduate-level counselor education courses for Chapman University.