'Tiger, Tiger' Author Shocks With Memoir of Affair With Pedophile

PHOTO: Seen here is Margaux Fragoso, author of the book ?Tiger, Tiger?.
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Margaux Fragoso stirs up old taboos in her shocking new memoir, "Tiger, Tiger," the story of her 15 years of torment by a pedophile, one that she simultaneously romanticizes and condemns.

Her abuser was Peter Curran, a pseudonym for a 51-year-old carpenter with "bowl-cut, sandy-silver hair" whom she met one day at her local New Jersey swimming pool. She was 7.

Fragoso's home life was unhappy. Her mother was mentally unstable, obsessed with calling advice hotlines and tracking her neuroses in her "fact book." Fragoso's father was a verbally abusive drinker and her warmest memory was when he drained her pimples with needles in the kitchen.

Curran seduced the little girl at his purple-shingled house filled with an indoor swing, reptiles and free-flying birds. He cleverly used games such as "Mad Scientist" to tickle and explore her body, showing off his "magic wand" that grew bigger with each appreciation of her affection.

She offered up "Joe Bazooka" kisses -- passing gum between their tongues -- which led to felatio and intercourse in her teens. By the time her parents figured it all out, her love and loyalty were sealed.

Curran killed himself in 2001 by jumping off a cliff when she was 22, leaving behind boxes of suicide notes, videos and photographs of Fragoso, many in underpants, evidence of the demise of her childhood. And in his final letters to her, he suggested she write about the relationship that he had always implored she keep secret.

"Which was ironic," writes Fragoso, now 31 and married with a daughter. "Our world had been permitted only by the secrecy surrounding it; had you taken our lies and codes and looks and symbols and haunts you would have taken everything."

Reviewers have wondered if an affair so monstrous even happened at all, but publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux says it has Fragoso's diaries from the age of 12. Fragoso says she wrote the book so society could understand the manipulation of molesters. The publisher declined to make her available for an interview.

Sex abuse grabbed headlines recently when Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., revealed in his own memoir, "Against All Odds," that he was molested by a camp counselor when he was 10, abuse that he revealed to his family this year.

The predator told the boy he would kill him if he told, using threats and intimidation that are classic tactics used by pedophiles. But Fragoso's seduction was more subtle and she became a willing victim.

Curran was childlike and charming, which is not uncommon behavior, experts in child abuse say.

"There is an enormous spectrum of child molesters and while there is a group that are very socially competent and know a lot about how to appeal to children, I'd say this guy was way up at the top of the charts in those skills," said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

"He was good at normalizing what was happening and bringing the child along," Finkelhor said. "A much more common scenario is the abuser lures the child, but he loses the child pretty quick once the sex starts, and the child becomes ambivalent and grossed out and feels trapped and wants to get out."

Fragoso did initially feel "like I wanted to throw up," and slowly disassociated herself during sex-play sessions in the basement of his home, where she and her mother visited twice a week.

"One of the real problems is when these pedophiles are good and able to empathize with kids at some level," said Finkelhor, author of the 2009 book "Child Victimization." "Some of it is genuine and there is the sexual part that's evil and monstrous."

Children Can Love Their Sex Abusers

"I don't think it's outlandish to see that some victims have a tremendous level of love and affection and allegiance to their abusers," he said.

Such was the case with Fragoso, who described her relationship with Curran as a "drug high." [He] can make the child's world ... ecstatic somehow."

Years later, after suffering from post-traumatic stress, she learned that she was not the only one: Curran had molested his own sons and foster children.

An estimated 93 percent of all juvenile sexual-assault victims knew their attacker and about 34 percent are family members, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). Survivors like Fragoso are six times more likely to suffer post-traumatic stress and three times more likely to have depression. They are also more prone to suicide.

As distasteful as Fragoso's memories are to readers, they can provide insight for people who work with survivors, said to Jennifer Wilson Marsh, RAINN's hotline director.

"They can see the type of grooming that can take place and the tools that perpetrators and offenders use; how they pick out a particular victim that seems vulnerable and easy to isolate," Marsh said. "The most powerful tool is the attention and affection. … They are exerting power over the victim."

Pedophiles can also convince their victims that they won't be believed. "They say you'll be portrayed as just as sick or ill as me," Marsh said. "They instill guilt, shame and fear."

When Curran is afraid he might lose Fragoso, he cries and tightens his grip on her emotions. Fragoso numbs herself with Kurt Cobain music and alcohol, eventually attempting suicide.

In the book's afterword, Fragoso laments that her mother, who had been abused herself, could not save her.

"My mother had no idea how to recognize trouble or shield me from it," she writes. "Secrets are what allowed Peter to flourish. Silence and denial are exactly the forces that all pedophiles rely on so their true motives can remain hidden."

Kathryn Harrison, who reviewed "Tiger, Tiger" for the New York Times, had a similar four-year sexual affair with her father. She calls the book at once "appalling" and "beautifully written."

"We need to bear witness to the victims of abuse -- to the fact that it happens -– and become vigilant and protective, picking up on the clues and pursuing them rather than allowing taboo, and the attendant refusal to contemplate pedophila and incest, to afford sex criminals a measure of protection," Harrison writes.

Harrison wrote about her own consensual relationship in the controversial memoir, "The Kiss". Like Fragoso, she was starved for affection when her estranged preacher father returned on the scene when she was 20.

She, too, was lambasted for the incest, as well as the notion that a child and a molester and his victim could feel love and attraction for each other.

Sex Abusers Are 'Masterful' Manipulators

"Our sexual taboos are so strong that we shy away from acknowledging evidence of them being broken," said Harrison, now 49, who endured years of therapy after the relationship dissolved. "We are allowing taboos to shield sex criminals and by denying it."

Her father, like Peter Curran, was a "masterful manipulator" who ultimately alienated Harrison from the rest of her family.

"He told me that I was ruined anyway and if I told anybody they would only revile me," said Harrison, who is now married and has three children of her own. "No man would ever have me."

Although it is the sex that shocks people, the evil exists in the "willingness of one person to sacrifice the other," according to Harrison. "I tried to give him everything my father asked of me until I got to the point where I didn't have anything in my life except him."

Usually, there are people close to the family, like Fragoso's mother, who "notice that something is wrong, but they are either too stressed by the circumstances or too disturbed to deny it," she said.

"Taboo is so strong that people have a reflexive denial of what they see with their own eyes," she said. "If more people like Margaux were able to step forward and say, 'This happened to me,' other people would be more willing to raise their consciousness. … We don't want to be a society where [abuse] is possible."

Child victimization expert Finkelhor agrees.

"Victims have very strong bonds and ambivalent feelings and those need to be taken into account in our response," he said. "Police have to understand that victims won't always cooperate with them and will lie to protect the offender.

"Judges and prosecutors have to know the victims are not necessarily pleased that the guys are convicted and sent off to prison for a long time. Therapists need to know that their survivor clients don't necessarily feel a lot of anger on top."

Finkelhor said that this real-life "Lolita" story might not have been well-received two decades ago when authorities were first trying to educate the public about sex abuse because it "doesn't really show how awful it is."

Although the prurient details of the book are "pretty disturbing" for some, they can help educate the public about these complex relationships between victim and molester, he said.

"As more people know about it," he added, "they can accept how horrible child molesting is and how widespread it is."

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