Sex Abuse And Children Essay Research Paper

Sex Abuse And Children Essay, Research Paper

Prof. Dunn Matt Blydenburgh

Jadm 425 12/18/1998

Sexual Abuse of Children

One out of three girls, and one out of seven boys, are sexually abused by the time they reach the age of eighteen.” The definition of incest is sexual intercourse between blood relatives: it is illegal to marry because of such a close relationship. There is now a discrepancy in the definition of incest that takes into consideration the betrayal of trust and the imbalance of power in a one-sided relationship. One such definition is: “the imposition of sexually inappropriate acts, or acts with sexual overtones … by one or more persons who derive authority through ongoing emotional bonding with that child.” This definition broadens the definition of incest to include sexual abuse by anyone who has authority or power over the child. Every child is vulnerable to sexual abuse. Today’s parents must face the possibility that someone may hurt or take advantage of their child. Research indicates that as many as one out of every four children will be the victim of sexual abuse. Very young children as well as older teenagers are capable of being victimized. Almost all of these children will be abused by someone they know and trust, for example, a relative, family, friend or caretaker. (Bass and Davis, 1988, p. 20) (Blume, 1990, p. 4)

Sexual abuse can be physical, verbal or emotional and includes: sexual touching and fondling, exposing children to adult sexual activity or pornographic movies and photographs, having children pose, undress or perform in a sexual fashion on film or in person, “peeping” into bathrooms or bedrooms to spy on a child, and rape or attempted rape. Sexual abuse also involves forcing, tricking, bribing, threatening or pressuring a child into sexual awareness or activity. Sexual abuse occurs when a teenager or an adult uses a child for sexual pleasure. The abuse often begins slowly and the pace increases over time. The use of physical force is rarely necessary to engage a child in sexual activity because children are trusting and dependent of their abusers. They want to please the abuser and gain love and approval. Children are usually taught not to question authority and they are also taught to believe that adults are always right even though we are imperfect also. Abusers know this and take advantage of these vulnerabilities in children to their advantage. Sexual abuse is an abuse of power and trust over a child and a violation of a child’s right to normal, healthy, trusting relationships and it also hinders their ability to form new and trusting relationships. (America Online ?Sexual abuse prevention.?)

Because most children do not tell about being sexually abused, it is up to the adults to recognize the signs of sexual abuse. Physical evidence of abuse is rare therefore, we must look for behavior signs. Unfortunately, there is no one behavior alone that definitely determines that a child has been sexually abused. The following are general behavior changes that may occur in children who have been sexually abused: physical complaints, fear or dislike of certain people or places, sleep disturbances, headaches, school problems, withdrawal from family, friends, or usual activities, excessive bathing or poor hygiene, return to younger, more babyish behavior, depression, anxiety, discipline problems, running away, eating disorders, passive or overly pleasing behavior, delinquent acts, low self-esteem, self-destructive behavior, hostility or aggression, drug or alcohol problems, sexual activity or pregnancy at an early age, and suicide attempts. (America Online ?Sexual abuse prevention.?)

Children who have been sexually abused frequently have more specific symptoms such as: copying adult sexual behavior, persistent sexual play with other children, themselves, toys or pets, displaying sexual knowledge, through language or behavior, that is beyond what is normal for their age, unexplained pain, swelling, bleeding or irritation of the mouth, genital or anal area; urinary infections; sexually transmitted diseases, and hints, indirect comments or statements about the abuse. (America Online ?Sexual abuse prevention.?)

Also often children do not tell anyone about sexual abuse because they have many fears and have to deal with this confusing situation. Some reasons for this are that they are too young to put what has happened into words, were threatened or bribed by the abuser to keep the abuse a secret, feel confused by the attention and feelings accompanying the abuse, are afraid no one will believe them, blame themselves or believe the abuse is punishment for being “bad”, feel too ashamed or embarrassed to tell, and worry about getting into trouble or getting a loved one into trouble. The silence of the abused children enables sexual abuse to continue. The silence of the child protects sexual offenders and causes further physical and emotional hurt to children who are being abused. Sexual abuse is an extremely difficult and damaging experience to the child and his physical and emotional development. Today there are many resources to help abused victims and their families to cope so children no longer need to suffer in silence.

Children who have been sexually abused feel many different (and often overwhelming) emotions, including:

· Fear

· of the abuser

· of causing trouble

· of losing adults important to them

· of being taken away from home

· of being “different”

· Anger

· at the abuser

· at other adults around them who did not protect them

· at themselves (feeling as if they caused trouble)

· Isolation

· because “something is wrong with me”

· because they feel alone in their experience

· because they have trouble talking about the abuse

· Sadness

· about having something taken from them

· about losing a part of themselves

· about growing up too fast

· about being betrayed by someone they trusted

· Guilt

· for not being able to stop the abuse

· for believing they “consented” to the abuse

· for “telling”–if they told

· for keeping the secret–if they did not tell

· Shame

· about being involved in the experience

· about their bodies’ response to the abuse

· Confusion

· because they may still love the abuser

· because their feelings change all the time

(America Online ?Sexual abuse prevention.?)

It?s our job to protect children from sexual abuse, but we can’t always be there to do that. We can, however, teach children about sexual abuse in order to increase their awareness and their ability to avoid such an encounter. It is possible to provide children with appropriate safety information and support at every stage of their development. We can provide personal safety information to children in a matter- of-fact way, with other routine safety discussions about fire, water, health, etc. Although even the smartest child cannot always avoid sexual abuse, children who are well prepared will be more likely to tell you if abuse has occurred and in turn this becomes a child’s best defense. In order to protect children we must teach them many skills such as to feel good about themselves and let them know that they are loved, valued and deserve to be safe, the difference between safe and unsafe touches, the proper names for all body parts, so they will be able to communicate clearly, that safety rules apply to all adults, not just strangers, that their bodies belong to them and nobody has the right to touch them or hurt them, that they can say “no” to requests that make them feel uncomfortable–even from a close relative or family friend, to report to you if any adult asks them to keep a secret, that some adults have problems, that they can rely on you to believe and protect them if they tell you about abuse, that they are not bad or to blame for sexual abuse, and to tell a trusted adult about abuse even if they are afraid of what may happen. (America Online ?Sexual abuse prevention.?)

If a child trusts you enough to tell you about an incident of sexual abuse, you are in an important position to help that child recover. The following suggestions can help you provide positive support. Do: 1. Keep calm. It is important to remember that you are not angry with the child, but at what happened. Children can mistakenly interpret anger or disgust as directed towards them. 2. Believe the child. In most circumstances children do not lie about sexual abuse. 3. Give positive messages such as “I know you couldn’t help it,” or “I’m proud of you for telling.” 4. Explain to the child that he or she is not to blame for what happened. 5. Listen to and answer the child’s questions honestly. 6. Respect the child’s privacy. Be careful not to discuss the abuse in front of people who do not need to know what happened. 7. Be Responsible. Report the incident to the Department of Human Services. 8. Arrange a medical exam. It can reassure you that there has been no permanent physical damage and may verify important evidence. 9. Get help. Get competent professional counseling, even if it’s only for a short time. There is also a list of things that you shouldn?t do if the child tells you of an incident of sexual abuse. They are as follows -* Don’t: 1. Panic or overreact when the child talks about the experience. Children need help and support to make it through this difficult time. 2. Pressure the child to talk or avoid talking about the abuse. Allow the child to talk at her or his own pace. Forcing information can be harmful. Silencing the child will not help her or him to forget. 3. Confront the offender in the child’s presence. The stress may be harmful. This is a job for the authorities. 4. Blame the child. SEXUAL ABUSE IS NEVER THE CHILD’S FAULT! (America Online ?Sexual abuse prevention.?)

With the increase in the divorce rates, more children are at greater risk than ever for child abuse. Women who may be desperate for a relationship for security may unwittingly be putting their children at greater risk for sexual abuse from the men they date. If the mother remarries, the “stepdaughters are over eight times more at risk of sexual abuse by the stepfathers who reared them than are daughters reared by their biological fathers.” “As some researchers have begun to suspect, it may be the case that a growing number of stepfathers are men who marry divorced or single women with families as a way of getting close to children.” (Crewdson, 1988, p. 31) (Russell, 1986, p. 103)

In one study, “Boys’ experiences are somewhat different from girls’. They are primarily homosexual, and they less often involve family members. However, boys do seem to be victims of force and coercion just as often as girls are. Both girls and boys report that in over half the incidents some form of coercion was used.” 95% of the perpetrators of girls are men and 80% of the perpetrators of boys are men. This may be the major reason why talking about incest is a bigger taboo than incest itself. (Finkelhor, 1979, p. 143) (Bass and Davis, 1988, p. 96)

Freud, in 1896, was the first to recognize the connection between adult survivors’ mental health problems and their past histories of child sexual abuse, thus explaining the problem of hysteria. This led to his seduction theory. After much uproar by his contemporaries (many of whom were implicated as perpetrators), Freud denounced the seduction theory and replaced it with the oedipal theory. The oedipal theory viewed incestuous accounts by victims as mere sexual fantasies. The largest number of incest cases from the population at large comes from the Kinsey studies in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Even though the women in his studies said that their experiences of childhood sexual abuse was traumatic, “Kinsey cavalierly belittled these reports. He hastened to assure the public that children should not be upset by these experiences. If they were, this was the fault not of the sexual aggressor, but the prudish parents and teachers who caused the child to become ‘hysterical’ … By contrast, this group demonstrated a keen sensitivity toward the adult offender … Ignoring issues of dominance and power, they took a position that amounted to little more than advocacy of greater sexual license for men … The public, in the judgment of these men, was not ready to hear about incest.” (Herman, 1981, p. 16-18) (Russell, 1986, p. 4-6)

In the 1970s, the incest issue was once again brought forth, this time by women themselves. It was during the explosion of the women’s liberation movement that subjects like rape, wife- battering, and sexual abuse of children were brought to the front. In 1979, Diana Russell interviewed “more than nine hundred randomly chosen San Francisco women about their childhood sexual experiences … she found that 38% of those questioned … had been sexually abused by an adult relative, acquaintance, or stranger before reaching the age of eighteen.” There were some flaws to her methodology but not enough to dismiss her study as worthless. Bud Lewis of the Los Angeles Times conducted a poll in July 1985 to determine the extent of sexual abuse. He sampled 2,627 men and women from every state in the union. The results showed that “27% of the women and 16% of the men, said they had been sexually abused as children … applied to the current population, it meant that nearly thirty-eight million adults had been sexually abused as children.” (Crewdson, 1988, p. 27-28) (Crewdson, 1988, p. 25)

“Approximately 40% of all victims/survivors suffer aftereffects serious enough to require therapy in adulthood. ” Some of the aftereffects can include: inability to trust (which effects the therapeutic relationship), fear of intimacy, depression, suicidal ideation and other self-destructive behaviors, and low self-esteem, guilt, anger, isolation and alienation from others, drug and alcohol dependency, and eating disorders. (Courtois, 1988, p.6) (Browne and Finkelhor, 1986) (Courtois, 1988, p.6)

“Briere questions the use of psychiatric labels (for victims of sexual abuse). He suggests instead that the psychological disturbances experienced by survivors of sexual abuse be considered post-sexual-abuse trauma. This term refers to symptomatic behaviors that were initially adaptive, but that over time have become `contextually inappropriate components of the victim’s adult personality’ This view gets away from stigmatizing and blaming the victim. The person responsible for inflicting the trauma is to blame – the perpetrator. Children are never responsible for their sexual abuse; adults are the ones responsible. At the turn of the century, Freud labeled victims of sexual abuse (predominately women) “Hysteric”. For the next 70 to 80 years society has labeled these victims as “mentally ill”. It is now understood that survivors of sexual abuse are actually suffering from the aftereffects of the trauma. .” (Gil, 1988, p. 28)

Traditionally, sexual abuse of children was considered either incest or pedophilia. Now, it is viewed as being on a continuum. While some incestuous men have sex only with their own children, according to one study “at least 44%, abuse children outside the home during the time they are having sexual contact with their own children,” and other men have sex with children they aren’t related to. Characteristics that offenders have in common are: “dependent, inadequate individuals with early family histories characterized by conflict, disruption, abandonment, abuse and exploitation.” Not all offenders are men. While some offenders were sexually abused as children, they still need to be held accountable for their abuse of children and receive sex offender treatment. Unfortunately, court action may be the only way to assure offenders’ participation in treatment programs. The social work profession is dedicated to the values of human dignity, personal autonomy, self-realization and self- determination. These are the very areas that victims are the most severely damaged. (Abel, 1983) (Encyclopedia of Social Work, 1987, p. 256)

In order to be effective in identifying and treating victims of child sexual abuse, the social worker needs to be knowledgeable about the characteristics, aftereffects, and treatment strategies relevant to this issue. Intervention activities should ideally include the victim, the “silent partner”, and the perpetrator. Intervention activities may include referral to appropriate individual and/or family counseling services, securing emergency shelter if necessary, referral to medical and legal services, and advocacy for clients. Because it is a very complex issue, the social worker needs to be able to coordinate an array of community services.

In the area of prevention, the social worker can provide education to the community and work with citizens groups for legislation to address child sexual abuse. Educating the child to say “no!” is not enough. “Finally, the responsibility we all bear to protect the defenseless falls on the shoulders of the recovering incest survivor as well. She (he) must face the reality that she (he) holds information whose withholding keeps others at risk. No perpetrator stops on his (her) own. In breaking the secret, she (he) has finally, the power to break the chain.”


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