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Jun 25, 2011

I think most people whose lives have never been affected by child sexual abuse think it is rare. They think it will never happen to their children. They think they don't need to worry about it because they pay their school taxes, they obey the law, and… it just couldn’t’! And if, by some disastrous misfortune, it happens to their child, their child will tell them that day, they will scoop that child up in their arms, call the police, and eventually all will be well. Unfortunately, the truth is much uglier.

Many studies using several different sources of data conclude that 25% of girls and 15% of boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Well over 90% of them are sexually abused by someone they and/or their parents trust, and a significant percent of the time, that someone is the child's parent, step-parent or guardian. This is a statistic you see a lot, but I don’t think most people with no connection to the crime of child sexual abuse actually think about what it means. It means that this person who is so trusted by the child and their family is a big part of the child’s life. The child likely has intense, complex feelings towards this person. The offender has likely spent lots of time being very kind and indulgent to the child, and sometimes is the only person in that child’s life who has been.  Just like batterers rarely beat a woman on their first date, a sex offender is rarely going to do anything sexual to a child they are “grooming” until they have had many, many contacts with them.  Eventually, some of those contacts are likely to test how well a child keeps secrets. And some of them are likely to test a child’s response to the trappings of adult sexuality. Eventually, the adult sexually victimizes the child, once they are sure the child will keep their secret. They usually sexually victimize the child in a way that doesn’t cause any physical pain, but may cause arousal, which further confuses the child and reinforces to the offender that what they are doing is harmless and consensual. And throughout all of this, they maintain a relationship with the child that is still largely kind and indulgent.  To keep the child’s silence, threats and manipulations may be thrown into the mix, but the relationship is still largely positive.

Maintaining the child’s silence often isn’t that hard. Very young children may not realize that there is anything wrong or abnormal about being sexually victimized, they may lack a vocabulary to describe it, and older children who do understand what is being done to them often are so ashamed of the victimization they want it kept a secret. In about ten percent of all cases of CSA, most often in incest, there is a non-offending adult who is aware of the abuse and choses to do nothing. There is also a percentage of non-offending adults who will do something, usually talk to the offender, tell them never to abuse again, but who don’t report the case to appropriate authorities. I’ve never seen a statistic about how common this is, especially since these aren’t the cases that get counted.  In situations like these, the child has been shown that no one cares enough to help them, and telling more people about their victimization is only going to show how many people out there don’t care.  

So now we have a slightly different understanding of the toll child sexual abuse takes on its victims- they usually are victimized more than once by the same person, a person who they have deep, complicated feelings for, a person who has been manipulating them, and they may have reason to believe that no one is going to believe or help them if they seek help. This is largely why 80-90% of children don’t reveal their sexual abuse until they reach adulthood.

Statistically speaking, adolescence and adulthood are pretty ugly for CSA survivors. CSA survivors are more likely to experience academic failure, to drop out of school, to suffer from mental illness, drug abuse, suicide attempts, obesity, sexual precociousness, STI’s and unintended pregnancy or parenthood than their non-abused peers. Think about what these facts mean- these survivors are likely to enter the adult world on very shaky foundation, one in which self-sufficiency is hard to reach. And the process of parenting an adolescent coping with mental illness, substance abuse, sexual precociousness, parenthood, or any combination thereof is not easy. We don't provide a lot of resources for parents in this culture, and we provide next to nothing for the parents of troubled teenagers.  So this means your average young adult who has survived CSA is likely to be ill-equipped to survive on their own and is likely to have a strained relationship with their family of origin, even if their family of origin wasn’t directly involved in their abuse. And young adults with strained relationships with their family of origin but major obstacles to independence are often unlikely to do something that will stress or shatter that family, such as reveal their past sexual abuse. And the revelation usually does shake, if not shatter most families. No one wants to hear that their sibling, parent, etc., hurt their child. All the stereotypical tensions about the in-laws become magnified a thousand-fold. And if the young adult reveals that their parent’s spouse molested them, the situation becomes even more intense, and the non-offending parent’s decision to not believe the child, further hurting them, is even more appealing. But hopefully, the young adult survivor at some point accesses some help for some of the problems plaguing them, and at this point, they are likely to start confronting their victimization.

“Confronting your victimization”- that’s a pretty big and abstract term, and can mean many different things to different people. But at some point it means coming to terms with the fact that someone with power over you betrayed you, hurt you and damaged you. It means casting off the shame of the sexual abuse, and seeing your role as a victim as a blameless one. Sometimes this comes in short epiphanies, sometimes it takes years. But after it happens, survivors are left with the question of what “what next?” both in terms of their abuser and their family of origin.
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Posted: Jun 25, 2011 5:34am
Apr 17, 2011

Let's face it. Most people are never going to be able to do something big and dramatic to help an abused child, and most of us will never take a huge, dramatic role in changing a law, starting a not-for-profit, rescuing a child, or anything worthy of a Oxygen-network made-for-TV movie. And that's OK. There's lot and lots that we can do to help end child sexual abuse, and non-sexual abuse for that matter. Things like learning the facts, voting, and empowering survivors make a huge difference, it's just that boundless change is harder for us to percieve. It's also bigger and, at the end of the day, more important.

If you want to learn almost everything there is to know about child sexual abuse, go to www.darkness2light.org, the best organization out there in terms of CSA education.

To learn from survivors, and support them a little financially, two excellent sites are

http://store.survivingspirit.com/webstore/     and

http://www.healingthroughcreativity.org/

Here's a link to purchase the Stop Child Molestation Now book. If every American citizen read this, this nation would be an unrecognizably better place in ten years.

http://www.amazon.com/Stop-Child-Molestation-Book-Gene/dp/1401034802

Here's another book that discusses how to keep your kids safe from sexual abuse, how the abuse works, and is really entertaining if you're into the CSI/SVU genre of TV shows

http://millstonejustice.org/Pages/GettingACopy.html

The answers are out there. We need to recognize them when we see them, and follow them where they take us. These sites will get us going on our collective journey.

 

 

 

 


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Posted: Apr 17, 2011 2:29pm

 

 
 
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melanie blow
, 7
Rochester, NY, USA
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