Understanding sexual child abuse and recovery empowers a survivor to heal or if you are the parent/friend of a survivor you can help. The following answers to commonly asked questions will assist you in beginning the process of helping yourself or your loved one.
Q. What is child sexual abuse?
A. Traditionally, incest was defined as “sexual intercourse between two persons too closely related to marry legally–sex between siblings, first cousins, the seduction by fathers of their daughters.” This dysfunctional blood relationship, however, does not completely describe what children are experiencing. To fully understand all sexual abuse, we need to look beyond the blood bond and include the emotional bond between the victim and his or her perpetrator. Thus, a new definition has emerged. The new definition now relies less on the blood bond between the victim and the perpetrator and more on the experience of the child.
“Incest is both sexual abuse and an abuse of power. It is violence that does not require force. Another is using the victim, treating them in a way that they do not want or in a way that is not appropriate by a person with whom a different relationship is required. It is abuse because it does not take into consideration the needs or wishes of the child; rather, it meets the needs of the other person at the child’s expense. If the experience has sexual meaning for another person, in lieu of a nurturing purpose for the benefit of the child, it is abuse. If it is unwanted or inappropriate for her age or the relationship, it is abuse. Incest [sexual abuse] can occur through words, sounds, or even exposure of the child to sights or acts that are sexual but do not involve her. If she is forced to see what she does not want to see, for instance, by an exhibitionist, it is abuse. If a child is forced into an experience that is sexual in content or overtone that is abuse. As long as the child is induced into sexual activity with someone who is in a position of greater power, whether that power is derived through the perpetrator.s age, size, status, or relationship, the act is abusive. A child who cannot refuse, or who believes she or he cannot refuse, is a child who has been violated.” (E. Sue Blume, Secret Survivors).
Q. How common is sexual child abuse?
A. Research by David Finklehor and Diana Russell reveals 62% of girls and 31% of boys are sexually abused by age 18. These statistics are considered low due to the difficulty in getting accurate reports. Statistics notwithstanding, sexual child abuse and incest is so common it can be considered an epidemic. “If a disease affected our children in these enormous numbers we would declare a national emergency. Monies for research to find a cure would be made available immediately. Sadly, this is not a platform that you will find popular with politicians or a topic of conversation at a social gathering. Americans have always taken the stance that what happens in the family is a “family matter.” Family values are the platform for many elected officials without looking at the real issue, “What constitutes a family?” –Claire R. Reeves, President/Founder/Chief Executive Officer, Mothers Against Sexual Abuse, MASA
Q. Is it child abuse to spank a child?
A. Yes, spanking is a body boundary violation. One’s body energy extends approximately 24″ past the body. Any intrusion into this space is a violation. Furthermore, spanking a child is a betrayal of trust. The person who claims to love the child has betrayed the child by hurting the child on a soul level. Perpetrators can sense who has had body boundary violations. Children with body boundary violations are easier to intimidate and control into compliance and silence. Thus, the child who has been hit (no matter how insignificant to the adult) can become the target of a sexual abuse perpetrator.
Q. Is it child abuse to smoke around a child?
A. The answer is, “Yes”. In view of the fact, we know smoke causes cancer, blowing smoke into anyone’s face is abuse. The child’s right to breath smoke free air is being usurped.
Q. How do I report suspected child abuse or sexual child abuse?
A. Contact the police or child protective services. If you are reporting sexual abuse of a child other than your own child, you can remain anonymous.
Q. What happens during a child sexual abuse investigation?
A. Although procedure and effectiveness varies in each location, protection of children is a state, county and community responsibility, which involves prevention, detection and rehabilitative efforts. County children and youth agencies provide a leadership role in coordinating or providing essential services in each of these areas of protective services. County agencies are the sole civil entity charged with investigating reports of suspected child abuse under the Child Protective Services Law (CPSL). CPSL needs the cooperation of the community for other essential programs such as encouraging more complete reporting of child abuse, adequately responding to meet the needs of the family and child who may be at risk, and encouraging innovative and effective prevention programs. The mission of the child welfare system is on providing safe and permanent homes for children-within the family a foster home or adoption.
Reporting and Investigation of Child Abuse
The Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) defines child abuse as any of the following when committed upon a child under 18 years of age by a parent, household member, person responsible for a child’s welfare or the significant other of a parent:
- Any act or failure to act occurring within the last two years that is a non-accidental serious physical injury
- Any act or failure to act that causes serious mental injury or sexual abuse
- Any act or failure to act occurring within the last two years that creates imminent risk of serious physical injury or sexual abuse
- Serious physical neglect that endangers a child’s life or development or impairs the child’s functioning.
Staff of the county children and youth agencies conduct investigations and must see the child victim with 24 hours to assure that the child is safe. The county agency need to conduct an investigation and interview individuals who may have knowledge of the incident. These investigations need to be completed within 30 days and one of the following determinations needs to be made:
- Founded — a finding by a criminal or juvenile court judge that the child was abused
- Indicated — county agency staff find abuse occurred based on medical evidence, CPS investigation or an admission of the perpetrator
- Unfounded — there is a lack of evidence that the abuse occurred.
Throughout the investigation the county agency is assessing the child’s risk of future maltreatment. The county agency evaluates 15 core factors to determine the level of risk. These factors consider current and prior abuse, the extent of emotional harm to the child as a result of the abuse, substance abuse, family violence and numerous other factors. An overall risk level is assigned to the case of no risk; low risk; moderate risk; or high risk. Based upon this risk rating and the investigation results, the county agency determines if the family is in need of services to aid in reducing the child’s risk. In addition, the county agency is continually assessing the child’s safety.
The county agency needs to decide if the child may remain safely in his or her home or if foster care placement is required. The county agency needs to develop a Family Service Plan that provides the framework for providing services to remedy the conditions that necessitated county agency involvement. These plans are reviewed every six months and revised as necessary. These plans are focused on aiding the family in becoming self-sufficient so that county agency involvement is no longer required.
Sometimes it may be necessary for the county agency to involve the juvenile court in order to obtain services for a child and family. These steps are taken to maintain the safety of the child and the provision of adequate services. Court action needs to be initiated when children are placed outside of their home. In most cases the goal is to reunite the child with their nuclear or extended family. The county agency needs to develop a permanency plan to ensure that children do not remain in out-of-home care for an extended period of time.
Q. How often are unfounded reports of sexual child abuse made?
A. Seldom. Many times the survivor recants their report of abuse due to the extreme pressure of needing to be proven innocent of a false report. This is the ultimate tragedy of our unwillingness to accept the reality of sexual child abuse.
Q. Can I sue the offender?
A. Depending on the time elapsed since the abuse and the statute of limitation in your state your abuse might be handled by making a report of the crime you endured. Contact the Police or District Attorney where the crime took place immediately. If the statute of limitation has expired you can bring a civil suit for personal harm–pain and suffering, lost wages, etc.
Q. My husband/wife/significant other is a survivor. How can I help?
A. First and foremost, therapy is paramount. See “Find a professional.” If he or she refuses to seek therapy, suggest he or she read the book, “The Courage to Heal” by Laura Davis and Ellen Bass and use the workbook, “The Courage to Heal Workbook” by Laura Davis. You will benefit from reading the book, “Partners in Recovery”
Q. My child is a sexual child abuse survivor by his or her other parent. How
can I help him/her heal?
A. Your child needs professional help. Sexual abuse does not heal itself. Traditional therapy is ineffective to heal the profound, extensive and pervasive wounds. See “Find a professional”
Q. I am having trouble coping, can you help?
A. Yes, coping is difficult. Sexual abuse does not heal itself. Time, marriages, children, success, wealth, a bigger house, a faster car, or relocating will not CURE it. The damage is deep, pervasive and profound. Sexual abuse is a soul injury. The only way to heal from sexual abuse is through a recovery process which specifically focuses on the sexual abuse aftereffets. See “Find a professional”
Q. What is the healing process like?
A. The basic recovery process is: Discovery, Heal, Discovery, Heal. Processing feelings and uncovering the layers of pain. “Going into the Pain to get out of the Pain.” “There is no gain without pain.” The feelings indigenous to sexual child abuse are Anger/Rage, Sadness, Shame, Guilt. The source of those feelings need to be discovered and healed. See “Find a professional”
Q. How long does the healing process take?
A. The basic healing process is the same for everyone, however, each person is unique in their journey. In my 22 years of experience, the length of time varies from two years to eight years–depending on the type and number of times the survivor was abused.
Q. When will I ever feel better?
A. You will begin to feel better in minutes at a time. Often times a survivor discounts the minutes they feel better. Ask you professional to help you focus on the minutes you feel better and increase those minutes as you continue your journey toward the ultimate goal–healed a.k.a. Thriver. See ‘The Stages of Recovery/Healing”
Q. What does ‘healed’ mean?
A. Healed means you are able to function in doing what you want to do without feelings of dread, fear, guilt, sadness, anger or shame. Healed means you are an empowered person leading your life as you decide. Healed means you are a wholly functioning person, facing life’s challenges with integrity, dignity and assertiveness. Healed means your mind, body and spirit are working together for common goals–happiness and peace of mind. See ‘Spirituality‘.
Q. How will I know when I am healed?
A. Together you and your professional will determine when. Basically, you will be achieving the description of “What healed means.”
Q. What are the different types of sexual child abuse?
A. There are two types of sexual child abuse approaches–overt and covert.
Overt sexual abuse is openly sexual and apparent. Although there may be an attempt to deny that it is abusive, there is no attempt to hide the fact that it is sexual in nature.
A father’s frequent ploy to desensitize a child to allow sexual abuse is stating that he is ‘teaching her the facts of life’ or that ‘he is teaching her how to be a good wife to her husband.’
Covert sexual abuse is more insidious. Thus, identifying it is harder, because the sexual nature of the action is disguised. The perpetrator acts as if she or he is doing something non-sexual, when in fact he or she is being sexual. The betrayal then becomes two-fold. The child is not only abused, but also tricked or deceived about the act. In this dishonesty, the child is unable to identify or clarify his or her perception of the experience. The unreal or surreal sense that accompanies any sexual abuse is intensified when the child is tricked into disbelief. Thus, the child doubts his or her perceptions and feelings and believes that there is something wrong with himself or herself because he or she feels terrible. To make matters worse, everyone around her or him discounts signs of the abuse, because we don’t want to believe someone with a sterling public image or someone we love and/or marry would do such a thing. Thus the child feels crazy, as if she or he is the one with the problem.
One example of overt sexual abuse is exemplified by the incident reported by a survivor. Her father (her perpetrator) kissed her one-year-old niece on the pubic area after her niece had taken a bath. Her sister, the child’s mother, the child’s grandmother (wife of the perpetrator) were present. “My sister (the child’s mother) and my mother (the child’s grandmother) laughed and I got sick to the stomach. Am I over reacting,” she asked. Obviously, her sister and mother are unaware of the definition of sexual abuse. Except for the fact this woman was in therapy she too would not have considered it sexual abuse either.
An example of covert sexual abuse by someone we least expect is exemplified by a 39 year-old woman who came to therapy after having a severe panic attack. During the investigation as to the root cause of the panic attack she revealed she had been sexually abused when she was nine by a ‘nice man,’ who was a family friend. “He helped me on with my coat at a family gathering. As he adjusted my coat onto my shoulder, he fondled my breast.” This type fondling is often times referred to as ‘coping a feel.’ No matter the label, it is sexual abuse and causes damage. Women know how icky it feels when a man ‘cops a feel.’ Can you imagine what it would feel like for a nine-year-old, who has no information to comprehend and emotionally resolve what she experienced?
Another example of covert sexual abuse by someone you least expect was reported by Rickie (not his real name). He remembered being held by his mother’s best friend in the water at the beach when he was six, while his parents sat on the beach. Fully protected from view by the water, she fondled his penis. This was not the end of the sexual abuse. When Rickie was 15 years old, she enticed him to have sex with her at her home while he waited for her son, his friend to come home. The second incident of her sexual abuse of Rickie was overt.
Yet, another example of insidious covert sexual abuse by a Priest was described by Ron (not his real name), who was also abused by his cousin. When Ron was 15 years old, he joined a Yoga class instructed by the Priest who also caught the religious class. As part of the Yoga ‘ritual’ the Priest instructed the boys to disrobe, as did he, to have ‘freedom of movement and flexibility.’ Also, in the Yoga ‘rituals’ the Priest instructed and demonstrated they could look at each other’s penises and masturbate. Although, the Priest demonstrated this ‘ritual’ the boys all looked at each other in ‘shock’ and refused to comply with this ‘ritual.’ However, this was abuse to these boys. Do not minimize the impact this Priest’s behavior had on their sexual self-esteem. Remember part of the definition of sexual child abuse is: “If the experience has sexual meaning for another person, in lieu of a nurturing purpose for the benefit of the child, it is abuse. If it is unwanted or inappropriate for his or her age or the relationship, it is abuse.”
A 30-year-old woman remembers her sexual abuse at age nine by her maternal grandfather. “He invited me into the shower with him. I remember him soaping me all over, quite different from what I remembered my mother doing when she soaped me in the shower, an activity she had long ago stopped because I was a ‘big girl.’ It felt strange somehow, but he was my grandfather and I loved him. Each time he rubbed me with soap I felt a sensation I had never felt before–it was both pleasureable and sickening. Then one day he took a shower without inviting me. I felt hurt, confused and rejected. I didn’t know what I had done to make him mad. Then a few days later he asked me again and our old familiar routine was back in place. I felt relieved and confused, because the pleasurable and sickening feeling was there too. There were many times he didn’t invite me to take a shower, and I would feel hurt, confused and rejected. Then he would invite me again, and I would feel relief. As an adult looking back, I realize the times he didn’t invite me were when one or both my parents were home. He also showed me how to ‘soap’ his penis. “After my tenth birthday, I stopped going into the shower with him–something clicked in my head, ‘I don’t like this,’ and I refused to come with him when he invited me. He accepted this without reprisal.” When I confronted him he denied everything and called me a ‘little liar.’ My parents and husband believed me.
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