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The Effects of Sexual Abuse, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

The vulnerability of children makes them the most common targets of sexual abusers. In the U.S., it has become a significant issue regarding public health. “Sexual abuse is defined as sexual relations between persons more than 5 years in age difference when children are under the age of 12 and more than 10 years age difference when the child is between 12-18 years of age.”  (Finklehor and Araji 26) “Ever since cases of child sexual abuse began to appear in large numbers in the late 1970’s, there has been a fervent interest in establishing the true scope of the problem.” (Finkelhor and Araji 15).  The stigma attached to sexual abuse causes many incidents to go unreported.    This can have detrimental effects on the child.  These effects can be classified as both physical and psychological and can occur immediately and also later in life. Changes in personality character in children are the main recognition features of abuse. Having an appreciation of the long term effects of sexual abuse is very important when one wants to understand personality characters of the victims who go through the experience. “Prevalence studies have started from the premise that because most sexual abuse is never reported, the most valid measures of scope would have to come from the victim or offender self-reports.” (Finkelhor and Araji 18).  For effective management of victims of sexual abuse, it is imperative that we recognize the cause of the observed disorder and determine the adversity to the child. Since sexual abuse affects boys and girls differently, it is also necessary to understand the lasting psychological effects on both sexes and treat them individually.  In order to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring or to treat a child who has been a victim of sexual abuse, it is important to educate social workers and teachers as to the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse and to understand the methods of treatment that are available.

In order to recognize symptoms of sexual abuse, it is first necessary to define it.  “Some ambiguity surrounds what constitutes sexual abuse.  Sexual abuse has been described as including a range of activities involves the child’s viewing sexual activity of adults as well as a wide range of sexual contact between adults and children.” (Conte and Shore 2).   Since sexual abuse entails such a broad range of definitions, it is difficult to produce strict guidelines for classification.  However, “guidelines are necessary because not every act of “sexual abuse” represents the same potential risk to the victim.  For example, the child who happens upon his parents having intercourse is not a victim of sexual abuse in the same sense as the child who is coerced into having sex with an adult relative.” (Conte and Shore 2).  In addition, children are affected differently depending on the severity and frequency of the abuse.  The two basic types of sexual abuse are defined as contact abuse and non-contact abuse.  “The term contact abuse refers to encounters with exhibitionists and solicitation to engage in sexual activity.  Contact abuse is defined as all behaviors that do involve sexual contact, including fondling of breasts and gentiles, intercourse, and oral or anal sex.” (Finkelhor and Araji 23).  Both contact abuse and non-contact abuse can have equally damaging effects.

Sexual abuse can be committed by both a family member of the child or a person outside the family circle. Sexual abuse committed by a family member is called intrafamilial while abuse committed by a member outside the family is called extrafamilial.  “A common belief among practitioners is that sexual abuse of children is a fundamentally different phenomenon when the offender is a family member versus when he is not a member of the family.”  (Conte and Shore 3).  The idea that incestuous relationships are a part of a family dynamic and not the same as sexual abuse from a member outside of the family has been cited in journals and literature on the subject (Conte and Shore 4).  In the past there has been the misconception that most abuse happens to children by strangers.  However, it has become apparent that abuse by family members is just as common and perhaps more damaging emotionally since the offender was someone the child trusted.  Since social workers are more reluctant to break up a family group, these “differences may account for the tendency to value maintaining the family unit over removing the offender or child to ensure the protection of the child.” (Conte and Shore 4).  However, after studying the profiles of offenders, Conte states that there were numerous personality traits and common histories amongst offenders, both intrafamilial and extrafamilial.  “A number of authors describe a similar type of person who commits sexual offenses against children.  They are seen as dependent, inadequate individuals with early histories characterized by conflict, disruption, abandonment, abuse and exploitation.” (Conte and Shore 5).

Although men are the majority of the sexual offenders that are reported, studies show that women can be offenders too.   Many of the male abusers may have been abused as a child or share some of the personality traits described by Conte.  Although less common, women, too, are offenders of child sexual abuse.  It has taken longer for information pertaining to women as sexual offenders of children to come out for a variety of reasons.  “Female Sexual Abuse of Children” by Michelle Elliott discusses the aspects of women as offenders and the reasons as to why it is so rarely discussed.   “Female abuse seems to be more taboo than that perpetrated by men because female sexual abuse undermines feelings about how women should relate to children.” (Elliott 8).  Also, there is a misunderstanding in the way that women could sexually abuse children, since they do not have a penis.  Reports of women as offenders are thus may be underreported, due to the stigma attached to being sexually abused by a woman.  Therapists may be reluctant to believe a child who says they were abused by a woman.  “Current statistics indicate that sexual abuse of children by females is rare.  Finkelhor and Russell, in Child Sexual Abuse (1984) estimate that 5% of abuse of girls and 20% of abuse of boys is perpetrated by women.” (Elliott 8)  In the case of both male and female abusers, it Dorais and Shore (64) tell us, “aggressors rarely see themselves as aggressors; this makes it easier to persuade the victims that they are being initiated, not abused.”

Though less talked about, boys actually account for a large amount of children that are sexually abused.  “For a long time, it was thought that sexual abuse of boys was a marginal phenomenon.  This is not so.  Within the past few years North American researchers have found that 1 in 6 boys is a victim of sexual abuse.” (Dorais and Meyer 16).  Boys of all ages are vulnerable for abuse, but especially so young ones who are too weak to defend themselves.  Abusers can be both male and female, but it is the male on male abuse that is the most frequent.  For boys, there is a definitely a stigma attached that makes them less likely to report the abuse for fear of societal repercussions.  “The child seems to believe it is in his best interest to keep the information a close secret.  He is all too aware of the taboos pertaining to the abuse of boys by older males: the taboo around the vulnerability of males, the taboo against homosexuality, and the taboos against the involvement of minors in sexual behavior.” (Dorais and Meyer 3).  Young boys that have no point of reference for the abuse will tend to make excuses for the abuser.  They may hypothesize that the abuser needs their affection, or that the abuser cannot control himself for some reason. They may think that the abuser is trying to teach them about sexuality or that they feel the boy owes them something for the attention that they have given him.  (Dorais and Meyer 59).   Unfortunately, abuse tends to lead to abuse.  Boys who are sexually abused as children may one day act out the same abuse on other children, turning the victim into the abuser.

Girls struggle with the effects of child sexual abuse as well.  “Girls do encounter, especially in adolescence, an enormous quantity of intrusive and unwanted sexual aggressions, which, because they are abusive and occur in childhood, could be considered “child sexual abuse”.” (Finkelhor and Araji 26).  In surveys conducted to determine the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse among random samplings of men and women, it was shown that in all categories women had a higher percentage of abuse (Finkelhor and Araji 20).   “The bulk of literature has focused on father-daughter incest, which is a small proportion of the total victim population.” (Conte and Shore 4).  Although it is the most widely known form of sexual abuse for young girls, many other types of sexual abuse is perpetrated against young girls.  Michelle Elliott (11) tells us that girls are victimized by women as well as men.  Women are twice as more likely to abuse a girl than a boy, and mothers are often the offenders to their daughters.  (11). Of those girls that reported abuse by women, 53% said the abuse started when the child was under the age of 5, although abuse can continue up through the teenage years. (Elliott 12)

Children who are being sexually abused will normally show signs, physically or psychologically.  Obvious signs are bruises, welts, or other physical signs of abuse.  “However, often there will be no obvious external signs of child sexual abuse.  Some signs can only be detected on physical exam by a physician.” (AACAP) Upon examination by a physician, signs of sexual abuse will include “external injuries involving the labia minora, posterior fourchette, and hymen. (O’Donohue and Geer 80).  In both sexes, “the most common anal injuries include swelling or bruising for the anal verge or perennial tissues, intitial laxity of the sphincter muscle and fissures or superficial lacerations of the anal mucosa.”  (O’Donohue and Geer 80).  However, these injuries can subside over time, making it difficult to detect.  Thus, medical examinations should be performed as soon as the abuse has been reported.  Emotional signs of sexual abuse, include “unusual interest in or avoidance of all things of a sexual nature, sleep problems or nightmares, depression or withdraw from friends or family, seductiveness, refusal to go to school, delinquency or conduct problems, secretiveness, unusual aggressiveness, or suicidal behavior.  A child may also portray aspects of sexual molestation in drawing, games or fantasies.  They may also make statements that their bodies are dirty or damaged, or fear that there is something wrong with them in the genital area.” (AACAP)

There are both short term and long term effects of sexual abuse in children.  Short term effects can include depression and anxiety, but some of these effects may subside over time depending on the severity of the abuse.  Children that are removed from the abuse and are rehabilitated can often lead completely normal lives, leaving the short term symptoms in the past with their childhood.  However, many children find that they suffer long term effects of abuse throughout their adult lives.  One of the most dramatic long-term effects is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  PTSD is common among children who have been victims of sexual abuse as outlined by Kinnear (p 18).  The violence and psychological trauma that is involved during sexual abuse can create a delayed reaction on the child.  PTSD can therefore be triggered in adulthood long after the abuse.  A child’s mental health can be affected adversely both in the short term and in the long term.  Depression, feelings of isolation, and withdraw from society are all possible affects of sexual abuse. Kinnear (19) postulated that the stigma attached to abuse of child also fosters feelings of guilt. As a result, the child enters adulthood without having experienced the challenges which normally stimulate response behavior for survival as an adult.  Sometimes victims of sexual abuse are damaged physically.  Trauma to sexual organs can render them unable to engage in normal sexual. As result, the ability to function as normal adult and fulfill their reproductive duties is greatly hampered even in the absence of psychological tendencies. The fear involved in correlating sexual activity wit abuse becomes a hindering factor hence making the individuals unable to form lasting relationships.  Sexually transmitted diseases can also be a problem for victims of sexual abuse.  Most abusers are adults who have previously engaged in sexual activities and could thus be carriers of such diseases. Transmission rates are also higher owing to the injury sustained. As observed from most instances, such treatment for such disease is hampered by the diagnostic challenges since the victim may hide the fact they were abused Finkelman (41). The shame and trauma involved may prevent the child from opening up to responsible adults.   “Severity of both acute and long-term symptoms of child abuse might vary as a function of the age and developmental level of the child, the onset, the duration, and the frequency of the abuse, the degree of coercion and physical trauma, the child’s pre-existing personality, and the relationship between the child and the perpetrator, the familial and institutional responses to the disclosure, and the impact of the therapeutic intervention.” (O’Donohue and Geer 287)

There are several treatment options for victims of abuse.  Therapy, counseling and self-help are all ways to address and let go the issues raised by victimization.  Treatment for children and adults normally includes therapy by a competent psychologist, therapist, or social worker.  Therapy can be either private or in a group setting.  Mostly, the two forms of therapy are done together, with a person doing some private sessions with a counselor and also participating in group therapy.  “Psychoanalytically oriented treatment is designed to deal with both the immediate and long-term consequences of child sexual abuse.  The therapist helps the child link current anxiety-related symptoms back to the original traumatic experiences, and facilitates the uncovering and remembering of the victimization.  The child is encouraged to verbalize and “work through” memories and painful affects associated with the sexual abuse as an alternative to their compulsive re-enactment.”  (O’Donohue and Geer 287)  Self-help is another important tool for survivors of child sexual abuse.  Resources such as books can provide insight into abuse for the victim, as well as providing information that lets the person know that they are not alone, and others have gone through what they have gone through.  “Self-help means that you are beginning to value yourself enough to believe that you deserve to recover from the effects of being abused.” (Elliott 198).  By a person making a choice to help themselves, through therapy or other avenues, they are give themselves “self-empowerment”, which helps to alleviate the feelings of victimization they have harbored due to sexual abuse.

Education is the key for preventing child abuse.  “All children, boys and girls, should learn to distinguish sexual molestation from sincere gestures of affection, and gratifying sexuality from exploitation.”  (Dorais and Meyer 159).  Programs should be instilled wherever socialization occurs, in schools, in after school programs, and at home.  Public information campaigns can be directed by the community to offer information via electronic sources, including TV, radio and Internet.  Paper campaigns to educate the public include pamphlets and billboards.  Teaching young children how to recognize a predator and allowing giving them information on a safe person to contact to report abuse, aka, a school counselor, is the most important tool available for preventing child sexual abuse.  “Although varying in their style and medium, the messages conveyed by most of these efforts to reach children have had some very common and basic themes.  First, all the efforts have tried to educate the children about what sexual abuse it.  Although they sometimes call it by some name other than sexual abuse (especially with younger children), all have defined some behaviors as bad and have warned children to be alert to people who try to do such things to them.  Second, all the efforts have tried to broaden children’s awareness about who potential sexual abuse offenders might be.  Programs let children know that potential offenders include people who they may know very well and like as well as strangers.  Third and lastly, all the efforts have tried to give children some action that they can take in the event that someone tried to sexually abuse them.  They encourage children to tell someone, especially someone they trust, and to keep telling until they are believed.  In addition, some encourage children to leave, run away, say no, or resist in some fashion.” (Finkelhor and Araji 227)

Sexual abuse is not only immoral, but it is against the law in the United States.  Those offenders who target children with sexual abuse face penalties that can include fines and imprisonment.  Parole and mandatory counseling is also a possible outcome for child sexual offenders.  “The passage of the federal Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974 provided monetary incentives to states for the development or expansion of statutes requiring a broad range of professionals to report suspected incidences of child abuse and neglect.  The act also authorized the use of federal funds for technical assistance in providing professional training and increasing public awareness about the nature and seriousness of child abuse and neglect in our country (the United States).” (O’Donohue and Geer 3)  State departments such as Child Protective Services are responsible for handling cases of child abuse and protecting the children who have been the victims of abuse from future abuse.  Mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse has also been implemented.  “In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, a broad range of professionals (e.g., physicians, mental health professionals, school personnel, social workers, and day care providers) serving children and their families are required to report suspected abuse and neglect to the state-mandated child protective services agency (some states, e.g. California, also require reporting to law enforcement).”  (O’Donohue and Geer 5)  However, some professionals fail to report abuse.  Some reasons for this are the potential violation of the patient-doctor confidentiality code, or the belief of the professional that they can handle it themselves.  Failure to report, however, can prevent the child and family from getting the help that they need.

It is important that the facts regarding child sexual abuse be made public to both adults and children.  Although it is a subject many feel uncomfortable discussing amongst themselves, and especially with children, education is the only way to prevent sexual abuse and to get current victims the help that they need.  It is imperative that society protects children from abuse of any form. Children that suffer from sexual abuse grow up with a number of mental and physical ailments that can make them a danger to themselves and to society if not treated.  Mental illness such as PTSD can have severe adverse effects running into adult life. Treatment is necessary to try to rehabilitate victims to protect not only the victim themselves, but also future generations since sexual abuse left untreated can turn the victim into the offender.  “There are several studies that do suggest that many incarcerated sexual abusers have histories of sexual abuse.” (Finkelhor and Araji 120).  Although reasons that offenders abuse are normally due to more than one reason, it is evident that abuse leads to abuse and that for the cycle to end abuse must be curbed with education to prevent abuse and treatment to rehabilitate victims.  An immoral and illegal crime, child sexual abuse is an issue that needs to be dealt with at all levels of society, from the family unit, through to federal law.  With all levels of government and society working together through education and law enforcement, it is possible to reduce the current number of child victim’s offer, services and protection to those that have been victimized by sexual offenders.

References

Conte, John R., Shore, David A.  Social Work and Child Sexual Abuse. London: The Hayworth Press, Inc., 1982.

Dorais, Michel, Meyer, Isabel Denholm. Don’t Tell: The Sexual Abuse of Boys. Canada: McGill–Queens University Press, 2002.

Elliott, Michele. Female Sexual Abuse of Children. New York: The Guilford Press, 1993.

Finkelhor, David, Araji, Sharon.  A Sourcebook on Child Sexual Abuse. Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications, Inc., 1986.

Facts for Families: Child Sexual Abuse Number 9 May 2008 American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 9, 2008.  Web Apr. 8, 2010. Retrieved from http://www.aacap.org/galleries/FactsForFamilies/09_child_sexual_abuse.pdf

Finkelman, Byrgen. Child Abuse: Short- And Long-Term Effects.  USA: Taylor & Francis, 1995.

Kinnear, Karen L. Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Reference Handbook.  California: ABC- CLIO, 2007.

Kurjian, Jayne A., Scotti, Joseph R. “The Representation of Psychology in the Child Sexual

Abuse Literature: An Analysis and Bibliography.” Milwaukee, Annual Meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis, 1989. ERIC. Web Apr. 8, 2010. http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/1f/94/c4.pdf

O’Donohue, William T., Geer, James H. The Sexual Abuse of Children: Volume II: Clinical Issues. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1992.

Saunders, B.E., Berliner, L., & Hanson, R.F. (Eds.). “Child Physical and Sexual Abuse: Guidelines for Treatment”. Charleston, SC: National

Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, 2004. (Revised Report: April 26, 2004) http://academicdepartments.musc.edu/ncvc/resources_prof/OVC_guidelines04-26-04.pdf

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