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Child Sexual Abuse
Part III

CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE - 3 - How We React?

As the old adage goes – "The eye does not see, what the mind does not know" Most of us will fail to recognize Child Sexual Abuse. Hence, our attempt is to create better awareness of child sexual abuse so that we can deal with it more effectively.

As we have said earlier, most cases go unreported as inspite of identifying CSA, we do not react the way we should. Let us see how parents (and society) react to a suspected or confirmed case of CSA.

There are five 5 stages of recognizing the abuse of children in a community.

  • Stage 1: In this stage both the parents and society deny that CSA is a serious problem. It is accepted that abusers are alcoholics and drug addicts and that is no responsibility of the community.
  • Stage 2: Slowly the community pays attention to lurid forms of abuse such as rape. Interventional methods are developed and severe forms of abuse prevented.
  • Stage 3: Sexual abuse is managed better with subtle forms of abuse being recognized, eg. Fondling. Caressing, molestation
  • Stage 4: The community eventually recognizes child sexual abuse.
  • Stage 5: The community guarantees children first class preventive and curative health care.

India may still take years to reach stage 6 but at least we should get rid of our denial. We must make a concerted effort to help such families especially the child victim.

If we have to accept the hard facts of CSA, it is important to understand its etiology and dynamics. There is a common misconception that the abuser is a sexual deviant. This may be true in a small number of cases. The abuser is not motivated by desire but they tend to engage in sexual behavior with children in the service of non-sexual needs, especially the need to feel powerful and in control. The incestuous relationship between father and daughter is more common, followed by father-son and rarely, mother-son incest. The age or social class of the victim or abuser do not seem to play a significant role.

There is a generally a pattern in these sexual encounters.

Firstly, the Engagement Phase, in which the abuser will gently and cunningly convince the child, using rewards and bribes, that sexual behavior is acceptable.

Secondly, the child is gradually led through the spectrum of abuse in the second phase of Sexual Interaction.

Immediately following the sexual encounter, the third phase of Secrecy starts. The abuser has the primary task to impose secrecy since it enables repetition of the behavior and eliminates accountability. The abuser also satisfies his need to feel important, desirable, dominant and wanted. The child may keep the secret from months to years because of many reasons, like rewards, sexual pleasure, enhancement of self-esteem, threat or funnily enough, abuse may be the only form of physical intimacy for the victim in the family.

The fourth phase is the disclosure phase and is of 2 types. (1) Accidental disclosure: either due to being discovered by a third party or due to any physical injuries to the child. Or the child may get STD or get pregnant. Or the child may initiate even precocious sexual activity. This is usually leads to crisis in the family and requires very delicate handling.

The second type is Purposeful Disclosure in which the child consciously communicates the abuse because

  1. The activity was too stimulating to keep secret.
  2. As an attempt to escape from the situation or
  3. Due to fear of pregnancy.

This is where our awareness and supports is needed. The reaction of the family members is usually on a selfish plane. They all wonder how the disclosure will affect them. Therefore, the abuser will react with denial, hostility and undermine the credibility of the accusation. In case of incest, the other parent may react with guilt. They feel inadequate since they were unable to prevent the abuse. Alternatively, they respond with denial since they are usually very dependent, inadequate people themselves.

The fifth phase is that of Suspension. It serves to decrease publicity and impedes intervention especially when intra familial abuse has occurred.

Have you ever wondered what happens to a sexually abused child both psychologically and physically? The effects of abuse can be divided into immediate and long-term effects.

Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna Freud describes child sexual abuse as the worst assault on the normal development of a child. It is profoundly disorienting and destructive for the child. The child has to deal with a degree of stimulation far beyond his/her capacity. The child gets confused about the appropriate use of power and his own role in the family. Such children have a poor self image and often appear pseudo-mature. They tend to be over-seductive but lack the age-appropriate social skills. They tend to be distrustful and hence have few friends. It may progress to the expression of hostility or depression with suicidal ideation. A child victim may show one or more of the following symptoms – Anxiety, sleep disturbances, psychosomatic disorders, anorexia, regressive symptoms such as thumb sucking, bed-wetting and nail-biting, school phobia or a refusal to go home from school, male avoidance, or a full blown post traumatic Stress Disorder, if the trauma was severe.

More next time...

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