Thesis Chapter 2 on Child Sexual Abuse and Its Effects on The Victims as Adults
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Child Sexual Abuse and Its Effects on The Victims as Adults
We love our children and we want them to have good memories, as well as good futures to look forward to. Sexual abuse robs our children of these good times. When a child is molested, not only is she hurt physically, emotionally, and psychologically at present time, her future is also shred to pieces.
What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse is any sexual interaction between child and an adult or a significantly older child (Suryadevara, 2000 and The Thompson Corporation, 2002). Examples of this are: Having intercourse with the child; Having oral or anal sex with the child; Sodomy; Digital (finger) penetration; Touching a child’s genitals or having a child touch an adult’s genitals; Masturbating the child or masturbating in front of the child; Having sex in front of the child; Showing x-rated materials to the child; And using the child in pornographic production of any kind (Newton, 2001).
Child sexual abuse often happens in a multiproblem home. That is, it often occurs with neglect or other forms of maltreatment, like physical and emotional abuse1 (Widom, 1995).
How bad is the situation?
Correct statistics on child sexual abuse is almost impossible because many cases are unreported. Primarily, children will usually keep the molestation a secret due to threat. A child of five or older may keep the abuse a secret if the offender is a family member, for fear of breaking up the family unit. Molestation may only be revealed if the confusion or pain is too great, if it was discovered, or if the child accidentally mentioned it. Some victims’ experiences had been too shameful or traumatic that they forget or block it. Years later, when other problems surface, therapists often discover, to the surprise of the victim, that she had been molested and that that is the root of her problems. Secondly, after discovering the molestation, some parents choose to suppress the issue, especially if the offender is the non-offending parent’s partner (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1997 and Newton, 2001)
Surveys, such as phone or mail, produce greater results compared to reported cases. However, this number is still smaller than actual frequency of abuse because these surveys only reach people with homes. People living elsewhere, such as in the streets or in shelters, are not able to participate in the surveys; and a lot of these women have, in fact, been sexually abused. Also, it is probable that the abusers themselves answer the survey, making the survey results even lower (Newton, 2001).
For an idea of how great the incidence of child sexual abuse is, here are some statistics from different surveys and studies:
- In 1994, 345,000 sexual abuse cases were reported to child protective services in the United States (Suryadevara, 2000).
- In 1996, more than three million cases of child abuse were reported to child protective services in the United States. Of these, more than one million were confirmed, and sex abuse was present in 12% of the confirmed cases (The Thompson Corporation, 2002)
- Each year, 1,500 children die from abuse, 140,000 injuries occur to children due to abuse, and 1.4 million cases of child abuse are reported (Newton, 2001)
Who are the offenders?
- According to a survey on inmates and probationers reporting abuse, more than 90% of these women knew their abusers, while only less than 10% had been abused by a stranger. Among the abused women who knew their offenders, 60% were abused by husbands or boyfriends and about a third to a half had been abused by a parent, guardian or other relative2 (Harlow, 1999)
- In the 1996 reports of child sexual abuse, parents were the abusers in 77% of the confirmed cases while other relatives were the offenders in 11% (The Thompson Corporation, 2002)
The usual offenders are people close to the child, like a parent, stepparent, a neighbor, a childcare person, a teacher, or an acquaintance, (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1997 and Newton, 2001). These are the times when, “Don’t talk to strangers,” don’t work. The children will believe the offenders because, at this age, they tend to accept adult authority. It is also possible that they may be threatened to cooperate. This especially works if the child has already seen violence committed on his loved-ones, such as her mother (Newton, 2001).
What are the effects of sexual abuse on the children?
- 5.8% of the abused and neglected children become runaways compared to only 2.4% of the non-victims3 (Widom, 1995)
Sexually abused children may experience some or none of the following: Sleep disturbances such as nightmares, trouble falling asleep, or frequent awakenings; Changes in appetite or eating habits resulting in weight loss or weight gain; Regressive behaviors like clinging, thumb sucking, or bedwetting; Inappropriate or excessive fears especially on something familiar, fear of the dark; Excessive crying; Hyperactivity; Depression, anxiety, guilt, low self-esteem, or even suicidal behavior; Repeated bodily hurts or complaints without any know physical causes, complaints that their bodies are dirty or damaged, or fear that something is wrong with them in the genital area; Lessened interest in previously anticipated events; Unusual early development in sexual maturity, distorted view of sex, sexual acting out, seductiveness; Aspects of molestations in games, drawings, or fantasies; Secretiveness; Withdrawal from family and friends; Decline in academic performance due to refusal to go to school and delinquency4; Poor peer relations, conduct problems or unusual aggressiveness; Substance abuse; Prostitution; And runaway behavior.
It is common to find no obvious physical signs of sexual abuse in victims. Some signs can only be seen through a physical exam. On the other hand, the presence of these signs may have resulted from other things, such as divorce or loss of a loved one (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1997, Suryadevara, 2000, and Newton, 2001).
What are the effects of child sexual abuse during the adult years?
Common things found among child sexual abuse victims during adult years are: Eating disorders; Insomnia and sleep problems; Identity disturbances; Difficulties in sexual contact, desire, and arousal due to the association of sex with pain and violation; Seductive behavior, prostitution, presence of sexually transmitted diseases due to unsafe sex and promiscuity, and unintended pregnancy; Self-destructive behaviors, such as alcohol and drug use, self-mutilation, and suicide, resulting from high levels of anxiety and depression; Revictimization; Involvement in physically abusive relationships; And criminality.
- More than 17% reported being sexually abused before the age of 13 in a study that was lead by Dr. Kevin Fiscella of the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York5. This study involved mothers in their first pregnancy. Most of these women were unmarried and were having unintended pregnancies. (PersonalMD.com, 1998).
- In another study of women with unintended first pregnancies, this time in San Diego, California6, 29% had been sexually abused by someone at least five years older than the woman and 14% had been forced to have sexual contact with someone as old as they. The likelihood that a woman would have unintended pregnancy rose from 41% to 58% for those who were sexually abused. On the other hand, the likelihood that a woman would have unintended pregnancy rose from 43% to 61% in those who were forced to have sexual contact with someone their age (Olenick, 2000)
- Based on Bureau of Justice Statistics in the United States, between 23% and 37% of females in custody reported being physically or sexually abused before the age of 18. The incidence of rape before the victim serves her sentence was a third in the women in State Prison, a sixth in Federal Prison, and a quarter in jail. (Harlow, 1999).
- Among sexually abused children, the odds of being arrested as adults for a sex crime was 4.7 times higher than for non-victims4 (Widom, 1995)
Greater health risks
- 22% of the patients was sexually abused as children7 (Felitti, 2002)
- A person exposed to four adverse childhood experiences has 390% more chance of having chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than a person who had not been exposed to any adverse childhood experience5 (Felitti, 2002)
- One 70 year old woman patient, at the time of the study, was currently diabetic, hypertensive, and obese. In addition, her medical records showed that she had a lingering depression and that she never married. Interview revealed that her elder brother had raped her when she was ten years old and that the same brother also molested her sister who was then having a troubled life (Felitti, 2002).
- Children who were sexually abused have 27.7 times more chance of being arrested for prostitution as an adult compared to non-victims3 (Widom, 1995)
- As a person’s exposure to different adverse childhood experiences increases, the number of suicide attempts rises from 30 to 51 times7 (Felitti, 1995)
How do we deal with child sexual abuse?
If a child says she has been sexually abused, parents must try to remain calm and assure the child that it wasn’t her fault. Parents should then confirm this through a medical examination. In confirmed cases, psychiatrists can help abused children regain their self-esteem, cope with feelings of guilt, and overcome the trauma. Treatment can also help reduce the risk of developing serious problems as an adult (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1997).
How do we prevent child sexual abuse?
Although a victim’s future can still be saved through treatment, support, and love, it is so much better if this nightmare wouldn’t happen at all. Parents can help prevent or, at least, lessen the chance of sexual abuse. Parents should tell their children that if someone tries to touch them or do things that make them feel funny, say no and report it right away. Parents should also teach their children that not everything the teacher or baby-sitter says is right nor must be obeyed. (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1997).
Turning a deaf ear to child abuse is like ignoring a wound and allowing it to fester. When the infection becomes too great, the area is amputated. But unlike a rotten leg, a soul cannot be cut off. People cannot live in pieces. A child prostitute forced into the trade through physical and sexual abuse cannot simply be locked away and forgotten. There are millions like her and they are our future.
1 In many instances, sexual abuse is difficult to isolate and, perhaps, it shouldn’t be. Thus, some studies or statistics presented here have dealt with child abuse in general, and have even included other adverse experiences such as divorce or seeing the mother treated violently.
2 The numbers do not add to 100% because some of these women were abused by more than one person.
3 This study involved a group of non-abused persons and 908 child sexual abuse victims whose cases were processed in the courts between 1967 and 1971. All victims were 11 years old or younger at the time of the incident(s). The arrest records of juvenile and adults were then used to identify victims who became criminals in their adulthood.
4 The likelihood that a teenage mother will drop out of school is greater compared to girls who delay motherhood. A study revealed that only 64% teenage mothers graduate from high school or receive a general equivalency diploma within two years after their supposed graduation. On the other hand, 94% of the girls who delayed motherhood received their high school diploma. Without a high school diploma, a teenage mother may find it difficult to find or keep a job. 75% of all unmarried teenage mothers go on welfare within five years of her first child’s birth (March of Dimes Defects Foundation, 2003)
5 Dr. Fischella’s group surveyed 1,026 African-American women during their first pregnancy. These women had been attending prenatal clinic at an inner-city teaching hospital. The average age of the mothers was 17 years and most of these women were unmarried.
6 This study involved women who received medical examinations in a large health maintenance organization in San Diego, California, between the months of August and November 1995, and January and March 1996. The participants completed mailed survey asking about the their background characteristics, pregnancy history, and exposure to various forms of abuse and household dysfunction from childhood until the age of 18. 1,193 women were included in the analyses. They were aged 20-50 and had their first pregnancy at or after the age of 20.
7 The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study compared present adult health status with childhood experiences. The study was conducted in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Kaiser Permanente, San Diego. Adverse experiences in the study included: recurrent physical abuse, recurrent emotional abuse, sexual abuse, growing up with an alcoholic person or a drug user, growing up with a loved-one in prison, growing up with someone who was chronically depressed or mentally ill or suicidal, seeing his mother being treated violently, and belonging to a broken family, whether the parents were separated, divorced, or in some way missing.
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Facts You Should Know About Teenage Pregnancy [online]. 2003. March of Dimes Defects Foundation. Available from: http://www.marchofdimes.com/professionals/681_1159.asp [accessed 4 April 2003].
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Olenick, I. 2000. ‘Women Exposed to Childhood Abuse Have Elevated Odds of Unintended First Pregnancy as Adults.’ International Family Planning Perspectives. [online] Vol. 32, No. 1 Available from:
http://www.agi-usa.org/pubs/journals/3204700.html [accessed 8 April 2003].
Sexual Abuse, Teen Pregnancy Linked. [online] 1998. PersonalMD.com Available from: http://www.personalmd.com/news/a1998041010.shtml [accessed 6 April 2003].
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Widom, C.S. 1995. Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse-Later Criminal Consequences. [online] National Institute of Justice Research in Brief. March 1995, NCJ151525. Available from: http://www.ncjrs.org/txtfiles/abuse.txt [accessed 9 April 2003].
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