Child Sexual Abuse
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“Children are at risk of being sexually abused from the time they are born through adolescence, with the greatest risk occurring between the ages of seven and thirteen…children are never responsible for their sexual abuse, adults are the ones responsible” (McClendon, page 1). There are many questions that researchers are attempting to investigate concerning the controversial topic of child sexual abuse. Researchers explore various questions and dimensions. This paper will investigate the controversial conclusions and results to these questions. What is the concrete definition of child sexual abuse? Is there more than one meaning of child sexual abuse? What are the short term affects of child abuse? What are the long-term affects? This paper will discuss the answers to these questions, and please keep in mind that the topic of child sexual abuse covers the time span from birth until pre-adolescence.
There are many arguments concerning the exact concrete meaning of child sexual abuse. That is why there is no definite answer to the meaning of those words. There are many theories, in the various meanings of child sexual abuse also. My first impression was that the meaning of child sexual abuse was a parent hitting or sexually hurting a child…who would most likely be a young girl, around six years old or younger. Then I realized that a boy can just as easily be sexually abused too, also typically around the age of six years old or younger. But what was the exact term and/or meaning of child sexual abuse? To that extent was where my research came in. Clarification was needed at that point.
According to Patricia McClendon, who published an article on Incest and Sexual Abuse, the definition is “The imposition of sexually inappropriate acts, or acts with sexual overtones…by one or more persons who derive authority through ongoing emotional bonding with that child”. As reported in the National Association of Social Workers News Journal, volume 42, #2, the meaning is stated as “Childhood Sexual Abuse-any erotic activity that arouses an adult and excites, shames, or confuses a child or young adolescent-whether or not the victim protests and whether or not genital contact is involved”. This meaning brings to mind Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory.
In Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory, there are eight stages of development, from birth until death. The Psychosocial development of the individuals depends on the social relations at the time. A conclusion is that the development of the child should not be impaired during pre-adolescence or adolescence. There are three major stages in Erikson’s theory that follow with this conclusion. The first stage is trust versus mistrust. This stage takes place during the first year of life. The significant relationship is with the mother, or the primary caregiver. The positive outcome is trust. If a child is abused during this time, the trust in the primary caregiver, or the abuser, is misconstrued. The child still feels loyalty and love for the abuser, but does not really understand what is happening. The confusion from the child leads up to the next stage, which is autonomy versus shame and doubt. This stage occurs when the child is two years old.
The significant relationship the child has is with the parents. If a child is sexually abused during this stage, they will feel alone and also feel shame and doubt. They will feel shame because they do not understand what is happening. The doubt occurs because they are doubtful of the sexual acts and do not know what is right and what is wrong. The shame and doubt lead up to the third stage, which is initiative versus guilt. The child is three to five years old during this time. The significant relationship is with the basic family. Here, the conclusion is that the family may begin to suspect that something is wrong, and the child may become closer to the mother and farther apart from the father, who would be the likely abuser. The positive outcome in this stage is purpose and direction, when the child realizes that the abuse is wrong and becomes closer to the mother. The child comprehends a sense of wrong of the acts. The typical age range for a child do be sexually abused is from ages seven to thirteen, according to Dr. Patricia McClendon, but a child can be abused at any age, not just during that time period. Erikson has more stages in his Psychosocial Theory, but those three stages were the stages that child sexual abuse is most likely to occur.
Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory expands over a long time period, from birth until death. But there are many short term effects that a child suffers, psychologically, mentally, and physically. According to Dr. Patricia McClendon, “Approximately 40% of all victims/survivors suffer aftereffects serious enough to require therapy in adulthood”…whether being short term effects or long term effects, all effects of the abuse are serious enough to induce therapy. The earlier an outsider helps a child heal, the less chance the child will have problems as an adult, but therapy is a good suggestion in any cases scenario. As the author of The Developing Person Through the Life Span, Kathleen Burger reports that “The effects of sexual abuse largely depend on the nature of the abuse, its duration, and the emotional support the adolescent receives…these consequences are especially severe when the sexual abuse occurs not once but over a long period when the child has an especially close relationship with the abuser, and when force is used. By contrast, if the abuse is a single, non-violent incident and a trusted caregiver believes and reassures the victim, taking steps to make certain the abuse does not occur again, the psychological damage may be short-term”.
The short term effects of child sexual abuse are few and not as damaging to the child as the long-term effects are. By the short term effects I mean that after the sexual abuse has occurred, the child will feel some things for a short time and feel other things throughout their entire lives, often conflicting emotions and thoughts, which is definitely long-term. Children feel anxious, angry, scared, and fearful before, during, and after the abuse has occurred, according to the National Association of Social Worker’s Journal, volume 42, #2. But they only feel these emotions for a short time and then they get used to these feelings if the abuse is ongoing. The child victims also have nightmares, problems in school, and feel depressed and irritable. These problems are able to be helped and do not last a long time if they are tended to immediately, or as soon as possible.
The long-term effects last throughout the child’s life and are more psychologically damaging to their well-being. Concludes Kathleen Burger “The long-term effects impair the child’s ability to develop normally”. If the abuse is ongoing, the child is more likely to be in an abusive relationship as an adult. It is also hard for the victim to establish a trust and/or relationship with anyone, particularly and older adult. Following that conclusion, since the abuser is most likely to be older, the victim may date older men, twice their age, since they remind them of the abuser. They do not trust them fully, but they still feel loyalty and love for older men. This is only in the case where victims are young girls who were abused by their fathers. Stepfathers are also a common as abusers. The girl may also have an abnormal perspective on sexuality, and may doubt her sexual orientation as she develops and ages into an adult (Berger).
A hypothesized theory is that if the victim is a difficult baby, that also increases the risk of him or her to be abused. This is not the victim’s fault. However, the crying may provoke the abuser into hurting the child. If the baby seldom cries, it reduces its risk of being abused. Mothers should be watchful of difficult babies. The crying could lead to psychological damage as well.
Various other psychological damages are drug and alcohol abuse, becoming sexually active at a young age, and rebellion school, with their peers, or authority figures. Victims are also more likely to become suspended, expelled, or drop out of school. Eating disorders are common, as well as suicide and depression, running away from home, and entering into more abusive relationships.
If the child is five years or older, they may feel trapped, loss of love, anger, shame and jealousy, which Erikson discusses in his Psychosocial Theory. They could be afraid that the family will break up, have low self-esteem, and have difficulty relating to others except on sexual terms.
In the long run, the child victim may become child abusers themselves, or, ironically, prostitutes. The only physical damages that a child receives are changes in the genital or anal area. The child may make statements that their bodies are damaged or dirty…throughout their entire lives. Some common characteristics are, seductiveness, secretiveness, aggressiveness, fear of intimacy, self-destruction, and lastly, isolation and/or alienation. While those physical damages can be severe, they can be healed, while the psychological scars could last a lifetime.
In conclusion, children are never responsible for their abuse, adults are the ones that are responsible. Unfortunately, it is the children, and not the adults, who suffer mentally and physically from the adult’s actions, whether the sexual actions are premeditated or not. We need to help the children who are abused by putting them in therapy as soon as they are identified as being a victims of an adult’s responsibility. By identifying an abused child, an individual should know the signs discussed in this paper that characterize the victim, and have some idea of the meaning of child sexual abuse. Erikson’s stages of the Psycosocial Theory pinpoint when, why and how a child is severely sexually abused during this time, short and long-term effects are severely noticeable. This concludes the discussion of child sexual abuse from birth until pre-adolescence.
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