Decades of experience as a trauma therapist working with survivors of sexual abuse confirmed the many misconceptions which exist. In order to better protect children against sexual predators it is essential to accept that abusers are frequently known to parents or the child. They may be a neighbour or friend or someone in a position of trust, a teacher, a doctor, or a priest. Where accusations involve those in privileged positions of power such as politicians or celebrities, this must never cloud perception or judgement.
DISCLOSURE AT THE TIME OF THE OFFENCE IS OFTEN WRONGLY PERCEIVED AS MORE CREDIBLE THAN THAT MADE AFTER ANY DELAY, ESPECIALLY A PROLONGED ONE. IF A DISCLOSURE IS WITHDRAWN FOR ANY REASON, CREDIBILITY IS OFTEN FURTHER DIMINISHED.
Parents often believe they would know if their child was being sexually abused as their children would tell them. This is rarely the case. Very few children disclose sexual abuse at the time that it is occurring and for many reasons. Sexual abuse takes many forms and does not always involve acts of physical violence; when it does it is more easily recognised by the child and is more likely to be disclosed at the time of the offence. Abuse is often the result of patient grooming over time which may not be perceived as such by the child. Threats of consequences if the relationship is discovered i.e. prison sentences or the child being removed from the family, are frequently used to deter disclosure.
The commonest reason for failure to disclose is that the person will not be believed. Retraction of the allegation is common and may be due to shame or feelings of guilt, reluctance to face court proceedings or fear of consequences for family relationships. An accusation can often result in the child being removed to a place of safety and the breakup of the family.
Sexual abuse is linked to power and control. The grooming process, deliberately confuses acceptable social boundaries encouraging a relationship of trust. There are various types of offender, they often have an ability to engage readily with children and to connect with them socially and emotionally. Conflicted feelings of guilt for having reported the abuse are common. This effect has been associated with a phenomenon known as “child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome” where the child attempts to reconcile his or her own feelings.
Vulnerable children who are shy, withdrawn, lonely or rejected by peers are particularly targeted.
- Most sexual abuse occurs as a result of grooming over time, gaining the trust of the child to encourage ‘sexual play’. This begins as sharing time, gifts and treats. Touching is initially restricted to play fighting and non sexual touching, hugging, arm around the shoulder etc. until a relationship has been established. Touching progresses to a hand on the leg and inappropriate touching over clothes accelerating to genital touch, oral sex and masturbation. Vaginal or anal penetration may or may not occur, the damage may still be irrevocable.
- Grooming by sexual predators aims to make the child feel special, the child may welcome time spent with the perpetrator, or even feel hurt by the perceived rejection if the abuse ends or they are replaced by another.
- Grooming aims to create dependency: This involves isolating the child from others, the child becoming emotionally dependent on the perpetrator who gains increasing control.
- The child’s parents are often sought out and groomed before the child is groomed. The abusers involvement in the family becomes natural and normal, lowering parental guard. In this way suspicions that might arise are dismissed or explained away,
- Post traumatic stress is frequently associated with child sexual abuse but is often undiagnosed. Deeply buried memories never disclosed may surface decades after the occurrence. This can result in drug and alcohol dependency, emotional trauma, and mental breakdown unless therapy is sought. In favourable circumstances this leads to eventual disclosure but the account may not be believed.
- Adults who were abused as children often report that they had no awareness that what was happening was wrong. Many only come to realise that their experience constituted abuse as they enter adulthood, and can see the relationship from a new perspective.This realisation causes them to reprocess their experiences and can result in delayed trauma, adversely affecting the ability to create lasting relationships.
- Adult survivors of child sexual abuse may report still feeling a conflicted love for the perpetrator where a deep bond had been established, eliciting feelings of self loathing and adding to confusion for supporters who failt to understand the complex issues.
- Certain triggers can cause abusive memories to resurface, one being the birth of a child, memories are often ignited as the child approaches the age where the original abuse occurred.
To summarise, child sexual abuse is the most abhorrent crime because it steals the innocence of childhood, creating a tangled web of conflicted thoughts and emotions which often become the bedrock of tortured personality. It inflicts damage which is often permanent, leading those afflicted to resort to self medication through drug and alcohol abuse; many end the torment of their life through suicide. Institutionalised abuse is ever more apparent. The priesthood of the Catholic church, increasingly mired in controversy, illustrates the link between power and abuse. Elijah Wood is one of many celebrities who have warned of pedophile networks in Hollywood. Whatever the source, we must at all times put the person who has suffered abuse before consideration of the abuser. This begins with a non judgemental approach and a willingness to listen.
See: Celebrity Pedophilia