Children who are abused are typically treated thus by their own parents, guardians, or others responsible for their welfare, for example, their teachers. There are three kinds of abuse identified by researchers. Physical abuse is described as physical injury which is inflicted by beating or inappropriately harsh discipline. Sexual abuse includes many forms of unsuitable sexual activity, such as molestation, incest, rape, prostitution, and using a child for pornographic purposes. Neglect is the third kind of abuse which includes emotional abuse.
In this form of abuse, a child who has been sexually abused by a parent or guardian, for example, may experience the damaging emotional effects of the abuse to boot. Regardless of its form, child abuse may leave scars on the child as an individual, for a long time to come (Child Abuse, 2004). These scars may be both physical and psychological in essence. On the physical level, we find that children who have been sexually abused may develop health problems which are essentially psychosomatic in nature.
On the psychological level, too, there are more than a few short-term and long-term effects of abuse. Individuals abused as children may turn into child abusers themselves when they are adults. Moreover, studies have revealed that out of the forty million Americans who have been sexually victimized as children, as many as a quarter could be suffering from myriad psychological problems that range from guilt and poor self-esteem to sexual difficulties and the predisposition to raise children who are themselves abused (Kohn, 1987).
Children who are abused do also contemplate engaging in criminal activities, promiscuity, and substance abuse (“Child Abuse”). INVESTIGATION OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE Page # 3 Cheyrl Ann Black and Richard R. Deblassie (1993) write about Matthew, a man who was sexually abused as a child: Matthew was a frail, shy child who had difficulty relating with peers, boys and girls
alike. He was especially fearful of adults, having been raised in a strict and puritanical home. His interpersonal difficulties led to his being a “loner. ” At about the age of eight, he was lured into a neighborhood garage by two teenagers who raped and sexually abused him. Matthew was thoroughly confused and overcome by this brutal experience. The sexual abuse by the two teenagers continued for three years. By age eleven, Matthew’s family moved to another state and the sexual abuse was terminated.
Throughout the period of sexual abuse, Matthew remained silent because of threats made by the perpetrators. Finally, at age 23, Matthew was able to reveal his experiences to a college counselor. The effects of the abuse are still felt by Matthew, who is in the late stages of early adulthood. Many children who are sexually abused do keep silent on the subject, like Matthew, by holding themselves responsible for the experience.
Studies have shown that the effects of sexual abuse or the degree of trauma experienced by the victim is influenced by the sex of the offender, the closeness of the child’s relationship to the offender, the duration of the abuse, the severity of the abuse, and the age of the victim at onset. M. E. Elwell and P. H. Ephross (1987) found that the use of force and physical injury leads to a higher degree of trauma. The severity of the sexual
behavior is also a factor that can increase the effects of abuse. The perpetrator’s threats and the frequency of the abusive act are of little or no consequence, however, seeing that the damage is complete even after the first encounter with the sexual abuser. In another study, Caffaro-Rouget et al. (1989) noted that the mental and emotional disturbance felt by the victims rose when sexual acts were forced. These young victims felt that they lacked protection, just as the children who witness parental substance abuse experience a lack of recourse.
The researchers also found that the trauma was especially acute when the offender was the mother or the sibling of the child. Psychologists have separated internalizing from externalizing factors when looking at the effects of sexual abuse. Research shows that children who are abused are normally higher on the internalizing scales, with approximately thirty five percent of males and forty six percent of females reporting behaviors that reveal that these children hold themselves accountable for the incidents of abuse.
And, around thirty six percent of males and thirty nine percent of females report behaviors that reveal that they believed they were not to blame for the abuse experienced (Black and Deblassie). Boys are more reticent to report sexual abuse. Male victims of this form of abuse are also known to report more somatic complaints, and physical symptoms that are sexual in nature (Salter, 1988).
Perusing the results of various studies on sexual abuse, Black and Deblassie have found the following differences between individuals who were abused as children and those were not: (1) Children who are abused show a greater incidence of suicide attempts and higher levels of anxiety and depression; (2) The effects of child sexual abuse reported by others include
INVESTIGATION OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
depression, suicidal gestures, anxiety, somatic complaints, disturbed interpersonal relations due mainly to the inability to trust others, school difficulties, a decrease in the level of social functioning, heightened sexual activity/preoccupation that often includes compulsive masturbation, homophobic concerns, infantile behavior, paranoic or phobic behavior, and poor body image or changes in bodily functions; and (3) A male’s sense of powerlessness may even be channeled into aggressive sexual behavior wherein the victim becomes an offender.
What is more, no single effect of child sexual abuse has been found to be universal. As mentioned previously, sexual preoccupation or compulsiveness has also been reported among males who were sexually abused as children. Gender identity confusion, sexual orientation confusion, and difficulty establishing stable and trusting relationships are additional effects of child sexual abuse. Besides the effects already mentioned, children who were sexually abused also grow up with a disturbed sense of body image. Symptoms of chronic posttraumatic stress disorder have been revealed by studies to boot.
Adult males who were sexually abused as children do also show patterns of repression, denial, or normalization of the trauma. These males do not necessarily turn into homosexuals. What is more, approximately thirty percent of them repeat the cycle of sexual abuse with their own families (Strean, 1998). Black and Deblassie have also written that only two percent of the sexual abuse reports of children are known to be false allegations. Furthermore, all children do not react identically to sexual abuse. Therapists report that only certain kinds of behavior and feelings do occur regularly among victims.
The immediate effects of sexual abuse, for example, are typically INVESTIGATION OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE Page # 6 sleeping and eating disturbances, anger, withdrawal and guilt. Children who have been abused mostly appear to be either afraid or anxious (Kohn). According to experts, two signs that show up most frequently to indicate sexual abuse are sexual preoccupation and a host of physical complaints or problems without medical explanation.
To explain the first sign, William Friedrich, associate professor of psychology at the Mayo Medical School in Rochester, says that the socialization process toward propriety has gone awry in these children as they show an unusual interest in sexual organs, sex play and nudity. Public masturbation is also common among these children (Kohn). The second sign can include anything from a rash to excessive vomiting and headaches. In fact, medical records of sexually abused children could reveal years of mysterious ailments.
Pamela Langelier, director of the Vermont Family Forensic Institute in South Burlington, Vermont, has said that children who have been abused should be reassessed every few years because they may develop new problems with the onset of each developmental stage. Although it may appear that these children have completely recovered from trauma, the beginning of a new developmental stage may bring a new host of problems (Kohn). The effects of all forms of abuse are far-reaching. Parents who abandon their children are perfectly aware that their children could be abused (Dalrymple, 2002).
These children, when they grow up, may abandon their own children. A child who has been physically abused or beaten may grow up to be a physically abusive parent. A child who has been emotionally abused through words may turn out to be a verbally abusive adult unable to maintain his relationships with his partner or children. Finally, we have to take into consideration both the physical and the INVESTIGATION OF CHILD SEXUAL psychological or emotional effects of child sexual abuse. While certain effects may show a decrease in intensity over time, there are some wounds that may never be healed. INVESTIGATION OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE Page # 8
1. Black, Cheryl Ann, and Deblassie, Richard R. (1993). Sexual Abuse In Male Children And Adolescents: Indicators, Effects, And Treatments. Adolescence, Vol. 28, Issue 109, p. 123+.