Teenage Girls and Sexuality
The same American Academy of Pediatrics study of Singaporean 14-19 year olds that found boys affected by pornography found that the strongest factor associated with early sexual intercourse for female adolescents was their having a history of sexual abuse. It was also found that sexually abused girls had more partners than non-abused.[i]
Dealing with Sexual Abuse
Do not be angry with your child or even surprised if they do not talk to you when they have been abused. The US-based National Center for Victims of Crime reports that there are many reasons why children are hesitant to disclose instances of abuse:[ii]
Child Sexual Abuse Reporting
Children may resist reporting sexual abuse because they are afraid of angering the offender, they blame themselves for the abuse, or they feel guilty and ashamed. Children are more likely to reveal sexual abuse when talking to someone who appears to “already know” and is not judgmental, critical or threatening. They also tend to disclose when they believe continuation of the abuse will be unbearable, they are physically injured, or when they receive sexual abuse prevention information. Other reasons may be to protect another child or if pregnancy is a threat.[iii]
Once a child discloses the abuse, an appropriate response is extremely important to the child’s healing process. The adult being confided in should encourage the victim to talk freely, reassure the child that he or she is not to blame, and seek medical and psychological assistance. Family members may also benefit from mental health services.
Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
Survivors of child sexual abuse use coping mechanisms to deal with the horror of the abuse. One such mechanism known as protective denial entails repressing some or all of the abuse. This may cause significant memory gaps that can last months or even years. Victims also use dissociative coping mechanisms, such as becoming numb, to distance themselves from the psychological and physiological responses to the abuse. They may also turn to substance abuse, self-mutilation and eating disorders. In order to recover, adult survivors must adopt positive coping behaviours, forgive themselves, and relinquish their identities as survivors.[iv] The healing process can begin when the survivor acknowledges the abuse. When working with adult survivors of child sexual abuse, therapists should consider the survivor’s feeling of security and the personal and professional ramifications of disclosure, especially if the abuse involved a family member.
Societal influences play a big role in the recovery process. Although males may have been raised to “be tough” and shoulder responsibility for whatever happens to them, male victims need to understand that the victimization was not their fault. Only then can they begin to accept that they were not responsible for the abuse.[v]
Cycle of Violence
Children who are abused or neglected are more likely to become criminal offenders as adults. A National Institute of Justice study found “that childhood abuse increased the odds of future delinquency and adult criminality overall by 40 percent”.[vi] Child sexual abuse victims are also at risk of becoming ensnared in this cycle of violence. One expert estimates that 40% of sexual abusers were sexually abused as children. In addition, victims of child sexual abuse are almost 30 times more likely than non-victims to be arrested for prostitution as adults.[vii] Some victims become sexual abusers or prostitutes because they have a difficult time relating to others except on sexual terms.
Stopping the Cycle of Violence
With early detection and appropriate treatment, society can prevent some victimized children from becoming adult perpetrators. Parents must be on the alert, since abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level across ethnic and cultural lines within all religions and at all levels of education. Most importantly, in order to intervene early in abuse, parents should educate their children about appropriate sexual behaviour and how to feel comfortable saying “No”.[viii]
According to the US based National Child Abuse Statistics in Childhelp, founded in 1959 by Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson:[ix]
- A report of child abuse is filed every ten seconds.
- More than five children die every day as a result of child abuse.[x]
- Approximately 80% of children that die from abuse are under the age of four.[xi]
- It is estimated that 50 to 60% of child fatalities due to maltreatment are not recorded as such on death certificates.[xii]
- More than 90% of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator in some way.[xiii]
- About 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children, continuing the horrible cycle of abuse.[xiv]
- About 80% of 21 year olds who were abused as children met the criteria for at least one psychological disorder.[xv]
- The estimated cost of child abuse and neglect in the United States for 2008 was $124 billion.[xvi]
- 14% of all men in prison in the USA were abused as children.[xvii]
- 36% of all women in prison were abused as children.[xviii]
- A child who experiences child abuse and neglect is 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28% more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30% more likely to commit violent crime.[xix]
- Abused children are 25% more likely to experience teen pregnancy.[xx]
- Abused teens are less likely to practice safe sex, putting them at greater risk for STDs.[xxi]
- One-third to two-thirds of child maltreatment cases involve substance abuse to some degree.[xxii]
- Children whose parents abuse alcohol and other drugs are three times more likely to be abused and more than four times more likely to be neglected than children from non-abusing families.[xxiii]
As many as two-thirds of the people in treatment for drug abuse reported being abused or neglected as children.[xxiv]
[i] Wong, M. L., Chan, K. W., Koh, D., Tan, H. H., Lim, F. S., Emmanuel, S., & Bishop, G. (2009). Premarital sexual intercourse among adolescents in an Asian country: Multilevel ecological factors. Pediatrics; Haggstrom-Nordin, E., Hanson, U., & Tyden, T. (2005). Associations between pornography consumption and sexual practices among adolescents in Sweden. International Journal of STD and AIDS, 16(2), 102-107.
[ii] National Center for Victims of Crime. (1997). Child sexual abuse. Retrieved August 31, 2012, from Network of Victim Assistance – NOVA: http://www.novabucks.org/childsexualabuse.html
[iii] American Humane Association Children’s Division. (1993). Child sexual abuse: AHA fact sheet #4. Englewood, CO: American Humane Association.
[iv] Sgroi, S. (1989). Stages of recovery for adult survivors of child sexual abuse. Vulnerable populations: Sexual abuse treatment for children, adult survivors, offenders, and persons with mental retardation Volume 2, S. Sgroi, Ed. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
[v] Male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. (1990). Virginia Child Protection Newsletter, 31: 1-12.
[vi] Widom, C. S. (1992). The cycle of violence. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice.
[vii] Widom, C. S. (1995). Victims of childhood sexual abuse—Later criminal consequences. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice.
[viii] American Humane Association Children’s Division (1993), Child sexual abuse.
[ix] Childhelp. (n.d.). National child abuse statistics. Retrieved May 30, 2012, from Childhelp: http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics#abuse-conseq
[x] United States Government Accountability Office, 2011. Child maltreatment: strengthening national data on child fatalities could aid in prevention (GAO-11-599). Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11599.pdf
[xi] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2010), Child Maltreatment 2009.
[xii] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Administration on Children, Youth and Families Children’s Bureau. Child abuse and neglect fatalities 2009: Statistics and interventions. Retrieved from http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/fatality.pdf
[xiii] Snyder, H. N. (2000, July). Sexual assault of young children as reported to law enforcement: victim, incident, and offender characteristics. Retrieved from http://bjs.oup.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/saycrle.pdf
[xiv] Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2008). Long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved May 31, 2012 from http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/long_term_consequences.cfm
[xvi] Fang, X., Brown, D. S., Florence, C. S., & Mercy, J. A. (2012) The economic burden of child maltreatment in the United States and implications for prevention. Child Abuse & Neglect, 36(2), 156-165.
[xvii] Harlow, C., U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. (1999). Prior abuse reported by inmates and probationers (NCJ 172879) Retrieved from http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/parip.pdf
[xix] Child Welfare Information Gateway (2008), Long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect.
[xxii] Parental substance abuse. Retrieved May 31, 2012 from http://www.childwelfare.gov/can/factors/parentcaregiver/substance.cfm
[xxiv] Swan, N. (1998). Exploring the role of child abuse on later drug abuse: Researchers face broad gaps in information. NIDA Notes, 13(2). Retrieved May 31, 2012 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse website: www.nida.nih.gov/NIDA_notes/NNVol13N2/exploring.html