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Friday, June 29, 2007

Parenting the sexually abused (Part # 5)

Are All Children Affected Equally by Child Sexual Abuse?

There is a myth that all children who have been sexually abused are "damaged goods" and that the damage is for life. In fact, with guidance and support a child who has experienced sexual abuse can certainly recover and go on to live a happy, successful life with loving and trusting relationships. However, there are many factors which influence the extent of the child's trauma and subsequent healing process. Some of these are:

The age of the child when the abuse began. Children abused very early in life may carry body or sensory memories of the abuse but will not have the words to express their rage. One adult survivor of sexual abuse figured out, with the help of therapy, that the reason she became sexually stimulated when she heard and felt a room fan was because a fan had always been on when she was molested as a child. Children who are abused pre-pubescently, during the time when their sexuality is emerging, may carry greater effects of the abuse.

The relationship of the primary perpetrator to the child. A child's trust of his/her primary caretaker is central to their relationship. Therefore, when abuse occurs in this context, the betrayal is intensified.

How long the abuse occurred. The longer the abuse occurred, the more likely the victim is to feel that he/she should have been able to stop it and thus he or she feels more "guilty."

Whether there was violence involved. In most cases where the abuse included violence or potential violence (that is, the victim was made to understand that without cooperation there would be violence) the child will have experienced additional trauma and therefore damage to his/her development

The social system available to the child at the time of abuse. The child who had someone to tell about the abuse will suffer less than the child who had no one to tell. And even in some cases where the support system is available, the child may choose not to tell for fear of the consequences. For example, the child may think, "If I tell my father that my brother is abusing me and he believes me, then my father may do something drastic like hurt my brother or send me to jail."

When children reveal their secrets, the response of adults will vary. It is important to stay as calm as possible so as not to further traumatize the child. The rage you may feel is natural, but the child may perceive that it is directed at him or her. The child needs a safe, supportive atmosphere in which to talk. Children also benefit enormously from hearing that this has happened to other children, male and female.

Ego development of the child at the time of the abuse. If the child has a firmly established concept of his or her sexual identity, the abuse will have less impact. Children who are abused by a same sex perpetrator often have deeply felt fears about whether this means they are homosexual. One way in which parents can help allay this fear is to explain that our bodies have many nerve endings. If these nerve endings are stimulated, they will react. For example, if a bright light hits your eyes, your first response will be to blink or to shade them from the light. A simple concept to use with children is that of tickling. If a child is ticklish, he or she will laugh when tickled. It does not matter whether the person tickling is male or female; the child is reacting to the experience.

If the perpetrator is of the opposite sex, questions of identity may also come into play. For example a boy who is abused by a woman and is not aroused, may doubt his masculinity. If he is aroused physically, but not emotionally, he may equally doubt his masculinity. The same identity issues for girls may hold true.

If the child has a positive self-concept, that is, if he or she feels valued at the time the abuse occurred, there will be fewer repercussions. In fact, children with good self-esteem are more likely to feel they can say no and/or tell someone about the abuse.

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