Children’s sexual abuse: The Veil of an unseen crime. Pastoral Approach.
by Vasiliki V. Pappa*
The phenomenon of sexual abuse is old and concerns all societies as it is characterized as the most nightmarish way of child's abuse expression. The prohibition of incest, is a basic element throughout which the social structure is expressed and the structures and the relationships of the family are systemized. It's a huge issue that modern world faces even today. Most of the times, it is covered by a veil of silence from the side of the family rendering its revelation forbidden and full of guilt. Even nowadays, sexual abuse is recognized as a big social blemish. Unfortunately, only during the last years, the public opinion has been consciously worried and the issue has been placed at the center of the interest of experts. Moreover, many research papers have been conducted.
According to the definition given by the Child's Health Institute, sexual abuse is considered to be the participation or the exposure of children and adolescents to actions with sexual content motivated by adults, that most of the times have a relationship of care and intimacy with the child and the main goal is the sexual stimulation or the satisfaction of the adult. The sexual abuse in comparison with other types of abuse, is more difficult to be detected since the corporal violence is seldom used. The elements that are publicly revealed are minimum in comparison with the real dimensions of the problem.
For many years, nobody was talking about it, nobody was admitting that it existed, nobody would have done nothing to prevent it. Unfortunately the number of the cases that "come forward" daily increases and more and more social and other workers try to handle the matter with whichever theoretical and empirical measure they have available. Children's sexual abuse is a daily phenomenon that remains one of the best kept secrets. From the one hand the tolerance of the local societies and from the other hand the feeling of shame and guilt of the victims, prevent the victims from searching for help.
The problem has been increased a lot in the past years, because of the existence of plenty mass and social media, while a large number of information still remains unknown and obscure. This lack of statistics and general information might be considered that it is noticed due to the common sense that exist that some kind of violence might be implemented in the family especially from the most socially powerful (man, adult) at the expense of the sickest one (child, woman).
Even though researchers such as Kinsey, Havelock Ellis and Freud have thoroughly interpreted the issue, they failed to draw the attention of the public into this issue. Freud is the first one that is referring to the issue with his theories for the childish sexuality taking the issue out of the darkness of the Victorian period and putting it in the center of scientific discussions. More precisely, the term "children's sexual abuse" is dated back from the decade of 1960 and since then it covers whatever is regarded sexual abuse and children's exploitation. Statistically, women and children are more likely to be exposed to violence. Their abuse entails a wide range from sexual harassment to sexual exploitation.
40 years ago, this problem was considered insignificant, since according to the official estimations the cases of sexual harassment were two in the million. All the researchers agree that even if a large number of statistics is revealed by using a variety of research methods, it is still very likely the real size of the problem to be underestimated. The main reason for this is because it takes place in a private place and most of the times it is notified to nobody. According to researches, the percentage of boys that have been sexually abused in the United States comes up to 9% while girls' is around 15%. The average age of sexually abused children is 12. At this age children haven't been fully biologically developed and they enter one of the most difficult periods of their life, adolescence. Due to the fact that the problem is hushed up and not published, probably we will never manage to acquire a fully and detailed picture. This picture could be improved throughout searching and recording and by implementing behaviors that encourage children that have been victims to reveal the problem in any case and search for the help of the care and support networks of their country. There has been an increase in awareness in the recent years but also child sex trafficking and exploitation continue to spread worldwidely, mainly in the Southeast Asian countries. Tours are organized exclusively for such purposes, and the Internet is growing at a dizzying speed with fans facilitating and encouraging adults to exploit children. In recent years, the attention of the international community has turned to all countries and not only to the poor and underdeveloped ones, as well as to child pornography trafficked through Internet.
CHARACTERISTICS AND APPROACHES OF SEXUAL ABUSE
The perpetrators are people close to the child. Usually, 1 in 4 perpetrators (stepfather, relatives, etc.) is a family member and 1 in 2 perpetrators is a known or a family friend. The reasons that lead them to this disgusting action are several such as disorders of their psychosexual development during their childhood, phobias that have been developed in relationships with adult women, sexual abuse of the perpetrator when he was a child, child pornography and the increase of the financial exploitation of children.
Sexual abuse can exist either with corporal contact or without it. It can be corporal, oral or emotional and entails
• sexual caresses
• involvement of children in adult sexual activity or pornographic movies and photos
• rape or the attempt that someone makes
• the act of being coerced, bribed, or threatened into sexual activity
• child's instruction to touch adult's sexual organs
• the attempt to penetrate an object into the vagina or anus of a child without any medical necessity
Research has shown that repeated sexual abuse involves several stages:
• The approach stage where the act is done discreetly and without resorting to any form of violence. At this stage the child is offered some gifts or money to allure and make it easier for someone to approach. Children as dependent and easy-going believers believe that adults are always right. They therefore trust people who approach them, believing that this is how they may gain love and acceptance of adults.
- The stage of secrecy. At this phase the corporal contact which has already begun in the first phase is extended. Child begins to feel guilty and ashamed as he is repeatedly reminded to hide everything that has been taken place.
- Stage of coercion. Now the pressure is even greater on the child, in order to keep the abuse as a secret.
- Revelation stage. At this time, the abuse is revealed either by the child himself or by another person that knows. Between the third and the fourth stage, some years may pass.
- Confirmation stage. At this stage, sexual abuse is certified.
WAYS OF TREATMENT
Parents, teachers and pastors, if they are aware of a case of a child being abused, must think which is the child's benefit and act promptly. First of all they have to :
• to seek for the help of a mental health professional. He will guide them as to how they may approach a child, if they suspect or worse if they are sure that the child is abused.
• to build a relationship of trust and safety with the child in order it to feel ready to talk
• to handle the issue with respect and in collaboration with experts. In no case should it be hidden. This will be against child's mental and physical health.
The cases of abused children and sexual abuse by adults continue to multiply, even though there is an alarming increase in statistics that shows a greater ease at reporting.
The role of teachers, family, and shepherds of the church is enormous in preventing and informing throughout proper sexual education and open communication the children, without rendering them guilty for their sexuality.
The teachers, especially, and the pastors must teach to the children that the body, the soul and the mind belong to them, they are theirs and the others must respect them. Because of their daily involvement with children, they have the ability to pass strong messages to them so as to set boundaries: not to accept any type of violence without complaining, to get out of their isolation if they are victims, to talk about it to their families or to their teachers.
It is not possible to change attitudes from one day to the next, but it is possible, through awareness, information and education, to report similar incidents so as society to start taking responsibilities. Media also need to raise the public awareness through publications and the promotion of the problem in order to begin to develop a way of thinking and a free reasoning, unbound and independent of social prejudices. It is advisable not to conceal part of the problem but to present the problem in all its dimensions by adopting initiatives and implementing preventive actions at schools. We must intervene not only with the victims, but also with the educators in order to make them more attentive, to be able to recognize the symptoms of sexually abused children. If we do not want violent behaviors to be established, we must intervene early in order to prevent them.
A sexual abuse affects not only the physical but also the mental health of the children. It is therefore a question for the whole of the society and the values that this society wants to emphasize on. Behaviors that affect the health and dignity of individuals cannot be regarded as mere private affairs. If we want this society to be constructed by healthy physically and psychologically people, we must modify our social values in order to build a society that is equal and more respectful.
On the other hand, the state has to enforce stricter laws on victim protection and prosecution, and provide funding for specialized units with qualified staff, where it will be possible for the children, who are abused within their family environment, to resort.
Moreover, the official Church, in cooperation with the state, has to create support centers for abused children, providing the necessary assistance to these ones.
We all need to get to the heart of the problem, explain it, present it to the general public and retrieve it out of the darkness of shame and frustration.
Abused children need a social support system that will help them to overcome the effects of turning them into victims.
Translation in English language by Aliki Naka
* Vassiliki V. Pappa is an MSc, MA Theologian - Sociologist, former
Advisor of School Vocational Guidance at KESYP Igoumenits