CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE … HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THE ISSUE?
Addressing myths and more
While children may exhibit
regressive behaviors, … the
strongest indicator of sexual abuse
is sexual acting out and inappropriate sexual
knowledge and interest.
By F. Scott Addis, CPCU, CRA, ACRA, TRA, ASA
The issue of child sexual abuse is serious, significant, and pervasive. It affects our local communities, our families, our clients, and even our agencies. As community leaders and risk professionals, we need to be aware of the topic, concerned about its impact, and diligent about preventing it.
In this first installment of a two-part series, we’ll explore the magnitude of the issue, as well as topics such as grooming, effects, and myths. In the second installment, you will learn about a five-step program to protect children.
Broadly speaking, child sexual abuse is any sexual activity that occurs without consent. It can be hands on (molestation or assault) or hands off (often involving pornography) and it can occur in a variety of settings, including home, school, church, camp, or the workplace.
To be honest, the topic is not an easy one to discuss. But just because we might not like talking about it, doesn’t mean we can ignore it.
How big is the issue?
The facts are astounding. The problem is significant. Research from Darkness to Light (www.D2L.org), a nonprofit committed to empowering adults to prevent child abuse, finds the following:
- Experts estimate that one in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
- Thirty percent of children are abused by family members.
- As many as 60% are abused by people the family trusts.
- About 35% of victims are 11 years old or younger.
- Nearly 40% are abused by older or larger children.
- Child sexual abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, with people of all education levels, and within all religions.
- Forty-five percent of child victims keep their abuse a secret for at least five years, many stay silent for decades, and some never tell.
- Excessive drug and alcohol use is reported by 70% to 80% of sexual abuse survivors.
- One study showed that among male survivors, 50% have suicidal thoughts and more than 20% attempt suicide.
- Young girls who are sexually abused are more likely to develop eating disorders as adolescents.
- Both males and females who have been sexually abused are more likely to engage in commercially sexual activity (prostitution).
What is grooming?
Child grooming is a deliberate process by which offenders gradually initiate and maintain sexual relationships with victims in secrecy. Grooming allows the offenders to slowly overcome natural boundaries long before sexual abuse occurs.
On the surface, grooming a child can look like a close relationship between the offending adult, the targeted child, and (potentially) the child’s caregiver. The grooming process is often misleading because the offender may be well-known or highly regarded in the community. As a result, it is easy to trust them.
Darkness to Light suggests that there are six stages of grooming as outlined below:
- Targeting the child. Perpetrators target and exploit a child’s perceived vulnerabilities, including emotional neediness, isolation, neglect, a chaotic home life, lack of parental oversight, etc. In stage one, the offender pays special attention to or gives preferential treatment to a child.
- Gaining the child’s and caregiver’s trust. Perpetrators work to gain the trust of parents/caregivers to lower suspicion and gain access to the child by providing seemingly warm yet calculated attention/support. The perpetrator gains the child’s trust by gathering information about the child, getting to know their needs, and finding ways to fill them.
- Filling a need. Once the perpetrator begins to fill the child’s needs, they assume noticeably more importance in the child’s life. Perpetrators utilize tactics such as gift giving, flattery, gifting money, and meeting other basic needs. Tactics may also include increased attention and affection toward the targeted child.
- Isolating the child. The perpetrator uses isolation tactics to reinforce their relationship with the child by creating situations in which they are alone together (babysitting, one-on-one coaching, “special” trips). The perpetrator reinforces the relationship with the child by cultivating a sense that they love and understand the child in a way that others, including their parents, cannot. The adult starts to tell the child that no one cares for them the way they do, not even their parents.
- Sexualizing the relationship. Once emotional dependence and trust have been built, the perpetrator progressively sexualizes the relationship. This occurs through talking, pictures, and creating situations in which both are naked (swimming, showers). The adult exploits the child’s natural curiosity and trust using simulation to advance the sexual nature of the relationship.
- Maintaining control. Once the sexual abuse is occurring, perpetrators commonly use secrecy, blame, and threats to maintain the child’s participation and continued silence. To maintain control, perpetrators use emotional manipulation through which they make the child believe that they are the only person who can meet their emotional and material needs. The child may feel that the loss of the relationship, or the consequence of exposing it, will be more damaging and humiliating than continuing the unhealthy relationship.
Effects of child sexual abuse
The effects of child sexual abuse result in both short-term and long-term harm. Indicators include, but are not limited to, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, poor self-esteem, sleep disorders, somatization disorder (a form of mental illness), victimization in adulthood, and physical injury to the child. Sexual abuse by a family member is a form of incest and can result in more serious and long-term psychological trauma, especially in the case of parental incest.
While children may exhibit regressive behaviors such as thumb sucking or bedwetting, the strongest indicator of sexual abuse is sexual acting out and inappropriate sexual knowledge and interest. Victims may withdraw from school and social activities. They often also exhibit various learning and behavioral problems including cruelty to animals, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Teenage pregnancy and risky sexual behaviors may appear in adolescence. Of interest, child sexual abuse victims report almost four times as many incidences of inflicted harm.
A causal relationship has been found between childhood sexual abuse and various adult psychopathologies including crime, suicide, alcoholism, and drug abuse. There is also evidence that are dissociative symptoms including amnesia when chronic severe sexual abuse (i.e., penetration, several perpetrators, duration of more than one year) occurs.
Myths about child sexual abuse
There are many opinions and myths about child sexual abuse. Darkness to Light evidences the following seven common misconceptions:
- Child sexual abuse does not happen in “good” communities.
Fact: It does not matter what kind of neighborhood, town, or community you are part of. Children everywhere are at risk of abuse.
- Children are sexually abused by strange or unknown adults.
Fact: Perpetrators are not waiting on the streets to snatch kids; only 10% of sexually abused children are abused by a stranger. The other 90% of survivors are abused by someone they (or their family) know and trust.
- Children are only at risk of sexual abuse from men who are pedophiles.
Fact: Not everyone who sexually abuses children is a pedophile, or a man. Women and peer youth can also offend. Child sexual abuse is perpetrated by a wide range of individuals with diverse motivations.
- Child sexual abuse happens mostly to girls.
Fact: While it is true that females are up to five times more likely to be abused then males, boys are still at risk. Boys are much less likely to come forward with allegations of abuse due to stigma and shame, so reporting rates are much lower for this demographic.
- Child sexual abuse can cause a child to identify as “gay.”
Fact: A child’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity are neither the cause of or result of abuse. Sexual abuse has many long-term effects on a child’s life and health, but there is no evidence to suggest it plays a role in their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- LGBTQ+ adults are more likely to abuse children than straight adults.
Fact: Members of the LGBTQ+ community, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, are no more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual individuals. Gregory Herek, a professor emeritus at the University of California at Davis, reviewed a series of studies and found no evidence that gay men molest children at higher rates than heterosexual men.
- Children lie about being abused, often for attention.
Fact: Statistics show that only 4% to 8% of reports of abuse made by children are false or fabricated. In other words, between 92% and 96% of reports are true. If a child is willing to come forward, it’s rare that he or she is lying.
Child sexual abuse… the issue is deserving of your understanding and attention! S
Scott Addis is CEO of Beyond Insurance and an industry leader. His agency was recognized by Rough Notes magazine as a Marketing Agency of the Month, he was a Philadelphia finalist for Inc. magazine’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award, and was selected as one of the “25 Most Innovative Agents in America.”
Beyond Insurance is a consulting firm that offers leadership training, cultural transformation, and talent and tactical development for enlightened professionals who are looking to take their organization to the next level. Since 2007, the proven and repeatable processes of Beyond Insurance have transformed agencies.
To learn more about Beyond Insurance, contact Scott at email@example.com.