Sexual Abuse: It's not what you might think it is
By Tenna Perry
I do a great deal of writing on the subject
of child sexual abuse and often
get e-mail responses from readers. These responses often
vary in tone but
one in particular surprised me when I read it. At first I
was worried that
my article was too ambiguous and that I hadn't gotten my
point across; that I had leapt from one point to another
the way I often do when speaking with my husband, leaving
blanks that she (or the reader) needs to fill in.
The comment dealt with the reader's perception of sexual
abuse and that it occurs because it is "A total concentration
on physical pleasure, a
pre-occupation with the genitals...nothing to do with the
In this supposed enlightened time with all the media attention
that has been focused on child sexual abuse, I find it amazing
that people still consider it a "crime of passion." It
isn't. Child sexual abuse is a form of
domination and mental/physical control that just happens
to have a sexual
For those who have never experienced child sexual abuse
or rape, you may have a difficult time understanding that
it isn't about sexual
gratification. If abuse or rape were about gratification,
it could easily be
had for $50 on almost any Main Street in America, or for
the cost of a
little hand lotion and a few minutes of privacy in the bathroom.
Sexual abuse occurs when the act becomes criminally and
morally wrong. The pleasure doesn't come from the sexual
act so much as the violation and domination of someone else.
Specifically, there is a victim who is
emotionally and physically weaker than the one receiving
and there is force, coercion, threats or violence involved.
In cases of incest, there often isn't any physical violence
such as beating,
strangulation or weapons involved. With incest, there isn't
a need for such
things because the threat is already established even if
it hasn't been
spoken of out loud. The threat of physical punishment, banishment
from home, withholding of food, clothing and basic necessities,
not to mention the "Honor thy mother and thy father" routine
is already engraved into the
child's mind. Children are taught from infancy to obey their
serious consequences may occur.
At the same time, children may be told, "If you tell,
you will go to jail.
If you don't do what I say, I will kill (child's pet, mother,
sister, etc). You know you like it/you asked for it."
The child molester plays the child like a pianist does his
molester knows exactly what keys will get the desired results.
These results are the total acquiescence of the victim's
mind and body as well as the willingness of the victim to
keep the secret. Because the victim feels
guilty and ashamed, the victim all too often submits to the
abuse and never says anything. These same feelings of guilt
and shame can carry over into adulthood and the victim often
becomes an abuser or marries an abuser, which in turn allows
the cycle of abuse to continue.
A common misconception is that vaginal/anal intercourse
is what constitutes child sexual abuse. While intercourse
with a child is indeed child sexual abuse, it is by no means
the only form.
Digital or foreign body penetration, touching or forcing
the child to touch
the breasts or genital area, and fellatio are all types of
sexual abuse, but
they aren't the only ones.
A child is abused if forced to watch or participate in pornography;
watched bathing or undressing for the sexual pleasure of
someone else; is
forced to watch someone else masturbate, engage in sexual
activities or made to endure sexual innuendos, comments or
lewd conversations. These last three are often hard for some
to accept as sexual abuse because of the differing opinions
of what is considered sexual or lewd.
Simply put, it is what
makes the child uncomfortable. While a 12- or 13-year-old
girl may engage in conversation with a friend about how "cute" a
boy in her class is, a father/brother/uncle/grandfather/mother/adult
family friend who makes pointed comments about the girl's
growing breasts, sexual activities, sexuality or anything
along those lines is being abusive and out of line. They
are degrading and embarrassing to the child and, in turn,
make him or her feel self-conscious and "dirty." As
a matter of fact, boys are often made to feel they are different
or lacking in some way because they aren't "getting
On the other hand, when a 12- or 13-year-old boy is caught
engaging in any sexual activity with a 16-year-old or older
female babysitter, he isn't
considered abused but will often be greeted with an "Atta
boy, that's MY
When does it stop being child sexual abuse though? At what
age does it
change from child sexual abuse to sexual abuse or harassment?
varies according to state. The age of consent isn't something
universal. Then there is the question of consent itself.
Many would argue that a ten-year-old whose father insists
on intercourse is being forced but that same child at 16
should be able to stop it. What if
the child becomes an adult and for various reasons is forced
living in the house with his abuser? What if the abuser doesn't
interest in the child once she reaches 18, 20 or even older?
When does it
stop being the sickness of the elder and become the fault
of the younger?
Personally, I feel it is always the sickness of the adult
abuser. No one who
has gone through incest can understand the hold the abuser
has over the
child. The intimidation and terror s/he causes. Those emotions
disappear at a magical coming of age. They don't necessarily
after the child has left home and gone out in the world alone.
What "Daddy" or "Mother" may think, say
or do can still rule what the adult child does. How and where
she lives, what careers are chosen and the relationships
that may or may not be made.
It is only through a concentrated effort at recovery and
healing that the
chains that have bound the victim of child sexual abuse are
broken and she becomes a survivor. This recovery doesn't
come quickly or without cost. It requires a great deal of
courage, pain, suffering, focus and determination on the
part of the survivor. There is no quick fix for recovery
and there are times the survivor will become discouraged
and want to quit.
Recovery and healing from child sexual abuse also requires
a great deal of
patience, understanding, and emotional as well as, possibly,
support from those who are "allies" of the one
in recovery. This is
especially true for the spouses or significant others of
the survivors. Many
times, the allies will take a ride into hell on the shirttails
survivors. Marriages and relationships are questioned, foundations
and some don't survive the battle. Others become stronger
and the love
deeper, more intense.
The healing of the survivor isn't an easy path but it is
worth the trials
and tribulations involved. The emotional baggage created
by child sexual
abuse will not disappear on its own. Moving on can be faked
for years but
eventually it will be impossible to do so without first facing
acknowledging it happened, and accepting the fact that the
victim was not the one at fault. While forgiveness of the
abuser may be for some, I don't personally feel it is a necessary
part of the recovery process. I do believe forgiveness of
the victim himself is though. He has to know in both mind
and heart that there was nothing that could have been done.
The victim didn't bring the abuse upon himself. There is
no guilt or shame that should be felt by the victim. The
victim did nothing wrong. Once these things are accepted,
the victim becomes a survivor and can move on with life.