Child 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 intellect."

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 aspect.

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 the gratification, 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 parents or 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, brother, sister, etc). You know you like it/you asked for it."

The child molester plays the child like a pianist does his piano. The 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; is 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 any."

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 son!"

When does it stop being child sexual abuse though? At what age does it change from child sexual abuse to sexual abuse or harassment? Legally, it varies according to state. The age of consent isn't something that is 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 to continue living in the house with his abuser? What if the abuser doesn't lose 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 don't disappear at a magical coming of age. They don't necessarily even diminish 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, financial 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 of the survivors. Marriages and relationships are questioned, foundations shaken 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 the past, 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.

Tenna Perry lives happily in the country with her husband, three children, five collies, one cat and a hedgehog with an attitude. She writes on a variety of subjects but dedicates a great deal of her writing time on fighting all forms of child abuse. She is the founder/editor of the ezine Survivor Haven, Abuse and Safety editor at Busy Parents Online and contributing editor on child sexual abuse at


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