Sex abuse is characterized by the involvement of children and adolescents
in sexual activities inappropriate either to their chronological age
or to their psychosexual development. They do not have the capacities
of discernment and consent. These sexual activities correspond to some
kind of sexual games, even without penetration, such as oral sex or
making use of children in films or pictures for pornographic means.
Such practice takes place at any social level with predominance for
the less privileged, since it generally occurs in a violent way, what
makes the presentation of charge more frequent.
The practice of sex abuse generally results in a feeling of discomfort
and rage, producing even among the most pacific citizens a state of
great anger due to the impotence that this kind of violence inspires.
But still, the most frequent reaction is denial or underestimation.
Sex abuse will always be considered an aggression, though it may
be classified in different categories: sensorial abuses, which include
pornography, exhibitionism, sexualized language; abuse by stimulation
(intimate caresses, masturbation, incomplete genital contacts) or
abuse by accomplishment (attempt to violation or oral, genital or
anal penetration). It can also be classified as interfamilial and
non-familial. It is important to emphasize that reports on sex abuse
demonstrate that family members or people who generally share the
trust of the family most frequently practice it. on the other hand,
sex abuse of adolescents is generally practiced by unknown people.
When a family member or a close person to the victim practices the
sex abuse it is called incest.
Sex abuse sometimes is disguised by “caress” by the abuser. That’s
but unfortunately this may happen. An abuser, many times, tries to
his sex abuse by claiming having just made some caresses on the victim
with “all the respect”, with no sexual connotation. For example:
- Caresses with sexual connotation, lubricious acts even without
of force, the victim trying to get away and the abuser pretending
understand, keeping on with the abuse;
- Even aware that the victim is not comfortable and dislikes the
the abuser goes on with his attempt taking advantage of the victim’s
lack of experience, who faces the situation in a passive way, embarrassed
by the situation, not getting to stop the abuser.
Even grandfathers act as abusers of their own grandchildren. They
use their authority over the children and commit the child abuse.
The victims try to get away but bow down to the abuser’s will, precisely
because of his family authority.
Sex abuse is always a responsibility of the abuser, not provoked
by the victim. Yet, there is an effective participation in the abuse,
which consists of the relationship aspect of the incident.
Distinction between the legal definition of responsibility and the
psychological definition of taking part on the abuse is generally
misunderstood. There are two kinds of active participation. The great
majority of the sexually abused children plays no active role in the
start of the abuse, but every child takes part on the abusive interaction,
even when compelled against his/her will. In order to better comprehend
what has just been said, there is the example of a girl who was a
victim of sex abuse for years and who reported the way her father
used to act in order to consummate the abuse. Her father used to ask
her to bring him some tea at his workshop office where he worked.
Every time he did this she knew what was about to happen - sex abuse.
Although no real violence was necessary, the child had no choice and
was forced to obey his will through threats. In this example the child
had an active role in the abuse, which became the most significant
relationship of her life and, of course, the most harmful one as
well. Many times, when the abuse includes no physical violence, the
victim may “learn to enjoy” the sensations caused by the sex abuse,
once her erogenous zones are stimulated, resulting some pleasure
from it – THIS DOES NOT DISQUALIFY THE SEX ABUSE, once the child’s
sexual development and maturity were precociously violated aside her
discernment. The guilty feeling that takes the child by assault has
its origin on her incorrect sense of responsibility that comes from
the fact that she took part on the abuse as well as from the fear
of the consequences of revealing it. This increases her low self-esteem
and will derive later behavior particular of people who were sexually
abused in their childhood.
To identify a case of sex abuse is not an easy task at consultation
rooms. Many times truth emerges because the child’s report makes no
sense. once the psychologists notice they’re in front of a case of
sex abuse they should change their approach form a merely interpretative
one to an investigative one. Frequently, what may seem as an unconscious
matter or “dirty fantasies” may actually be a secret attempt of telling
the occurrence of sex abuse. That’s why identification of the abuse
is so complex, considering the fear, shame and guilt in abundant doses
that contribute for the resistance of the child to reveal it.
Most frequently, no physical definitive evidence may prove the occurrence
of sex abuse, although there may be signals pointing to this direction,
such as bruises, pain and itch in the genital zone. Rectal or genital
bleeding may indicate sexual molestation. Difficulty to sit or walk
and the presence of sexually transmitted diseases bring suspicion
on sex abuse.
Psychological and physical effects may be devastating. Children sexually
stimulated by adults may be possessed by anxiety and excessive excitation,
lose their self-confidence and become rebel. Seduction, incest and
rape are important predisposing aspects of later symptoms like phobias,
anxieties and depression. Children assaulted by them tend to be unable
to deal with their own aggressive impulses towards other people or
with alien hostility directed towards them.
The crisis provoked by the sex abuse will be brought to life again
during some time through periods of higher tension, which will alternate
reactions from depression to anxiety. That’s why the opportunity of
talking about it as soon as possible should be offered to the child
or adolescent, since the later the problem is discussed the more harmful
its consequences can be.
By Adriana Sommer da Costa
Psychologist and Sexologist