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Home -> Sexuality For Parents -> Sex Abuse

Sex Abuse, Its Aftermath, Diagnoses and Clinical Characteristics

For Parents

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 frightening, but unfortunately this may happen. An abuser, many times, tries to disguise 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 the use of force, the victim trying to get away and the abuser pretending he doesn’t understand, keeping on with the abuse;
  • Even aware that the victim is not comfortable and dislikes the caresses, 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

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