Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse means forcing or manipulating a child to take part in sexual activity.
It can take many forms, for example:
- being made to look at pornography,
- being made to watch sexual acts,
- being watched in a sexual way (A child may feel violated by this but there is currently no direct law against it in Ireland),
- being touched in a sexual way,
- being made to masturbate or to masturbate the abuser,
- sexual assault (Section 4 rape) involving penetration, however slight, by a hand or object,
- being raped. This involves penetration of the mouth, anus or vagina by an object, a finger or a penis.
Child sexual abuse is often not physically violent but it will always have effects on the development of the child's psyche. A child may be abused once or every day for many years.
Sexual abusers of children are as varied as the locations where the abuse takes place. But, more often than not, the abuser is a family member or authority figure and is trusted by the child.
The sexual abuse of a child is rarely a random act. It usually involves planning and preparation to gain and maintain access to the child. Abusers often use repetition, routine and ritual to force children to do the things the abuser wants, to instil fear and to ensure silence. For instance, an abusing father may use nursery rhymes, prayers, bath times or teddy bears in this way. Gifts, secrets, elaborate games, dressing up or taking photographs may also be part of an abuser's ritual preparation of the child.
Why is there such silence?
As a child:
- They are often too afraid to tell someone at the time.
- They may tell someone who does not believe them.
- The abuser may have blamed the child, saying the child was bad or different.
- Abusers sometimes threaten terrible consequences if the child tells, for example death or being sent away.
- The child may 'tell' but in ways that people around them do not understand.
- The impact of the abuse may include the child feeling that telling will not make any difference.
- The abuser may still be in the child's life with power to control events and circumstances.
- The child may be, or feel, dependent on the abuser.
- The child may be convinced by the abuser that nobody but the abuser cares about them.
- The child may love the abuser.
As an adult:
- They may find it is still difficult to trust anyone enough to tell them the full story.
- They may not want to remember as they fear being overwhelmed by painful memories that bring back feelings of guilt and shame, terror, self-disgust, depression and fear.
- They may feel they just want to forget the past, but can't.
- They may feel they should be 'over it' by now and may be told this by people who are trying to be supportive.
What are the effects of silence?
A survivor of child sexual abuse may:
- have nightmares or flashbacks,
- lack confidence,
- dislike themselves, blame themselves, or mistreat themselves by starving, over-eating, abusing drink or drugs, or other self-harming behaviours,
- find it hard to trust people,
- feel they don't deserve to be loved or happy, or to have relationships that help them to feel good,
- feel fearful for their own children and worry about being over-protective,
- find sex is a problem because it triggers memories of abuse or because they feel under pressure to prove they are sexually 'normal' and unaffected by the abuse.
Too much to cope with alone
Unfortunately, in our society survivors of child sexual abuse often never tell anyone or only find the strength and courage to do so long after the abuse has stopped. The good news is that it is never too late and many survivors have benefited from counselling years after the abuse.