Addressing Sexual Abuse

 

By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.

 

One of the hardest problems a parent will ever face is the problem of sexual abuse. When a parent realizes that their child has been sexually molested, the parent will normally respond with an intense grieving reaction. The reason for this response comes from a profound feeling of loss. The parent typically views the event of sexual abuse as taking something away from them. The planned innocence and the process of gaining sexual information in a gradual, natural sequence is no longer an option to the parent or the child. This loss, this changed pathway to sexual knowledge brings with it much anger, sadness, and confusion.

This loss is normally unexpected and most parents have not thought about or prepared for such an event. As a result, each parent responds in his or her own unique way. After the initial shock, when the parent turns their attention to the needs of the child, the healing/learning process begins.

This healing process for the child and the parent is facilitated when both have knowledge. Knowledge about the healing process will empower both the parent and the child and avoid the typical response of secretiveness, embarrassment, and victim thinking that can occur without this knowledge.

The most important knowledge for the child to learn is that the experience forced on them by the adult is not their fault. Children, because they are children, do not and cannot request or force an adult to hurt them. They usually do not understand this. In their mind (or told them by the perpetrator) this ďsecretĒ behavior is caused by them. Therefore it is important that the adults who are part of the childís world are non-condemning in their relationship with the child.

One may think that if the perpetrator is charged, arrested, convicted, and placed in jail, the problem is solved. This may finalize things for the adults, but not so for the child unless the child is helped to understand that actions in the court are a result of the perpetrators behavior and are not related to what the child has done or experienced. As adults we realize that when the molester goes to jail that society places the responsibly on the adult, not the child. The child may not figure this out without help.

It is also important for the parent and the child to recognize the molestation for what it is. It is an act of violence not love. Responsible sexual behavior is caring in nature, molestation is not. When one person thinks only of him or herself with no concern for another it is an act of violence. When you are assaulted sexually you are not experiencing love. If your are hit with a frying pan you are not involved in a cooking experience.

If the parent can see sexual molestation as an act of violence then the process of helping the child is simplified. It is handled in a manner similar to any other hurt inflicted on a child. When someone hits your child you see this as hurtful but not life damaging. Emotions do not get out of hand and life goes on. Donít allow your child to view him or herself as permanently damaged. Such a self-image can be more devastating to the child then the molestation itself.

A child who feels like the act of molestation has changed them forever will sometimes behave as if they have little worth and justify anger. The anger can lead to revenge thinking which allows the molested child to justify the molestation of someone else. The reasoning goes something like this, "I was hurt and had to suffer. I am no good. Why try to be what I am not. Iíll take care of number one even if others have to suffer. After all, I had to suffer. Thatís what life is all about.Ē

If the parent can see the child as valuable and views the act of molestation as no different than other acts of violence then the child will be better able to recognize the molestation as something that shouldnít have happened but did. The molestation was someone elseís fault. Iím back in control with adults who will protect and guide me. Iím ok, now letís make a life!!

Some tips for working with young victims are as follow:

1.  Establish rules. Young children are rule based. To the rule of, "People are not for hitting" add the rule "Private parts of others are not for touching."

2.  Monitor, monitor, monitor. When a young child is monitored time goes by and the opportunity for secret acts of sexual exploration with knowledge gained from the molestation experience passes. Then, when the child is ready, sexual knowledge can be given in an open healthy manner.

3.  Don't keep the molestation a guarded secret. Let those who need to know, know, so they can help you and your child. This avoids the trap of "family secrets." Family secrets make it possible to avoid real help. These secrets can create an environment that supports family incest and molestation.

4.  You teach, teach, and teach. Because the child that has been molested has premature sexual information, make yourself available to answer questions. Answer questions with honest, candid information. Lack of sexual knowledge is one of the hallmarks of a molester. The more information your child has about appropriate, caring, responsible sex the better decisions he/she can make regarding their own sexual choices.

5.  Help your child understand the feelings of others. Children who have been molested may feel that their feelings do not matter and that they do not need to be concerned about others. To become a responsible sexual being your child needs to recognize that appropriate sex is mutual, caring, and never selfish in nature.

6.  Do not give up hope. Being molested does not automatically lead to distorted views about sex. Young children are plastic. They can adapt to most anything life can throw them. It is the adults who have a hard time changing. Stand by your kid help them even if they choose to be mad, frustrated, or rebellious.

When a child experiences any kind of violence or abuse it can be damaging to him or her. But any kind of trauma, including sexual molestation, can be faced and can be overcome if the parent is there to knowledgeably guide the child.