Child sexual abuse victims need our support, not blame

Written by Racheal Hebert, LMSW
Executive Director at STAR

According to local news sources, last week five men and one woman were arrested in connection to the multiple rapes of a 12-year-old girl in Port Allen, LA.  WBRZ reported that Ivy Martin, a registered sex offender, began raping the young girl after a period of grooming, where he gave her gifts and money. Shortly after, Martin invited others to join in perpetrating the sexual abuse, which occurred on a weekly basis over the course of several months.

News of this story has caused some to question the motives and validity of the victim’s actions, suggesting that because the victim delayed reporting of the crime or because she didn’t fight back, that she somehow consented to the multiple and frequent acts of sexual abuse. These reactions exemplify what we at STAR know, which is that child sexual abuse is a complex and deeply rooted social problem that can be difficult to comprehend, largely because conversations about child sexual abuse can be uncomfortable and difficult to have. As a result, we witness pervasive misunderstandings of the issue.

What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse is a violation of trust and power that can affect children of all ages, from birth to age 17. Research shows that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before they reach the age of 18. [1] Some research shows that as many as one in three girls and one in seven boys will be sexually abused by age of 17 [2]. Abuse can be in many forms including sexual acts such as rape and other types of penetration, inappropriate touching, voyeurism, exhibitionism, pornography, child sexual exploitation and Internet-based child sexual abuse.

Most people who sexually abuse children are adults and are usually known by the child (93% of victims know their perpetrator). Of those who sexually abuse children, nearly 77% are adults and 23% are juveniles. [3] Children feel confused when a person they know and trust violates them, therefore they are reluctant to come forward and report the abuse. Many people who sexually abuse children will manipulate or threaten the child in an attempt to keep their victim silent. Children want the abuse to stop, but fear what might happen if they report it.

Effects of Child Sexual Abuse

The effects of child sexual abuse can affect the victim for many years and into adulthood. Several studies have documented that people with child sexual abuse histories experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance use disorders, suicidal tendencies and chronic illness such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes than people who were not abused. Issues with trust, self-esteem and emotional regulation can result in problems in interpersonal relationships. Additionally, high levels of anxiety in these adults can result in self-destructive behaviors. According to the American Psychological Association, many victims encounter problems in their adult relationships. The effects of abuse also impact educational attainment, job retention and earnings.

RESOURCES, HELP & PREVENTION

»        Find help. In the Greater Baton Rouge area, STAR provides free and confidential advocacy and counseling services to sexual trauma survivors and their loved ones aged 12 and older; learn more by calling (225) 615-7093 or by visiting www.brstar.org.The Baton Rouge Children’s Advocacy Center also provides counseling services to children 18 and younger; learn more by calling (225) 343-1984 or by visiting www.batonrougecac.org.

»        Report it. Adults who suspect child sexual abuse are urged to report by calling 1-855-4LA-KIDS (1-855-452-5437) or local law enforcement officials. If you aren’t sure what to do and would like to talk to a specifically-trained sexual trauma counselor you can contact STAR’s 24-hour resource hotline at (225) 383-7273 (RAPE).

»        Get Educated: Adults can invite local rape crisis centers or child advocacy agencies to teach their churches or civic groups about prevention and encourage school districts to do the same. STAR has a child sexual abuse prevention training for adults called Darkness to Light: Stewards of Children available to parents, service providers and community members. Learn more by calling (225) 615-7093 or visiting www.brstar.org.

»        Talk about it: Parents, guardians and caregivers can foster open communication with children, establish personal boundaries, help children identify adults they can trust, monitor children’s online usage and be role models by promoting healthy relationships. Find tools at http://www.d2l.org/.

References:

[1] Tjaden, P. and Thoennes, N. (2000). Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice. www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/183781.pdf

[2] Briere, J., & Elliott, D. M. (2003). Prevalence and psychological sequelae of self-reported childhood physical and sexual abuse in general population. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27, 1205-1222. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2003.09.008

[3] Snyder, H. N. (2000) Sexual assault of young children as reported to law enforcement: Victim, incident and offender characteristics (NCJ 182990). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. Retrieved from Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/saycrle.pdf

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About Catherine Thurmond

I am a Master of Liberal Arts student minoring in Women's and Gender Studies at LSU. During the Fall 2014 semester, I will begin to write her thesis on queer oppression through a philosophical Marxist feminist lens. My academic interests include second wave feminism, queer theory, queer Marxist feminism, feminist philosophy, Simone de Beauvoir, and Monique Wittig. I have been politically active since 2010, fighting for an end to oppression under capitalism. I was involved in Occupy NOLA, bringing in members of The Kasama Project, a national communist project in the United States. I was also active in student organizations at Southeastern Louisiana University where I organized many speaker events for activists such as Jordan Flaherty, Richard Becker, The Beehive Design Collective, Jed Brandt and Eric Ribellarsi, and Malik Rahim. More recently, I began volunteering for STAR, Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response, in 2013 as a hospital advocate where I supported sexual assault survivors. I later joined the Louisiana Delta Service Corps, often described as the Domestic Peace Corps, where I interviewed to be placed at STAR as their Outreach Coordinator. I am also the founder of a Feminist Consciousness Raising Group in Baton Rouge which uses feminist theory to discuss personal experiences under patriarchal oppression. Check it out here for more info about the group: http://brfeminist.wix.com/consciousnessraising

One thought on “Child sexual abuse victims need our support, not blame

  1. Pingback: Do survivors blame themselves? Can they change this? | Trauma and Dissociation

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