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Why Sexual Abuse is Never a Child’s Fault…Not Even a Teenager

written by, Kate Oliver, LCSW-C

English: Join the movement to end child abuse:...

English: Join the movement to end child abuse: http://www.1stand.org (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The news was atwitter this past week with the story of the judge, who has since apologized, sort of, for stating that the 14-year-old girl, Cherice Moralez, who killed herself after her teacher molested her was “older than her chronological age” and that “It’s not probably the kind of rape most people think about,”… “It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape, like you see in the movies. But it was nonetheless a rape. It was a troubled young girl, and he was a teacher. And this should not have occurred.” (cnn.com) I do not know this case, or this girl. I am not going to comment on this family’s pain other than to try to use their situation to create better understanding of all children who have experienced sexual abuse.

I have worked with people who have been molested for quite a while now and while many people know the company line is to say that it is never the victim’s fault, I do find that as adults it can be difficult to understand why we say that. It is true that 2 out of 3 teen victims know their abusers. In cases where a child knows his or her abuser, it is much more often the case that a child or teen was tricked into performing sexual acts rather than, as this judge envisioned a “forcible attack.”

Child abuse is difficult to think about, so many of us, when given the option, simply choose not to. It is not until we have someone close to us that is affected that we begin to examine our own underlying belief about abuse. I am glad when adults share what they really believe about their child’s abuse with me so that we can address the questions about whether a child participated in his or her own molestation, rather than continuing to hold onto a belief that a child might have done so, a belief that can unknowingly be conveyed to the child through actions, body language and words. In this article, I would like to address some of the questions that survivors and parents of survivors have brought to me over the years which may be difficult to answer unless you have had some time to reflect upon it:

Why didn’t the child tell anyone that he/she was being abused? Doesn’t that mean she/he might have wanted it?”

Children do not tell about abuse for a variety of reasons. Most often an abuser is someone known to the child. The abuser often tells the child that they (the child and the abuser) will be in BIG trouble if the child tells anyone. Abusers are often very good about convincing children they are participating in the wrongful behavior, even when a child says they do not want to. Sometimes an abuser suggests or threatens that if a child tells they will be removed from their home, the abuser will be fired and will not be able to take care of his family, no one will believe the child didn’t want it, that the child misinterpreted the abusers actions, and on and on. It is not difficult to convince children, even teenagers, that they are in control of whether the abuser is in trouble or not. It is a normal part of development to believe that the world in some senses revolves around us so, when an abuser presents the case that his or her world, as well as the child’s parents world and even other relatives,  revolves around the teens choice to tell or keep quiet, it becomes easier to understand how a child, even a teen, especially a teen would keep quiet. Should a teen figure out he or she has been tricked, the shame of feeling tricked can keep them quiet as well.

Yes, but my child was a teenager when this happened, he/she should have known better.”

This is probably the most common issue I hear from parents, family and friends of teens, and even the teen themselves who are abused by adult caregivers. It can be difficult to understand how teenagers who have learned about abuse, and whose parents have told them since childhood to tell if someone is abusing them would still keep from telling. I have even had adolescents who have tried to convince me that they were a party to their own abuse and that they are guilty of participating. I understand how teens and their parents can feel this way and when they do here is what I say. “Think about you two years ago. Were you different?” If you take a moment to think about the difference between a fourteen and sixteen year old, anyone who has had a child either of those ages knows there is a difference. A sixteen year old will absolutely tell you they are different from how they were two years ago, they have different friends, they know more, they have different interests or have increased their skill in an ongoing interest. Then I ask, “Do you think in two years you might be different from the way you are now? If so, what will the differences be?” Of course we all know we will be different in two years. We will have two more years worth of experience and information. We will have two more years of practicing independence, understanding relationships, etc. Last, I point out the difference in age between the abused and the abuser, say it’s fifteen years and say, “So this person had fifteen more years than you to figure out the stuff you are figuring out now. They had fifteen years more experience in relationships and getting what you want in relationships. They had fifteen more years to figure out how to talk someone into giving them what they wanted. Oh yeah, and how many serious relationships have you had?” What people often fail to realize is that for the child, this is their very first introduction to sexual relationships and they are simply outmatched by someone who has honed their skills of manipulation to lure the child into believing that they are on even cognitive ground and therefore in an equal relationship. This cannot possibly be the case when you think about it. While some teens are very good at acting mature and responsible, they do not yet have the ability to determine who is and isn’t trying to trick them and they cannot possibly have the understanding of adult relationships that only comes with experience.

“She/he always seemed older in a sexual way.”

Yes, I hear this one too and my response to this is simple…how does a child come to seem older in a sexual way in the first place? Often it does not take much looking to see why this might seem true. Is this a child that was previously sexualized by another abuser? Is this a child that has been taught that her (could be a he but I find this argument most often to be about girls) looks and looking sexual is something that is rewarded in her family? Has this child been exposed to a lot of media that encourages young girls to act in sexual ways? Does this child live in a family where you do not get noticed unless you are acting out making it easier for her to get tricked by someone who treats her special? Were these circumstances also the child’s fault, or do these circumstances explain the ways in which this child was made into a target for a predator? Just because a child has learned to act in a certain way, or dress in a certain way, it does not mean that the child has the same cognitive abilities of an adult. It does however, give manipulative abusers a heads up that they are an easier target.

While we don’t like to think about these things, it is important before we make a statement that impacts an average of 1/3 of the people in the room, that we take the time to arm ourselves with knowledge. Yes, approximately 28% of the population in the United States will be sexually victimized by the age of 17. Knowledge is power and if you want more knowledge, try some of these links:

If you want to learn more about protecting your child from abuse try my posts:

It’s Not Just Strangers: Protecting Young Children From Abuse Part I

It’s Not Just Strangers: Spotting Potential Abusers Part II

Teaching Young Children about Stranger Danger

And, if you believe anyone you know is suicidal like Cherice Moralez, please look up my posts:

Suicide Prevention: Determining if Someone is Suicidal

5 Steps to Take if Someone is Suicidal

September 1, 2013 Posted by | child development, children, counseling, family, help for parents, keeping children safe, kids, mental health, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting, psychology, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s Not Just Strangers- spotting potential abusers: Part II

Join the movement to end child abuse: www.1sta...

Join the movement to end child abuse: http://www.1stand.org (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While 96% of all abusers are men,* and men tend to be the focus of this article, it is important that we refrain from trivializing the role of women as abusers as well.  In this article, I speak mostly about men, but the same holds true for women.  Here are some tips to spot potential perpetrators or unsafe situations:

1. Look for people who are more interested in your children than their own children.  For example, if you go to a birthday party and see the father of the birthday kid paying more attention to your child than their child, take a moment to listen to the words they are saying to your child.  Are they trying to draw your child away from the crowd?  Are they excessively flattering?  Are they trying to get your child to come for a playdate even when your child seems reluctant?

2.  Pay attention to any men who are overly willing to be available to babysit, especially if they are willing to put off other, adult activities to be more available to your child for one on one time.  This is true for teenage boys and boys or girls that you know have issues but just like to hang around with your children even though your children are significantly younger.  Kids who are developmentally younger than their chronological age will still begin sexual development at the same age and if they feel more comfortable with children their own age, they are more likely to try out sexual behavior on younger children who will let them get away with it.

3.  “Grabbers” are perpetrators that take the opportunity when it presents itself.  These are, for example, the in-home, daycare provider’s brother who came to visit for a week and was in the home when you dropped your child off.  You can protect your children from those by asking any adult who is in charge of your child to tell you if there will be any other adults around your child.  If you notice a new face when you take your child to school or child care, don’t be afraid to ask.  Just do what I do and say you are an over protective parent.  Own it 🙂

4.  “Groomers” are people who take time to get a child (and parent) comfortable with them.  They may take a long time to even begin doing anything to the child.  In the meantime, they begin to seamlessly insert themselves into the family and over time, develop a relationship with the children.  Listen to your gut if you get a feeling about someone, take a minute to ask your child and get curious about how they feel when that person is around.

5.  Be visible.  Parents who are a known presence at school and day-care are less likely to have children who are victims.  Show up unannounced at child care and for school lunches if your child’s school allows it.  Volunteer a few times a year so you get to know teachers and other school personnel and they get to know you.  Know your childcare provider and, if you do not trust his or her decision-making, get a new one.

6.  Be aware of people in your own family who you know are perpetrators.  This may sound obvious, however, I have met enough people by now who allowed their child to be around the grandparent who abused the parent, yet the parent felt if they were watchful enough, their child would not get hurt, or hoped that the perpetrator had changed enough that they would not do that to their grandchild.  Similarly, if you are a divorced parent and abuse was an issue during your marriage, or you knew that your child’s other parent was harming or neglecting the children, if possible, protect your child from being alone with that parent.  Wikipedia reports that, “the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that for each year between 2000 and 2005, “female parents acting alone” were most likely to be perpetrators of child abuse.”  **  If someone is a known perpetrator to you, do not allow your child to be alone with them.  Stepfathers and fathers respectively are the most likely to be reported as perpetrators of sexual abuse for girls 10 and older according to childabuse.org.

7.  Listen to your child.  Children, especially young children, often disclose information that we do not catch if we are not listening.  If a child says something that causes you concern, be curious and ask them about it to clarify what they are talking about.  Sometimes because our young children are so sexually innocent, they don’t even know that there was anything out-of-order with what happened and they just tell you about it.

I want to conclude by being perfectly clear, that there is no guarantee that our children will never deal with an abusive caretaker.  However, the likelihood that a child will identify a problem to you sooner, so that you may take action immediately will be increased by talking to your child and being aware of the tricks of abusers.

Related Articles:

*http://www.child-abuse-effects.com/male-sex-offenders.html

**http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_abuse#cite_ref-31

May 18, 2012 Posted by | child development, help for parents, keeping children safe | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Qualities of good programs to prevent child abuse

PEARL HARBOR (April 23, 2010) Mara MacDonald, ...

PEARL HARBOR (April 23, 2010) Mara MacDonald, from the Navy New Parent Support Home Visitation Program, leads a group of new mothers and their babies in an infant massage class. The program is administered by the Navy Region Hawaii Fleet & Family Support Center and assists new parents and expecting parents with home visits, information on parenting, referrals, support groups and nurturing skills. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason Swink/Released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my final post (for now) about programs to prevent child abuse, I thought I would highlight some qualities of programs I have seen that effectively work to prevent child abuse. As a reminder, my original start to this series of posts was a question posed on another blog about how we can prevent child abuse and child deaths.

1.  The first quality any program providing aid to people who could use parenting help is compassion/ empathy.  I know this may seem like a no-brainer, but some programs I have seen seem to leave this element out.  No one wants to go to a program to hear how awful they are, thus confirming their internal fear that they are, in fact, awful.  A compassionate program understands that all parents experience fear, that we are all doing the best we can, and that none of us have children thinking we are looking forward to messing them up as much as possible.  Acknowledging this over and over is an important part of any program seeking to help parents.

2.  Normalizing getting help is an incredibly important part of any program seeing to end child abuse.  Highlighting the diversity of parents, race, class, and gender, who seek help is also incredibly helpful.  This is, in my opinion, best achieved by having mentors that have completed the same or a similar program and are a representation of the general client population of the program.  For example, if this is a program aimed toward parents experiencing postpartum depression, you would want a parent mentor or group leader who has experienced this and is regularly available to participants.

3.  Good programs focus on the importance of parents in a child’s life.  For regular followers of my posts, you know I had to mention attachment :).  But seriously, the cornerstone of a good program that prevents child abuse absolutely needs to highlight the impact parents have on their children.  I think people sometimes think it is a given that parents know how important they are to their children, but for people struggling with parenting- perhaps people whose parents were not ideal either- I find that many of these parents feel disempowered to make change in their child’s life.  A good program reminds a parent of just how important they are.

4.  The final quality I would like to highlight is that a good program helps people to build a supportive community.  Good programs build communities so that if the program is ever unavailable, the learning and growing continues among the members of the community.

Some good programs I know of in my area are:

The Healthy Families program where parents are met in the hospital by someone from the program and are given support if they request it.  Support can include getting help with access to services or forming a group of other new parents in the community.  While there are healthy families programs all over the country, you can find the one near me here: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/howard_county_general_hospital/services/mothers_and_babies/healthy_families/index.html

The National Family Resiliency Center (NFRC) is a center for families experiencing a family transition and for parents where there is any need for co-parenting agreements.  NFRC has been a national leader in helping court systems to recognize that when parents separate it is important to keep in mind the best interests of the child.  They provide individual, couples, group counseling for parents and children, reunification and collaborative divorce services as well as very good classes for parents and children who are experiencing the transition process.  Additionally, NFRC helps parents who would like to have co-parent agreements and low-conflict divorce.  One way they do this is with an on-line program, www.familyconnex.org to help parents make decisions that are in the best interests of the children.  Here is the link to NFRC’s website: www.nfrchelp.org

The Infants and Toddlers program, which is part of the educational system but may go by different names in other states, identifies infants who may have developmental delays and helps parents by offering resources for children birth-5 years with the combination of services they might need to get them school ready.  You can find them here: http://marylandpublicschools.org/MSDE/divisions/earlyinterv/infant_toddlers/about/message.htm

There are many more, but these programs I mentioned in particular, although they target different populations, offer the combination of qualities important for a program aiming to prevent child abuse.  While they might not even directly target child abuse, they are organizations that can recognize and report possible abuse, and that may help to prevent it in the first place though education and service.

What do you think?  Do you know of any good programs that have been effective in your area in preventing abuse?  I would love to hear about them.  Also, did I miss any qualities of effective programs to help parents?

April 20, 2012 Posted by | help for parents, social services | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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