Understanding Childhood Sexual Abuse
A young girl cries in her room and begins scratching her arm or leg until it bleeds. She calls herself Emo, short for emotive or emotional. She may try alcohol or drugs at a young age. She may even go further and try to kill herself. Yet, in all this turmoil, she fails to tell anyone what the problem may be. Talking about the problem may seem unimaginable, or impossible. Even her closest friends know nothing of what might be going on, other than the girl is a bit odd. Though the possible causes for such behavior could be any number of things, these symptoms often point to childhood sexual abuse, and recognizing them early is critical.
On the average, one in five girls has experienced some form of childhood sexual abuse, including rape (Levenkron & Levenkron, 2007, p. 11). Often the offender is a family member, whether it be a father, brother, or step-father or step-brother. Teachers, mentors, trusted members of the community can all be suspect. It is because of this that getting victims to open up is difficult.
In the 1800’s, childhood sexual abusers were rarely convicted due to the mistaken belief that young girls could not be raped. It was also not believed that any woman could be raped if they didn’t allow it. In a book published in the 1890’s entitled Medical Jurisprudence, Forensic Medicine, and Toxicology, it was written that “a fully matured woman, in full possession of her faculties, cannot be raped, contrary to her desire, by a single man” (Bourke, 2007, p. 25). Victims had no where to turn, no one to believe them, and no one to defend them if they spoke up. Lawyers wouldn’t take the case because rape cases could rarely be won. Women were suspected of lying about such abuse, and in a male dominated society they had no chance at justice.
Today we have learned that women have in fact been victimized. Sadly, it has not been limited to the mature adult women of our society. Young girls, even toddlers and babies are not safe from predators. We are, however, able to recognize the symptoms of abuse, and if acted on quickly enough, we can minimize the damage done in an effort to allow these poor souls to lead productive and happy lives.
The symptoms of childhood sexual abuse can be broken down into several major categories. They are self mutilation, aggressively seductive or fearful of others, feeling guilt over sexual arousal, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, early alcohol or drug addictions, sleeplessness, recurring nightmares, and mood or anxiety disorders.
Self mutilation can take many forms. The most common is cutting. Cutting takes on two forms. The most common is what is referred to as delicate cutters, where the abused takes to scratching oneself with a sharp, or sharpened object to draw a small amount of blood. The victim sees this as a pain that they can control. Often they make several scratches on the first layer of their skin, and though scaring is possible, these usually heal without a trace of the act. Gross cutters use sharp objects such as knives or razor blades to cut deeper into the skin which may lead to scarring. Often this action is mistaken for acts of committing suicide. As with delicate cutters, the abused looks upon this act as a pain that they can control.
Abuse victims often become either overly seductive, or fearful of others. This is often reflected in their dress by either dressing overly seductively, or dressing down to hide their features.
Often, as the abused reaches maturity, they feel a sense of guilt over feelings of sexual arousal. They associate the normal, pleasurable feelings they experience with the feelings they may have had when they were being abused. This can cause sexual dysfunction, displeasure, and feelings of guilt.
Eating disorders are very common among sexually abused children. The symptoms range from anorexia; abstaining from eating, bulimia; eating and then regurgitating, and compulsive overeating.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is very common among the sexually abused.
Alcoholism and drug addiction at an early age is another symptom of the sexually abused child. The child looks at this as a means of escape in much the same way as someone would use these vices to escape any other problem in life. The sexually abused child might display signs of addiction sooner than the average adolescent.
It is not uncommon for the sexually abused child to show signs of sleeplessness. They often stay up later watching television, writing poetry or in a journal, or just lying awake. Though often tired, sleep does not come. When sleep does come, it may often be accompanied by nightmares.
Many sexually abused children face mood or anxiety disorders brought on by low self esteem, guilt, and shame.
The treatment of the sexually abused child is not cut and dried. It is important to break through the victim’s protective shell. We must find a way into their guarded world in order to break down the walls that they have set up to protect themselves. We must find the way to relieve them of their psychosis, mood disorders, and anxiety.
Statistically, as the victims of sexual child abuse face a tough road. Often as they grow into adulthood they find themselves in failed relationships. The often become alcoholics or drug abusers. Some turn to lesbianism to combat the feelings of fear and resentment towards the male gender. If caught early enough the abused will have a better than average chance at leading a normal life. Childhood sexual abuse, though not preventable, is detectable, identifiable, and with the proper amount of care and caring, survivable.
Levenkron, S. & Levenkron, A. (2007). Stolen Tomorrows: Understanding and Treating Women’s Childhood Sexual Abuse. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Bourke, J. (2007). Rape: Sex Violence History. Great Britain: Virago Press
Watkins, C. (Ed). (2007). At Issue: Date Rape. Farmington Hills: Greenhaven Press