The subject of sexual abuse and child molestation is one of the most feared, politicized, talked about, and dwelled upon types of child abuse. Yet it is also without a doubt one of the least understood subjects of our day. So in this section, we debunk some of the more common myths about sexual abuse and give parents a more accurate understanding about the who’s, what’s, how’s, when’s, where’s, and why’s of this subject:
No Easy Answers
Throughout the media, this subject is generally promoted as black and white. Molesters are monsters, children are horribly traumatized, and it’s an awfully good thing that DA’s and detectives are there to save the day. In real life, however, this issue is anything but black and white. Consider that . . .
The conflict unleashed in response to such experiences is generally more destructive to a child’s welfare than the events themselves. (Weiner, 1962; Kaufman et al., 1954; Walters, 1975; Nelson, 1981; GCF, 2009b)
Children who endure a criminal trial are 10 times more likely to become disturbed and remain disturbed than those who are not subjected to legal intervention. (Runyan, Everson & Edelsohn, 1988) In no uncertain terms, the district attorneys and prison-pushing child advocates are frequently more abusive towards children than the person they are prosecuting. (GCF, 2009a)
*Even a federally funded study concludes that “there is neither sufficient evidence of harm nor sufficient optimism for treatment to justify legal intervention” in most cases of sexual abuse. (Schacter, 1976)
*Most cases involve someone the child knows and likes, often an important person in their life. Therefore, creating more conflict and pushing prison is the worst possible way to respond, and leads to lost attachment, psychological conflict, and more guilt for the child. (GCF, 2009b)
*Children often respond to sexual contact in positive ways; something that society generally ignores but that virtually all large-scale community studies have shown. (Rind, Tromovitch & Bauserman, 1998; Walters, 1975; Constantine & Martinson, 1981) Ignoring this reality often saddles a child with unnecessary guilt and shame. (GCF, 2009a; GCF, 2009b)
*Therefore, it’s been noted in law journals (Virkunnen, 1975; Money, 1979) and much of the psychological literature (Rind, Tromovitch & Bauserman, 1998; Kilpatrick, 1987; Okami, 1990; Nelson, 1989; Gibbens & Prince, 1963; Burton, 1968; among others) that the legal distinction of “victim’ and “perpetrator” isn’t always accurate, since children often willingly participate and sometimes even initiate such contact.
Why do we dare to speak about such taboo realizations? Because a failure to acknowledge the true elements of the experience and often split-nature of this issue frequently leads to us responding in ways harmful to kids.
Walters (1975) argued that the damage in most cases was not due to the events themselves, but to the way they were handled, and that well-meaning parents and officials often caused much of the harm. In another widely cited paper Bender and Grudgett (1952) note that “at first the children showed no guilt, but this tended to develop as they were separated from (the perpetrator), and as they were exposed to the opinion of parents and court officials.” Summarizing the research, psychologist Larry Constantine (1981, p. 227) states, “many reviews and overviews on incest and child ‘molestation’ state that the reactions of parents and other adults can be more frightening to children than the sexual experiences themselves.”
Indeed, numerous studies caution that a callous and over-reactive response can deliver much of the disturbance children suffer from sexual abuse. (Moor, 1992; Kendall-Tackett, Wiliiams & Finkelhor, 1993; Bullough & Bullough, 1977; Money, 1985; Seligman, 1994; Ingram, 1979; Hall, 1992; GCF 2009a; 2009b; among others)
Those people and organizations who promote solving this problem through blind policies of tougher penalties and prison are not doing children any favors . . . they’re merely promoting child abuse of their own kind. Such a course of action is not only expensive, but has been shown time and time again to harm, disrupt, and disturb children; often much more than the original experience. There are certainly some horrific cases of sexual abuse out there, and instances where prison is both necessary and appropriate. But this is also a multi-faceted, human issue which frequently involves people important to the child, and can’t be solved through one-size-fits-all policies. There are no easy answers.