Effects of abuse on children, part 6
By Paul Irby Special to the Abilenian
Abilene Reporter-News
Posted June 10, 2009 at 3:25 p.m.

Over the last five months we have examined the possible effects of childhood sexual abuse on its victims. These effects were considered with regard to the impacts on cognitive, emotional and behavioral dimensions. In this article bringing a close to this series, I would like to address some common myths or misconceptions prevalent in our society.

The first misconception to be addressed is the narrow definition often assigned to sexual abuse. A complete conception of sexual abuse should also include exposure to graphic sexual material. Exposure can include Internet, magazines and video, as well as witnessing adults engaging in sexual acts. It should be clarified that a child who accidentally wanders in on parents having sex one time will not be forever psychologically damaged. Exposure becomes damaging and abusive when sex and sexual material is available frequently, without discrimination and/or purposely targeted to the child.

The second misconception to be addressed is the notion that victims of sexual abuse are somehow destined to perpetrate the abuse on other children. While it cannot be denied that the vast majority of abusers were abused themselves, it cannot and should not be assumed that the majority of abused children will become abusers. It is understandable how this misconception can be perpetuated given the increased likelihood that most abuses (physical, emotional and neglect) are handed down intergenerationally. Physical and emotional abuse are most likely to be handed down from generation to generation because they are usually impulsively expressed through anger and modeled frequently. Neglect is a more passive abuse, and is usually intergenerational because of lack of education and intervention. Sexual abuse is different in that it usually requires premeditation and incremental “grooming.” It is this premeditative nature of sexual abuse that decreases the likelihood of intergenerational transference compared to other abuses. It should also be noted that no victim of any form of abuse is destined to repeat it.

Lastly, I would like to offer some insight to parents who might be wondering how to best respond to their child who has been sexually abused. Typically there are two extreme responses parents can have, both of which are not best for the children. The first extreme is to “sweep” the abuse “under the carpet” after the initial disclosure, the family seeks to reduce the anxiety and awkwardness of talking about the abuse modeling an unwritten rule that this subject is now somehow taboo. The other extreme is when parents begin to define their child by the abuse, and consistently bring up the subject either in direct conversation or by initiating new rules for the child, such as not being alone with friends, going to friends’ houses and not being able to spend the night with friends. The best response parents can have is to resume normalcy in the routine at home and to let the child know that the parent is concerned about how the child might be dealing with being abused and is willing to listen if the child ever desires to talk about it.

I would like to personally thank executive director Kirk Hancock and the Mental Health Association of Abilene for allowing me to contribute these articles that I hope can be used as part of the healing dialogue in our community.

Paul Irby, M.A., is a licensed professional counselor with the Ministry of Counseling and Enrichment. Mental Health Matters is facilitated by the Mental Health Association in Abilene.

Original article found here:

  1. Thank you for including exposure to sexual material (pornography) as a form of sexual abuse for children. Do you know of any legal precedents of people being charged with sexual abuse because they exposed a child to pornography?

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