Thursday, October 30, 2008
Psychological effects of sexual abuse on children
A reader writes,
This research paper will explore the psychological effects that sexual abuse has on children. We will look at the immediate effects as well as the long-term effects. There will also be a separate focus on the prevalence of sexual abuse in the orthodox Jewish community. Understanding who the perpetrators are and how they are viewed and dealt with by the community as a whole is important to understanding the negative effects of abuse on children. When adults speak up and stand up for the abused, the children know that there are those who care and this will affect their pain and healing directly.
Children are likely targets for sexual predators. Their vulnerability, dependence and trust in the adults around them, makes them easy targets. While predators are not, generally speaking, evil people, they do not realize the long-term consequences of their actions.
Unfortunately, I’ve experienced first-hand the hurt and the pain that can result from sexual abuse. As a result, I have a keen interest in the topic. For reasons that will be discussed, children tend to repress the trauma. Some of the immediate effects of sexual abuse include depression, withdrawal and sadly in some cases, the victim becomes a predator and the cycle is repeated.
Children don’t understand what is happening to them and they keep their feelings locked up inside. The abuse teaches them incorrectly about sex and sexual development. They mature with twisted ideas of sexuality. This unhealthy sexual maturity can cause them to have intimacy problems later on in life.
When a child is sexually abused, he is being violated in the most horrific way possible. This violation teaches the child that he cannot trust the adults in his life. Not only does the child learn not to trust the abuser, but also all the adults who failed to stop it from happening. Children need to be able to trust and feel loved in order to develop normally and healthily. Without adults to trust, the child has no one to turn to for comfort and love. The child may also have difficulty later in life trusting others. This can make for a difficult marriage as well as friendships.
What is child sexual abuse? Unlike other forms of abuse that may fall into the gray areas of somewhere in between abuse and discipline, child sexual abuse is clearly defined and people identify it universally in the same way. As Jon A Shaw writes (The Legacy of Child Sexual Abuse, Fall 2004; 67, 3; ProQuest Psychology Journals pg. 217), “Sexual abuse behaviors refer to any sexual behavior which occurs: 1) without consent 2) without equality 3) as a result of coercion. Children legally and by definition of their limited cognitive development and experiences…are not able to give consent.”
Child sexual abuse can occur in many ways, by many different kinds of perpetrators and in many places. Children can be touched inappropriately by a parent, older sibling, teacher, babysitter, neighbor, Pastor or Rabbi. There are also different levels of abuse ranging from simply inappropriate touching and caressing to vaginal and anal rape.
Perpetrators are sometimes strangers but more often than not, they are people the child trusts and knows as evidenced by the data presented by Charles Felzon Johnson in The Lancet (July 31-Aug 6, 2004), pg 466 that in over 43% percent of child abuse cases the perpetrators were a parent!
A particular point that I wanted to touch on in my research is child sexual abuse in the orthodox Jewish community. Sexual abuse is often a taboo subject in the orthodox world. Some orthodox Jews believe that all Rabbis are holy people who can do no wrong. It certainly cannot be said that there are no holy Rabbis, but there are definitely some Rabbis who ought to have the title taken away from them. There are some Rabbis in orthodox yeshivas that are a disgrace to G-d. They steal the innocence of a child, violating them in the most horrific way possible and ultimately drawing them completely away from Judaism.
One particular case that I am familiar with involved a Rabbi in an Orthodox elementary school who fondled a student in his class. The student became emotionally and psychologically scarred and suffers to this day. The victim also went on to sexually abuse at least one other person.
Unfortunately in the orthodox world, an issue like sexual abuse in yeshivas often gets pushed under the rug. Often, the child is too afraid or embarrassed to tell their parents. The perpetrator may threaten or bribe them. Many times, even when the child finally does work up the courage to tell his parents, they don’t believe him. They can’t begin to imagine how “such a holy man” could do something so unholy. However, all too often, even when a parent does believe their child, once they contact the school to complain to the principal, he denies any such allegations and will do anything to cover up for the Rabbis. Parents are too afraid to go to the police. They’re afraid of making a bad name for themselves in their community.
Although everything I have written in these last few paragraphs is based on firsthand knowledge as well as newspaper accounts, there are little to no sources of information such as journals, surveys or studies available to support this. Some relevant information can be drawn from the study conducted by Rachel Yehuda, Michelle Friedman, Talli Y Rosenbaum, Ellen Labinsky, and James Schmeidler. ("History of Past Sexual Abuse in Married Observant Jewish Women. " The American Journal of Psychiatry 164.11 (2007): 1700-6. ProQuest Medical Library). The study looked at Orthodox Jewish Woman. Of the 380 respondents, 16% reported having been sexually abused before the age of thirteen. These numbers correspond, though not exactly, to those of the general population, 25% reported sexual abuse over lifetime. (“These estimates are consistent with data from several national surveys, in which 25%-27% of women…reported sexual abuse (1012).” "History of Past Sexual Abuse in Married Observant Jewish Women. " The American Journal of Psychiatry 164.11 (2007))
Interestingly enough, in the aforementioned study, more women from Ultra-Orthodox backgrounds reported sexual abuse than those from Modern-Orthodox backgrounds. The point that is most interesting is that in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, the laws regarding sex and inappropriate contact are very complex and strict. In spite of these supposed restrictions, there was still a high percentage of child sexual abuse reported by these Orthodox woman. I make this point because this is a subject that many in the Orthodox community feel uncomfortable addressing but it is important and necessary for the health and safety of the children.
Rachel Lev, in her book, Shine the Light, (Shine the Light: Sexual Abuse and Healing in the Jewish Community, Rachel Lev, Barbara Ash, British Journal of Social Work; Jan 2004; 34, 1; Research Library) discusses how in the Orthodox Jewish community the occurrence of sexual abuse is severely underestimated due to lack of reporting, as well as family and community denial.
Ms. Lev also suggests that a contributing factor to the underestimation of sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish Community is the phenomenon that as Jews have been persecuted and singled out as a minority over the years, they have learned not to draw attention to themselves. This is a problem because if a child is abused and those close to the child hush it up, the child feels betrayed by those who were supposed to love him. This feeling of abandonment will affect the child deeply as he will feel that he has nowhere to turn and no one to turn to. The sexual abuse alone is enough to shake a child to his core; the abandonment by loved ones can only intensify this effect causing the child severe emotional damage.
Children are easy targets of sexual predators for a number of reasons. One reason that is sad to consider is that in a large percentage of reported cases of sexual abuse, the perpetrator is a close relative of the victim. According to National USA Statistics, as quoted by Charles Felzon Johnson in The Lancet (July 31-Aug 6, 2004), 45.3% of perpetrators were parents. A parent has the easiest access to his\her own children. A parent is also less likely to experience resistance from their own child who trusts them and loves them.
Children are relatively defenseless against adults and they are often lured by promises of games, toys and other decoys to go with the predator (Charles Felzon Johnson in The Lancet (July 31-Aug 6, 2004) “Playing games with them, and offering them gifts ranging from money and toys to cigarettes and beer ”). Children are often under the impression that adults, in general, know what is right and know what they are doing so if an adult, especially an adult the child is familiar with is doing something, it must be right. Such was the case with Penelope Hollander (Jon A Shaw, The Legacy of Child Sexual Abuse, Fall 2004; 67, 3; ProQuest Psychology Journals pg. 217) who was abused by her “loving Father” whom she loved.
Children can also be induced to keep secrets thus allowing a perverse relationship to continue. While a child may feel like something is wrong, they may be too shy or embarrassed to confront the perpetrator or to mention the abuse to another adult.
Children who are sexually abused do not always display overt symptoms right away. However, in many cases the symptoms are there, the cause just may not be apparent. Some immediate symptoms of sexual abuse can include suffering academic performance, behavioral and psychological problems, emotional problems, sexualized behavior, and even suicide (Charles Felzon Johnson in The Lancet (July 31-Aug 6, 2004), pg 463, Table).
A child who is being sexually abused may hold the thoughts inside due too shame or just because it hurts too much to think about it. As much as he may try to control his thoughts, the abuse will always be there in the back of his mind and he may have difficulty concentrating in school. The child may be screaming inside, wishing he were able to let out his thoughts, the pain, wishing there was somebody he could talk to. Since it is difficult for anyone, especially a child who may be confused by what is happening to him and unsure of what to do, to speak about abuse, he may act out in other ways like rebelling against society, or behaving anti-socially.
When a teacher or parent notices a child acting out, one consideration must be that the child may be abused. If nothing is done, the abuse may continue and the problem will only worsen as the child may feel that nobody cares about him, as he feels more and more emotionally vulnerable and begins to act out even more, withdrawing into himself while his actions are really a cry for help.
In a case where the child is abused by a loved one like a parent, the problems that can arise become much more complicated because the child is torn, torn between love of the parent and hatred of the way the parent is using him/her. “If one is abused by a loving father, one is left with a host of father images which cannot be brought together in a cohesive manner” (Jon A Shaw The Legacy of Child Sexual Abuse, Fall 2004; 67, 3; ProQuest Psychology Journals pg. 220). Because the child cannot reconcile the abuse of his father with the love of his father, his development will suffer and he too will end up with a split-off personality (same as above). As a result, he will suffer later in life, especially in relationships of a sexual nature (ie: marriage).
Another terrible result of sexual abuse is that victims often become abusers themselves known as “reactive abuse”( Charles Felzon Johnson in The Lancet (July 31-Aug 6, 2004) pg 463). Some perpetrators may rationalize that no one is hurt by their actions but this is far from the truth. The amount of hurt and pain that a child can suffer from the abuse cannot be quantified and if the victim becomes an abuser as a result of the abuse they experienced, there will only be more pain.
Another rationalization that may be used by a predator is that it is only a momentary discomfort for the child and no long-term harm will come of it. However, as noted by Jon Shaw: “There is ample evidence that childhood sexual victimization is frequently associated with psychological distress which endures and not infrequently into adulthood” (Jon A Shaw The Legacy of Child Sexual Abuse, Fall 2004; 67, 3; ProQuest Psychology Journals pg. 218). Children may suppress memories of abuse for years causing all sorts of emotional, psychological and even social problems.
Prevention is the key to stopping the unending chain of abuse. Parents must not only tell their children to be aware of strangers. They must also educate their children about the dangers of anyone touching them in places that are inappropriate. Some parents think that a child’s ignorance of sexual matters will protect them. Unfortunately, the data indicating percentages of abused children (especially the numbers of abused in the Orthodox Jewish community where children are mostly ignorant of sexual matters) tell a different story.
Concerned parents and educators must know how to spot symptoms and not be afraid to speak up and make sure the child gets the help they need and the perpetrator is stopped. Children should be encouraged to report any touching of “private places”. The main thing is not to push the subject under the rug, but to speak about it, make sure your children and the adults around you are educated on the subject. Only through education can we prevent further victim hood.
1. Jon A Shaw (The Legacy of Child Sexual Abuse, Fall 2004; 67, 3; ProQuest Psychology Journals pg. 217)
2. Rachel Yehuda, Michelle Friedman, Talli Y Rosenbaum, Ellen Labinsky, and James Schmeidler. ("History of Past Sexual Abuse in Married Observant Jewish Women. " The American Journal of Psychiatry 164.11 (2007): 1700-6. ProQuest Medical Library).
3. Rachel Lev (Shine the Light: Sexual Abuse and Healing in the Jewish Community, Rachel Lev, Barbara Ash, British Journal of Social Work; Jan 2004; 34, 1; Research Library)
4. National USA Statistics (Charles Felzon Johnson in The Lancet-July 31-Aug 6, 2004)
5. Jon A Shaw (The Legacy of Child Sexual Abuse, Fall 2004; 67, 3; ProQuest Psychology Journals pg. 220).
6. Jon A Shaw (The Legacy of Child Sexual Abuse, Fall 2004; 67, 3; ProQuest Psychology Journals pg. 218).
- It is unfortunate that it has come to this. It is a big darn shame it has come to this. It is very hurtful that it has come to this. But yet, IT HAS COME TO THIS. It has come at the price of a GREAT CHILUL HASHEM. It has come to Hashem having to allow his holy name to be DESECRATED so that his CHILDREN remain SAFE. Shame on all those responsible for enabling and permitting Hashem's name to be desecrated! When you save children you save the future. You save the future you save generations. You save generations you save lives. You save lives you have saved the world!!!!!!!