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P h o t o g r a p h y
: G e t t y I m a g e s ; p o s e d f o r b y m o d e l s
Autumn 2005 TeenMatters
Julia Holden explainshow parents can spotthe warning signs thatsomething is amisswith their child; howto respond to a child’sdisclosure of sexualabuse; and how tosupport a teen facingthis terrible reality.
Child sexual abuse is a crime which,tragically, many children experience. Itis generally recognised that one in fourgirls and a similar number of boys will besexually assaulted in some way by thetime they are 18 year of age. A particularly disturbing reality is thataround 75 to 80 per cent of child sexualabuse victims will be assaulted in theirown homes by someone they know.Only one offence, indecent exposure (forexample, ﬂashing) is more likely to becommitted by a stranger.It is vitally important that we educateour children and provide them with theinformation and the skills they need tokeep themselves safe.While it’s not pleasant to contemplatethe possibility that someone you knowand trust — or someone who knows andloves your child — is an abuser, the realityis that most child-abusers are known tothe victim.One misconception about abusers isthat all sex offenders are paedophiles.While there can at times be an overlapin the deﬁnition of a child sexoffender and a paedophile, andalthough we know that thereare organised sexual-abuserings and individual abuserswho target children, mostsex-offenders are eitherrelated to, or well-known andtrusted by, both the child andthe child’s family.Paedophiles — adults whoengage in, or trade in images of, ritual orsadistic child abuse — are only a subsetof child sex offenders.Reports indicate that 97 per cent ofchild sex offenders are male, a largeproportion married with children. A recent study in the UK on the prev-alence of child maltreatment, based ona survey of young people aged from 18to 24, revealed that most respondentsidentiﬁed a family member, or someoneknown to them, as the perpetrator of theirabuse.Though that wasn’t surprising, whatwas of particular concern was the numberof instances of abuse involving a malesibling offender (a brother or stepbrother)ranging from 20-43 per cent across thethree sorts of sexual abuse*; accountingfor 38 per cent of penetrative or oral acts.This was much higher than the numberinvolving natural fathers (11 to 23 percent of all sexual abuse was committedby natural fathers; they accounted for 23per cent of penetrative or oral acts) andstepfathers (accounting for 9 to 19 percent of all sexual abuse; 13 per cent ofpenetrative or oral acts). Although most people have a stereo-typical view of child sex offenders, thereis no one type of man who is an offender.They come from every socio-economicbackground, profession, race and religion,and can be homosexual or heterosexual.
Abuse of trust: the ﬁrst step
Many abusers are skilled at creatingtrust and respect to gain people’sconﬁdence. For this reason, if an offenderis discovered abusing a victim, somepeople are fooled by the offender intothinking that it was a one-off and that itwill never happen again; but most abusersoffend repeatedly both inside and outsidethe family.‘Grooming’ tactics gain the conﬁdenceof the victim and the parents.Offenders regularly visit placeswhere children spend time, suchas schools, sporting ﬁelds orclubs. Many use lies to trickthe child into trusting themby inventing some sort ofemergency, for example,‘Your mother is in hospitaland your father asked me topick you up.’Getting involved in the children’slives, by teaching them sport or a musicalinstrument, or taking them on outings andthen offering bribes of money, gifts, toys,or lollies — these have all been used asgrooming opportunities.Offenders sometimes ﬁnd their victimsthrough baby-sitting and some even takeadvantage of single mothers, who areoften grateful for extra assistance.
Responding to child sexual abuse
The response to a child’s disclosureof sexual abuse is critical to the ability toresolve the trauma of sexual abuse. Themost important steps are the identiﬁcationof the problem and the implementation ofintervention and prevention strategies toensure the safety of the child.It’s important to consider the difﬁcultiesa child can face in attempting to explainwhat happened.
SEXUAL ABUSE& YOURTEEN
How to protect your kids from predators
Most abusersoffend repeatedly