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  • Writer's pictureDr. Tarra Bates-Duford

Small Victims of Sexual Abuse

Children in this day and time are being sexualized earlier and earlier, in part because they are exposed to sexual material in movies, television, songs, social media and music videos. Children are no longer afforded the opportunity to be children, have their innocence safeguarded without being bombarded with sexual language, imagery, and content.

Last week a Chicago teacher and her young students were shocked when they reportedly saw an 18-year-old male molesting a 7-year-old girl as the class participated in an online learning session. In response to COVID-19 many students are engaging in online learning to prevent the spread of the virus while maintaining their academic progress. However, with the launch of online learning there has been challenges with children being at their computer regularly and consistently, actively participating, completing assignments, and “normal” home distractions. No one expected to witness a 7yr old child being sexually assaulted by an adult male.

An elementary school teacher alerted police that one of her students was being sexually assaulted after viewing the assault as it was being live-streamed. During break, the teacher had asked her class to turn off their microphones and cameras. The victim complied with turning off her microphone but appeared to have forgotten to turn off her camera. It was during this time when the camera continued to film that the teacher observed her student being forced to perform an oral sex act on a male. Horrified, the teacher immediately told the other students to log off and contacted authorities.

It was later determined the male that was sexually assaulting the child was her cousin. The child also told police this wasn’t the first time her cousin had sexually assaulted her; he had abused her before. The child insists he had abused her several times over the course of a year. Unfortunately, the length of abuse could have been longer as children in this age group often have a limited auspice of time, e.g., saying something occurred last week when it could have occurred weeks or even months before.

According to the victim, the perpetrator had used physical violence, such as hitting her to prevent her from disclosing the abuse that she was enduring. The perpetrator also insisted she keep the abuse as their “secret”. The perpetrator Insists the victim keep the secret and remain silent is presented as part of a game, to be in the game, or deemed special you must maintain the secret. The victim is presented with a secret that he or she and the perpetrator know, a process called grooming. Grooming is a manipulative process used by a sexual (or other) predator for the purpose of creating a sense of trust with a targeted person prior to the act of actual victimization.

It is unclear from news reports if the other students in the victim’s class witnessed the sexual assault. However, if these children did witness the assault, they along with the victim will require therapy.

Sexual Abuse of Children Can lead to Some of the Following:

· Low self-esteem

· Self-doubt

· Depression

· Self-injurious behaviors

· Feelings of worthlessness

· Suicidality

· Clinginess

· Re-victimization

· Withdrawal and mistrust of adults

· Disruptions in sleeping and eating habits

· Regression, e.g., bedwetting, behaving younger than stated age

· Unusual interest in or avoidance of all things sexual or physical

· Challenges with memory and cognition

· Unusual sexual knowledge or behavior

· Forcing sexual acts on other children

· Engaging in inappropriate sexual play

· Promiscuity/prostitution

· Obsessive/compulsive behaviors

· Addictive behaviors, e.g., drugs and alcohol

· Extreme fears of being touched

· Avoidance of medical and dental exams

· Habit disorders, e.g., biting, rocking, hair and skin picking

· Overly aggressive or overly passive behavior

· People pleasing attitude

· Seductiveness

· Avoidance of school

· Dissociative behaviors

· Nightmares

· Conduct disorders

Sexual predators’ prey on children because of their age, size and innocence. Children are easier to control, manipulate, and more willing to trust. Most sexual abusers are known by the victim as in the case mentioned above, leading to challenges with understanding, processing, and trust. Children that are abused by someone that is known to them are often trapped between their loyalty for the abuser and the sense that what is happening is wrong. Telling someone about the abuse becomes terrifying as the child may fear it will result in family conflict, a breakdown of the family, blaming the victim, and judgement.

When a child or youth is molested, she/he learns that adults cannot be trusted for care and protection: well-being is disregarded, and there is a lack of support and protection. This can lead to grief, depression, extreme dependency, inability to judge trustworthiness in others, mistrust, anger and hostility.

Unfortunately, the closer the emotional relationship between victim and perpetrator, the greater the emotional trauma. The age of the child when the abuse began, and the duration of the sexual abuse also plays a significant role in the negative impact on the child and how he or she processes the abuse. Ongoing sexual abuse with repeated contacts is generally more traumatic and usually produces more sexual abuse effects than a single contact. In the case of the 7yr old that was sexually assaulted by her 18yr old cousin it is extremely important that she receive individual therapy, family therapy, her abuser is held accountable for the abuse, as well as academic and community support.

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