A quarter of girls and 1 in 13 boys will experience sexual abuse before they are 18 years old, according to CDC estimates.
People who have experienced child sexual abuse (CSA) are more likely to experience disorders such as depression, anxiety and PTSD.
CSA can also have long-term impacts on physical health, with people being more likely to report pain, gastrointestinal symptoms and obesity.
In addition, CSA is linked to negative social effects, such as sexual or relationship problems, and socioeconomic outcomes, such as lower income.
Child sexual abuse (CSA) is an adverse childhood experience (ACE) that has serious long-term consequences for those who have been victimized. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys will experience sexualabuse before they are 18. Not only are there psychological consequences to CSA, but longitudinal research has also found that CSA results in negative health, psychosocial, and socioeconomic outcomes for those who have been abused.
The Psychological Consequences of CSA
Many studies have examined the long-term psychological impact of CSA. A recent research review of over four million people found that those who experienced CSA are between two and three times more likely to experience the following disorders compared to adults who were not abused:
It should be noted that many of the psychological consequences of CSA can take years to develop as the abuse is thought to alter brain structure and chemistry during its developmental period. For example, one study found that the average time between the abuse and the onset of depression was 11.5 years, while another studyfound an average of 9.2 years from the time of abuse to the onset of depression and 8 years until the onset of PTSD.
The Physical Consequences of CSA
Numerous studies have also shown that there are long-term impacts to the physical health of those who experienced CSA. Across studies, adults who experienced CSA were 1.35 to 2.12 times more likely to report health problems such as:
As a result of these health problems, adults with a history of CSA use health care more frequently than those without a history of CSA, spending on average 16% more per year. Notably, however, a history of CSA is also associated with lower odds of having health insurance and receiving a general check-up (preventative care) in the past year.
The Psychosocial Impacts of CSA
Researchers have also documented many negative social consequences of CSA including:
Sadly, there is considerable evidence to suggest that those who have experienced CSA are also likely to be revictimized. A recent study involving 12,252 survivors found that 47.5% were sexually victimized again later in life. Similarly, there is also evidence to suggest that the children of women who have been abused are also more likely to be abused themselves, suggesting that the cycle of abuse may continue into the next generation.
The Socioeconomic Consequences of CSA
From an economic perspective, it is estimated the average lifetime cost of child maltreatment (including CSA) per survivor is $830,928. Compared to adults who had not been abused, survivors of CSA were found to:
Earn on average $8,000 less per year
Be less likely to have a bank account, or own stock, a vehicle, or home
Be three times more likely to be out of work due to sickness and disability
Be 14% more likely to be unemployed in general
Be less likely to go to, or graduate from college
Be less likely to have a skilled job
As is clear from the research, CSA significantly negatively impacts all facets of life — not only for those who experience childhood sexual abuse themselves, but also for their loved ones and society at large. Thus, we must all do what we can to prevent sexual abuse before it happens, and provide support and services to those who have already experienced CSA.
Question: Why is it exactly that the scapegoat child cannot trust their golden child sibling?
Answer: The golden child is committed to misunderstanding the scapegoat child, and in believing the smear campaign against them; the one full of lies.
What I am about to write about is not inclusive of every golden child. Some golden children do not exhibit any of the traits relating to this article and have the integrity enough to see right through the narcissist, tell the narcissist that they are in the wrong, and to stand by the scapegoat’s side. It is likely that if the golden child honours their scapegoated sibling in this way, (which is highly unusual) both children will be discarded from the family for having dared challenge the narcissist.
When I write about narcissism, I write about what I have witnessed happen in families where there is a narcissistic parent. The particular situation I am about to discuss runs rampant throughout narcissistic families’, and is more common than not.
My primary belief about the golden child (who forms a nasty alliance with the narcissist against the scapegoat) is that they are completely unaware of what they are doing and that they have been completely brainwashed by the narcissist. However, that being said, the golden child still makes an executive decision to aid the narcissist in their smear campaigns of the people who expose the narcissist, challenge the narcissist, or who simply have a difference of opinion from the narcissist.
Why does the golden child choose to side with the narcissist?
The narcissist lives and breathes to influence the golden child’s perception of the scapegoat. Through daily put-downs of the scapegoat, exaggerations, and half-truths about the scapegoat, the narcissist will gradually erode the golden child’s perception of their scapegoated sibling. At times mind control sessions will occur on an hourly basis (not daily, hourly).
As the scapegoat becomes older, more defiant and defensive against the abuse, the narcissist will begin to fear exposure, and will suddenly turn the tables on the scapegoat. This is when they will tell all kinds of outrageous lies about the scapegoat, and work especially hard to turn the golden child against their sibling.
By the time the scapegoat exposes the narcissist, the narcissist (who knew this was coming all along) has already pulled one over the scapegoat; and now nobody in the family will believe the scapegoat when they begin to the claim that there is something wrong with the family system.
A close relationship between the scapegoat and the golden child?
A close relationship between the scapegoat and golden child, will in fact, inevitably be destroyed by the narcissist. This will happen because the narcissist has been moulding the golden child’s perceptions of the scapegoat since birth. Eventually, the golden child will completely forfeit the close relationship they may have with the scapegoat (if they were ever close, to begin with), and will act out the narcissist’s contempt of the scapegoat through their body language, verbal language, and utter nastiness.
Any signs of anger or emotional confusion from the scapegoat about the treatment of them during the devaluation phase will be perceived by the narcissist and the golden child as symptoms of a severe mental health issue within the scapegoat; instead of a pretty normal reaction to vile abuse.
The narcissist’s intent is to push the scapegoat over the edge, so as all eyes are off them, and on the scapegoat instead. All of this happens because the scapegoat brings to the forefront the narcissist’s shortcomings.
The golden child’s relationship with the parent:
The golden child is bought by the narcissist, given the best of everything, and doted on daily. They are also continually groomed and hoovered by the parent, told just how entitled or special they are, and are reminded by the parent just how similar they are to them. We mustn’t forget that this child represents to the narcissist all of the goodness in them.
The narcissistic parent will encourage the other siblings’ to also adore the golden child too, to do everything for the golden child, and to love this child until no end.
This child is always right, never punished for harming the other siblings’, and their misdeeds are shoved under the carpet. All of their misdeeds are projected onto the scapegoat, and the scapegoat becomes the golden child’s fall guy early on in the piece.
The scapegoat’s relationship with the parent:
The scapegoat is despised in childhood. Some theories suggest that the scapegoat is the whistleblower or the truth teller in the family. However, the narcissist will claim that this child is treated differently for obvious reasons. They have apparently always been a difficult child; while of course, the golden child wasn’t. However, if the scapegoat was as adored, and never disciplined to extreme measures, like their golden child sibling, then the scapegoat child would have nothing to be upset about now, would they?
Excuses are always made by the narcissistic parent to explain away the abuse of the scapegoated child.
Challenges me all the time
They’re out of control
These claims made by the narcissist are most likely true. However, the narcissist is prone to exaggeration, and these behaviours are fairly normal in children; some more so than others. The narcissist cannot tolerate ordinary child-like behaviour because in their eyes they are entitled to have complete control over the child. In the narcissistic family, normal childlike behaviour such as squabbling between siblings, or a bit of back chatting is used against the children. The children who refuse to be seen and not heard are assessed by the narcissist as being problematic. For example; crying is pretty much prohibited in this family system, or explained away as crocodile tears and attention seeking.
The scapegoat grows up living in the golden child’s shadow. When they get upset about it, and have the audacity to have an argument with the narcissist about the issue, they are told that they are insane, have mental health problems, and are out of control. They may even be told that they are very similar to other people that the narcissist deems as crazy, such as relatives or friends.
The narcissist hopes that by denigrating this child they will be able to control the child. This tactic usually goes the other way for the narcissist. Instead, the scapegoat becomes distressed at the accusations hurled at them, and one day discloses the abuse.
Meanwhile, the golden child sits back and feels very special while this is happening to the scapegoat. The abuse of the scapegoat not only keeps this child out of the limelight, but it reinforces to the golden child what a good child they are, and what a bad child the scapegoat is.
Lets get one thing Straight: The golden child isn’t any better than the scapegoated child. They just haven’t been scapegoated; that is the difference.
Cinderella Syndrome: So, here we have a very real case of ‘Cinderella syndrome,’ which of course the golden – child revels in.
Abuse in silence:
A lot of the narcissist’s abuse towards the scapegoat is done behind closed doors, in private where other family members’ are unable to directly witness events which signify extreme abuse. Acts of subtle abuse, on the other hand, are committed in front of the entire family and are accepted by these family members as a consequence of the scapegoat’s behaviour. These family members’ have fallen prey to the brainwashing tactics of the narcissist, and now also believe, along with the narcissistic parent that the scapegoat’s normal childlike behaviour, is the behaviour of a child with something seriously wrong with them.
”It all depends on what the narcissist wants people to hear”
Abuse of the scapegoat is also initiated very subtly in front of the neighbours, friends, work colleagues, or even the coffee shop owner. Often, friends’, colleagues’, and family members’ accidentally perpetuate the abuse by telling the scapegoat that they are cheeky, should smile more, or that they have a sour persona. This reinforces to the scapegoated child that they are the problem.
Common phrases made to the narcissist’s minions:
‘She’s just like my mother. (A very abusive person who destroyed the life of the narcissist)
‘My goodness, she’s just like my sister Samantha,’ (who apparently also has emotional regulation problems).
‘That child of mine is so unhappy all the time. I don’t know what to do.’
These comments are said day in day out, sometimes five or six times in an hour. It is no wonder that the golden – child has a distorted perception of the scapegoat. They’re under the spell of mind control.
These continuous despicable comments eventually turn everybody against the scapegoat. So when the scapegoat acts out and claims that they are being treated unfairly, everybody, including the golden child, just thinks to themselves, ‘they’re crazy.’
A consequence of the scapegoat’s position in the family is that it enables the golden child, along with the other siblings, to blame their poor behaviour towards the scapegoat, on the scapegoat. Somehow, in some way, the scapegoat will always be blamed for the abuse hurled upon them.
The mind control that the narcissist has over the golden – child is a sure investment to the narcissist. Whenever the narcissistic parent requires the golden child’s allegiance against the scapegoat, the golden child will provide the narcissistic supply that the narcissist is asking for.
The narcissist has no empathy and no conscience; which means that they have absolutely no issue whatsoever with pushing the scapegoat over the edge emotionally. This way everybody will look to the scapegoat’s unusual behaviour, and focus on that rather than the narcissist.
Why must the scapegoat child never completely trust the golden child?
The golden child and the scapegoat child are sometimes good friends in childhood; best friends even. However, in most cases, the golden child will not accept that the scapegoat has been abused beyond belief. Deep down they too have internalised that the scapegoat is the crazy person, not the reverse.
They honestly don’t get it, and how could they? Most of the time people cannot empathise with an abused individual unless they’ve experienced something similar. Not once does the golden child ever question the impact the severe emotional abuse inflicted on the scapegoat, by the narcissist, may actually have on their sibling.
The scapegoat must never ever fully trust the golden child, under any circumstances. At the end of the day, it is most likely that when it comes down to it the golden child will always align with the narcissist.
They have had their perception of the scapegoat distorted at a young age, and unless they have an epiphany, this perception will most likely never change.
They have an investment in believing the lies. If they don’t, they will end up being scapegoated too.
The narcissist has been investing financially in this child since they were born, which subconsciously makes the golden child feel very loyal to the narcissist.
They’ve just bought themselves a soldier in their army, a conqueror, and a secondary abuser to put the scapegoat back in their place when they challenge the abuse.
The golden child is most likely suffering from cognitive dissonance, and cannot see past the good stuff the narcissist does for them. However, the golden child has seen the narcissist treat people appallingly; and has chosen not to acknowledge it.
What the scapegoat needs to understand about their relationship with the golden child:
The relationship with this child was never real and never had a chance. Relationships can’t exist when there is mind control involved or the likes of a dangerous manipulator.
The entitlement of the golden child:
The golden child believes they are so much better than their scapegoat sibling, who just cannot behave (apparently).
The golden child can be very two-faced. With entitlement can often come nastiness. Their specialness makes it ok for them to sit and laugh at the scapegoat behind their back, smear the scapegoat’s name, and continually put the scapegoat down.
The golden child has a sense entitlement, and they believe that everybody should treat them in a special manner.
The golden child:
has no loyalty to the scapegoat.
will sit and listen to the slander about the scapegoat, and all of the other people the narcissist can’t stand.
never apologises for anything, and never ever sees themselves as being at fault.
will never stand up for the scapegoat or anyone else for that matter, because to do so would be to cross the narcissist.
The sad fact is that the golden – child doesn’t care. Its all about the survival of the fittest in this family, and if the golden child needs to turn on their sibling to keep in favour of a vile human being. Well, so be it.
It is absolutely imperative that scapegoated children, even in adulthood, never fully trust their golden child sibling; because unbeknown to the scapegoat child, the golden-child, even in early childhood, has taken on board the brainwashing tactics of the narcissist. Deep down, regardless of a friendship with the scapegoat child, or not, the golden child will always believe that the scapegoat is fundamentally floored.
This is what the evidence suggests about the scapegoat in the eyes of the golden – child:
The golden child has witnessed the scapegoat:
have emotional meltdowns
engage in big arguments with the narcissist
Golden child as judgemental:
The golden child is very judgemental and does not understand that these reactions are very normal reactions to a disgusting amount of psychological abuse.
The development of an alliance between golden child and narcissist: A scenario
In adulthood, the scapegoat may begin to tell people about their abuse, including the enabling parent. When they do this, and the truth becomes uncovered, the narcissist will take the scapegoat out, and destroy their relationships with the other siblings.
How does the narcissist use the golden – child to take the scapegoated adult child out ? A scenario
Narcissists are very revengeful: They will plot for months, or even years to get somebody back for some supposed slight that didn’t happen as they see it (like a scapegoat pouring their heart out to a family member about being on the receiving end of severe mental abuse).
First, the narcissist will hoover the scapegoat into the family by love bombing them. The scapegoat will find it odd that the person whom they have exposed is now making them soup, buying them things, and suddenly being very kind to them.
The scapegoat will believe in their mind that they have made amends with their parent, and that the parent has forgiven them for exposing the truth. However, they will notice that the tension heightens when they enter the room and that their siblings are acting strangely around them. The scapegoat will know for months in advance that something is wrong; they just won’t be able to put their finger on it.
The final showdown may happen at a function, or while the scapegoat is visiting the parent, who appears to want them around. I have heard many stories where a scapegoat is vilified in front of everyone at a function; only to have the scapegoat’s original suspicions clarified. The tension they originally felt around the family was very real. The narcissist had been sitting around with the help of the golden – child smearing the scapegoat’s name to the entire family.
Mind control is in full force: Finally, one of the children will have enough (most likely a golden child sibling – (there can be more than one) and blast the scapegoat. When the scapegoat questions the parent in private, their supposed slight of the narcissist will most likely be mentioned to the scapegoat as a reason as to why the discard occurred. The other children will most likely never know that this was all a revenge plot by the narcissist. At this point, the golden child will show no remorse for what has happened.
Redeveloping a relationship with the golden child:
I personally believe that the golden child has already shown the scapegoat who they are, and that the scapegoat should really take this into account. The golden child cannot be trusted, and they have most likely shown this to be true on several occasions.
Possibilities for a relationship may occur after the narcissist dies. However, the scapegoat will never be able to trust the golden child again, because when it suits them, they’ll just turn against their scapegoated sibling, as a way to avoid all accountability for their own vile behaviour. The only element that will change in this scenario is who they side with.
Until the golden child’s perception of the scapegoat changes, which is unlikely, the scapegoat may need to sever all ties with the golden child and kiss the relationship goodbye.
Professor Jill Astbury MAPS, College of Arts, Victoria University
All forms of child sexual abuse (CSA) are a profound violation of the human rights of children. CSA is a crime under Australian law and an extreme transgression of trust, duty of care and power by perpetrators. The rights violations that define CSA are critically connected to the deleterious behavioural and psychological health consequences that ensue. This article examines the long-term effects of CSA on mental health and the determinants of these outcomes, in order to identify opportunities to ameliorate the profound psychological impacts of CSA on the lives of many victims/survivors. The article is based on a literature review commissioned to inform the APS response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which was established in 2013 by the Gillard Government.
Prevalence of child sexual abuse
Rates of CSA are difficult to gauge accurately given the clandestine, sensitive and criminal nature of the sexual abuse to which children are exposed. Perpetrators of CSA are often close to the victim, such as fathers, uncles, teachers, caregivers and other trusted members of the community (Finkelhor, Hammer & Sedlak, 2008). CSA often goes undisclosed and unreported to professionals or adults for many complex reasons, including fear of punishment and retaliation by the perpetrator, as well as the stigma and shame associated with this type of abuse (Priebe & Svedin, 2008).
A global meta-analysis of child sexual abuse prevalence figures found self-reported CSA ranged from 164-197 in every 1,000 girls and 66-88 per 1,000 boys (Stoltenborgh, van Ijzendoorn, Euser, & Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2011). In Australia, Fleming (1997) used a community sample of 710 women randomly selected from the Australian electoral roll and found that 20 per cent of the sample reported experiencing CSA involving contact. Another national survey involving both men and women (Najman, Dunne, Purdie, Boyle, & Coxeter, 2005) reported a higher prevalence of CSA, with more than one third of women and approximately one sixth of men reporting a history of CSA. A more recent study in Victoria (Moore et al., 2010) reported a prevalence rate of 17 per cent for any type of CSA for girls and seven per cent for boys when they took part in the study during adolescence. Both Australian studies involving community samples of women or girls and men or boys indicate that girls are two or more times more likely to experience CSA than boys.
Long-term mental health consequences
A significant body of research has demonstrated that the experience of CSA can exert long-lasting effects on brain development, psychological and social functioning, self-esteem, mental health, personality, sleep, health risk behaviours including substance use, self-harm and life expectancy. CSA often co-occurs with physical and emotional abuse and other negative and stressful childhood experiences that independently predict poor mental and physical health outcomes in adult life.
Nevertheless, the research literature indicates that when other predictors of poor adult mental health are statistically controlled, CSA remains a powerful determinant of psychological disorder in adult life (Kendler et al., 2000). Strong evidence from twin studies indicates that a causal relationship exists between CSA and subsequent mental disorders. Twin studies necessarily control for genetic and family environment factors and a number since 2000 have documented significant associations between CSA, depression, panic disorder, alcohol abuse/dependence, drug abuse/dependence, suicide attempts and completed suicides.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies published between 1980 and 2008 (Chen et al., 2010) found that a history of sexual abuse including child sexual abuse was related to significantly increased odds of a lifetime diagnosis of several different psychiatric disorders, including anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep disorders and suicide. A particularly strong link between CSA and subsequent PTSD has been found.
Although the diagnosis of PTSD may be appropriate for those who have been exposed to relatively circumscribed CSA, Herman (1992) argued more than two decades ago that this diagnosis does not adequately capture the psychological responses of people who are repeatedly traumatised over a long period of time, experience subsequent re-victimisation in adolescence or adult life and typically display multiple symptoms of psychological distress and high levels of psychiatric co-morbidity. For survivors of this kind of CSA, Herman (1992) proposed the expanded diagnostic concept of complex PTSD on the grounds that it was better able to accurately capture the complex psychological sequelae of prolonged, repeated trauma.
Risk of suicide: Australian research
Survivors of CSA face a significantly increased risk of suicide and a higher prevalence of suicide attempts and ideation. An Australian follow-up study (Plunkett et al., 2001) of young people who had experienced CSA compared with those who had not, reported that those with a CSA history had a suicide rate 10.7-13.0 times the national rate. Furthermore, 32 per cent of those sexually abused as children had attempted suicide and 43 per cent had thought about suicide. None of the non-abused participants had completed suicide.
A more recent Australian study confirms and extends this finding. Cutajar and colleagues (2010) conducted a cohort study of 2,759 victims of CSA by linking forensic records from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine between 1964 and 1995 to coronial records up to 44 years later. They found that female sexual abuse victims had 40 times higher risk of suicide and 88 times higher risk of fatal overdose than the rates in the general population. Interestingly these rates were even higher than those for males, in contrast to the usual gender pattern for suicide. The respective rates for males were 14 times and 38 times higher than those in the general population.
Determinants of long-term mental health outcomes
While victims/survivors of CSA face greatly increased risks of poor mental health in adult life, a significant minority do not go on to develop psychological disorders (Saunders, Kilpatrick, Hanson, Resnick, & Walker, 1999). Broadly, two approaches to explaining this finding have informed research: differences in the nature of the abuse that has taken place; and post-abuse factors that positively mediate or intervene in the development of negative long-term mental health outcomes.
Nature of the sexual abuse
The likelihood of experiencing severe, negative mental health outcomes in adult life as the result of CSA is increased by several abuse-specific characteristics. Large scale epidemiological studies have consistently documented that forced penetrative sex, multiple perpetrators, abuse by a relative, and a long duration of CSA (e.g., more than a year) predict more severe psychiatric disturbance and a higher likelihood of being an in-patient in a psychiatric facility in adult life.
More than 20 years ago, Pribor and Dinwiddie (1992) investigated different types of CSA of increasing severity and found that incest victims had a significantly increased lifetime prevalence rate for seven psychological disorders including agoraphobia, alcohol abuse or dependence, depression, panic disorder, PTSD, simple phobia and social phobia. Bulik, Prescott and Kendler (2001) also confirmed that a higher risk for the development of psychiatric and substance use disorders was associated with certain characteristics of the abuse, including attempted or completed intercourse, the use of force or threats and abuse by a relative. More severe and chronic abuse which starts at an early age has also been reported to increase the risk of developing symptoms of dissociation.
Post-abuse mediating factors
Certain factors, both negative and positive, are likely to intervene after CSA has taken place and to mediate adult mental health outcomes.
Coping strategies Specific coping strategies used by survivors can positively or negatively predict long-term psychological outcomes. Overall, positive, constructive coping strategies such as expressing feelings and making efforts to improve the situation are associated with better adjustment (Runtz & Schallow, 1997; Tremblay, Hebert, & Piche, 1999), and negative coping strategies, including engaging in self-destructive or avoidant behaviours, with worse adjustment (Merrill, Thomsen, Sinclair, Gold, & Miller, 2001). However, the coping strategies used by survivors are contingent to some degree on the availability of social or material resources over which children have little or no control.
In addition, the number of negative or maladaptive coping strategies used is predictive of the likelihood of sexual re-victimisation in adulthood (Filipas & Ullman, 2006). This strongly indicates that the link between CSA, negative coping strategies and adverse adult psychological outcomes is strengthened by sexual re-victimisation. Several studies have confirmed this relationship.
Re-victimisation CSA is associated with an increased risk of subsequent violent victimisation including intimate partner violence and sexual violence in adolescence and adulthood (see, for example, Classen, Palesh, & Aggarwal, 2005). Sexual re-victimisation involving rape or other types of sexual abuse/assault poses a potent risk for worse psychological health in adult life. A number of studies have confirmed that women who are sexually re-victimised compared with their non-revictimised counterparts have more severe symptoms of psychological distress in adulthood.
Social support and reaction to disclosure Historically, the role of social support and other societal and cultural factors in determining survivors’ responses to CSA has been under-explored in comparison with the heavy focus on the survivor’s role in responding to sexual trauma. Increased interest in the contribution of social support and other sociocultural factors has prompted increased investigation into the social contextual factors that can mediate adult outcomes following childhood violence, many of which are associated with the reactions to disclosure.
Delay in the disclosure of CSA is linked inevitably with other delays, all of which are harmful to the child. These include delay in putting in place adequate means to protect the child from further victimisation, delay in the child receiving meaningful assistance including necessary psychological and physical health care, and delay in redress and justice for the victim. Without disclosure, negative health outcomes are more likely to proliferate and compound. Conversely, disclosure within one month of sexual assault occurring is associated with a significantly lower risk of subsequent psychosocial difficulties in adult life including lower rates of PTSD and major depressive episodes (Ruggiero et al., 2004).
Yet experiences of disclosure are not uniform and whether they are positive or negative depends on the reactions of the person to whom the CSA is disclosed. Unfortunately, negative reactions to disclosure are common, constitute secondary traumatisation and are associated with poorer adult psychological outcomes (Ullman, 2007). Such reactions include not being believed, being blamed and judged, or punished and not supported, all of which can compound the impact of the original abuse and further increase the risk of psychological distress including increased symptoms of PTSD, particularly when the perpetrator is a relative.
Specific characteristics of disclosure appear to be protective against the development of psychiatric disorders. This finding highlights the importance of social support in concert with effective action by the person in whom the child confides. The degree to which someone is affected is likely to reflect various indicators of the severity of the abuse as well as countervailing protective factors such as the strength of family relationships and the survivor’s self-esteem. One such factor is a warm and supportive relationship with a non-offending parent, which is strongly associated with resilience following CSA and lower levels of abuse-related stress.
Implications for psychological training and practice
The research outlined above shows conclusively that CSA is associated with multiple adverse psychological outcomes, although such outcomes are not inevitable. The identified mediating or intervening factors that increase or decrease the risk of developing psychological disorders as a result of CSA have important implications for psychological training and for the practising psychologists who work with survivors of CSA.
Training on CSA
It is a matter of grave concern that the issue of CSA has been neglected in psychology training. When psychologists lack appropriate knowledge and skills to work with survivors they put both their clients and themselves at risk and can cause unintended harm. Training on CSA is urgently needed in psychology programs to disseminate evidence to students on the protean psychological consequences of CSA as well as the skills necessary to carry out the demanding mental and emotional work of treating survivors. Survivors can have chronic, complex problems in many areas of functioning and psychological disorders can overlap with physical health problems, including pain syndromes and high risk health behaviours such as alcohol, tobacco and drug use. Careful long-term psychological care is often necessary. As survivors may seek help from a range of psychologists, it is important that all psychologists are educated about the magnitude and psychological consequences of CSA.
Apart from acquiring more in-depth knowledge of the emotional effects of CSA and experience in trauma-related interventions, postgraduate courses should prepare practitioners for how exposure to their clients’ traumatic material can traumatise them as well. To remain psychologically healthy while working with survivors of CSA, psychologists need to be able to recognise symptoms of secondary traumatic stress and develop self-care strategies and support systems that will help them to manage the stress related to working with CSA survivors.
Most practising psychologists today who work with survivors have acquired their knowledge and skills ‘on the job’ post-graduation or as a result of their own initiative by attending workshops delivered by specialists in the field. An unknown number of registered psychologists may have no training on CSA and a more systematic continuing education program should be available and accessible so that all psychologists are equipped, at the very least, to ‘do no harm’ to the clients who have experienced CSA.
Implications for psychological practice
Knowing how to facilitate disclosure and take a comprehensive trauma history is an essential first step in developing a treatment plan for survivors of CSA. How a psychologist responds to a client’s disclosure will have an enormous impact on whether a survivor continues or abruptly terminates treatment. Any hint of disbelief, blame or judgment is likely to fracture the client’s fragile hope that she or he will be believed and that it is safe to undertake the painful task of working through the original abuse and its aftermath. If the response to a disclosure is negative it may be years before a survivor is willing to try again, and in the meantime the psychological burden of the abuse and its effects can proliferate. The effort to remain silent and keep the abuse hidden is extremely isolating and cuts off access to potential avenues of psychosocial support.
It would be a mistake for psychologists to assume, for example, that knowing about prolonged exposure therapy for the treatment of PTSD, would, by itself, be sufficient to offer effective treatment to survivors. Beyond the symptoms of traumatic stress associated with CSA, survivors often struggle with many other pressing concerns. These often relate to the deep betrayal of trust by the adult/s with a duty of care towards them as children. This betrayal can prompt persistent negative self-perceptions, difficulties in trusting others and their own judgement, and abiding feelings of shame and intrinsic ‘unloveability’ that contribute to insecure, unsatisfying relationships in adult life. These same issues can impinge on the client-psychologist interaction, making it challenging to establish a robust therapeutic alliance or maintain appropriate boundaries.
CSA does not result in a single disorder such as depression, treatable within the 10 sessions supported under the Better Access to Mental Health Care initiative. The chronicity and complexity of the disorders stemming from CSA require much longer term mental health care. The current system under Medicare is very poorly suited to meeting the mental health care needs of perhaps the most numerous and psychologically vulnerable group in society – CSA survivors.
The Royal Commission has provided a timely opportunity to closely examine the enduring, deleterious and multi-faceted impacts of CSA on survivors, how institutions in which abuse took place failed to intervene and the kind of assistance survivors believe will be most helpful in healing from their traumatic experiences. Psychology has much to contribute to this process and to ensure that the best available psychological evidence is put forward to address the profoundly disturbing phenomenon of child sexual abuse.
Clergy-perpetrated child sexual abuseIn contrast with the large evidence base amassed since the 1980s on the prevalence and health consequences of CSA occurring in the general community, minimal research was published before 2000 on CSA perpetrated by clergy or others working for institutions or organisations, and evidence remains limited in scope.There is an additional theological and spiritual dimension to clergy-perpetrated abuse that sets it apart other forms of CSA, including a spiritual and religious crisis during and after the abuse (Farrell & Taylor, 2000). CSA perpetrated by priests and other members of the clergy has been described as “a unique betrayal” (Guido, 2008) and the “ultimate deception” (Cook, 2005), and the implications of such abuse for victims are eloquently described by McMackin, Keane and Kline (2008):The sexual exploitation of a child by one who has been privileged, even anointed, as a representative of God is a sinister assault on that person’s psychosocial and spiritual well-being. The impact of such a violent betrayal is amplified when the perpetrator is sheltered and supported by a larger religious community. (p.198)Psychological consequences of clergy-perpetrated child sexual abuseClergy-perpetrated sexual abuse of children can catastrophically alter the trajectory of victims’ psychosocial, sexual and spiritual development (Fogler et al., 2008). In the US, investigation into the Catholic Church by the John Jay Research Team repeatedly identified certain psychological effects of clergy CSA in the personal testimony of survivors and family members. These included major symptoms of PTSD with co-occurring substance abuse, affective lability, relational conflicts, and a profound alteration in individual spirituality and religious practices associated with a deep sense of betrayal by the individual perpetrator and the church more broadly (John Jay College, 2004, 2006; McMackin et al., 2008).Some of these negative psychological outcomes are shared with survivors of CSA in the general population but those related to spirituality, religious practices and a sense of betrayal by the church alter the nature of the harm caused by clergy-perpetrated CSA. While a diagnosis of PTSD may be useful as a starting point in understanding and treating survivors of clergy CSA, Farrell and Taylor (2000) contend that “there are qualitative differences in [clergy-perpetrated CSA] symptomatology, which the PTSD diagnosis cannot explain” (p. 28). Such symptoms include self-blame, guilt, psychosexual disturbances, self-destructive behaviours, substance abuse, and re-victimisation. These symptoms are argued to emanate from the theological, spiritual and existential features of clergy CSA. For these reasons, Farrell and Taylor (2000) suggest that a diagnosis of complex PTSD (Herman, 1992) offers a better fit for the symptoms reported by survivors of clergy-perpetrated CSA.Preventing clergy-perpetrated child sexual abuseThe history of denial, cover up and delays in response to disclosures of clergy CSA by churches has been well documented, with their responses to perpetrators evidencing a failure to implement any effective preventative measures. To stop institutional CSA from occurring, it is critical to understand the situational indicators of such abuse so that the opportunities they afford to perpetrators to commit the crime of CSA can be identified.Parkinson and colleagues (2009) identified that having immediate and convenient access to minors were the defining characteristics that facilitated abuse. The evidence also suggests the need for parents and their children to be made much more aware of the grooming tactics used by clergy who perpetrate CSA. The John Jay College study (2006) identified the strategies that allowed the perpetrators to become close to the child they subsequently abused including being friendly with the victims’ families, giving gifts or other enticements such as taking them to sporting events or letting them drive cars, and spending a lot of time with victims.A recurrent theme in Australian victims’ accounts is how their parents’ religious beliefs and trust and reverence for members of the clergy meant that they could not conceive of the possibility that priests could sexually abuse their children and betray their own vows. Yet there is ample evidence that this trust was sadly misplaced and the same caution that would be applied to other members of society needs to be applied to the clergy.Finally, in tandem with a message from churches that there is zero tolerance for CSA, there needs to be a clear and trustworthy process in place, independent of the churches, that encourages children to disclose CSA safely and confidentially. Educational programs in all schools beginning in primary school might be one way of achieving this.Victims of clergy-perpetrated CSA need to be heard with respect and compassion, given meaningful assistance to meet their psychosocial needs, and provided with justice through those who perpetrated the abuse and those who covered it up being held fully accountable. Only then will it be possible for recovery from the immense trauma of clergy CSA and the rebuilding of shattered lives to truly begin.
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Disclaimer: Published in InPsych on October 2013. The APS aims to ensure that information published in InPsych is current and accurate at the time of publication. Changes after publication may affect the accuracy of this information. Readers are responsible for ascertaining the currency and completeness of information they rely on, which is particularly important for government initiatives, legislation or best-practice principles which are open to amendment. The information provided in InPsych does not replace obtaining appropriate professional and/or legal advice.OCTOBER 2013 | ISSUE INDEX
Not a good week for Snapchat. On Thursday, Motherboardreported that “several departments inside social media giant Snap have dedicated tools for accessing user data, and multiple employees have abused their privileged access to spy on Snapchat users.” And now the Sunday Times has published an investigation into allegations that predators are “flocking” to the social media platform, which has become a “haven for child abuse.”
Motherboard’s article cited two former employees who claimed that “multiple Snap employees abused their access to Snapchat user data several years ago.” This included the use of “internal tools that allowed Snap employees to access user data, including in some cases location information, their own saved Snaps and personal information such as phone numbers and email addresses.”
SnapLion, one of the tools referenced in the Motherboard article, was designed to gather information for “valid law enforcement requests. Claims that this tool was involved in the alleged misuse have not been verified.
A Snap spokesperson told me that “any perception that employees might be spying on our community is highly troubling and wholly inaccurate. Protecting privacy is paramount at Snap. We keep very little user data, and we have robust policies and controls to limit internal access to the data we do have, including data within tools designed to support law enforcement. Unauthorized access of any kind is a clear violation of the company’s standards of business conduct and, if detected, results in immediate termination.”
Ironically, it is this limited user data that is central to the Sunday Timesinvestigation. The newspaper’s investigation has uncovered “thousands of reported cases that have involved Snapchat since 2014,” including “pedophiles using the app to elicit indecent images from children and to groom teenagers,” as well as “under-18s spreading child pornography themselves.” This has now resulted in U.K. police “investigating three cases of child exploitation a day linked to the app, [with] messages that self-destruct allowing groomers to avoid detection.”
The Sunday Times quotes Adam Scott Wandt from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York calling Snapchat a “haven” for abusers, arguing that the “self-destruct” nature of Snapchat’s messages “makes it difficult for the police to collect evidence.”
Wandt claims that in this way “Snapchat has distinguished itself as the platform where abuse of children happens… The problem was that adults realized you could do a simple Google search and find out that most Snapchat messages are unrecoverable after 24 hours, even by law enforcement with a warrant.”
The U.K. children’s charity, the NSPCC, rates Snapchat as a high risk, with a spokesperson for the charity explaining that predators intent on grooming children “cast the net wide in the expectation that a small number of children will respond.”
The charity has also warned on self-generated images taken and shared by children themselves. “As soon as that image is shared or screenshotted, the child loses control over it… those images may start on a site like Snapchat, but they could very easily end up circulating among technologically sophisticated offenders, making their way onto the dark web.”
Snap told me that “we care deeply about protecting our community and are sickened by any behavior which involves the abuse of a minor. We work hard to detect, prevent and stop abuse on our platform and encourage everyone – young people, parents and caregivers – to have open conversations about what they’re doing online. We will continue to proactively work with governments, law enforcement and other safety organizations to ensure that Snapchat continues to be a positive and safe environment.”
A similar investigation in March focused on Instagram, with the NSPCC claiming that Facebook’s photo-sharing app has become the leading platform for child grooming in the country. During an 18-month period to September last year, there were more than 5,000 recorded crimes “of sexual communication with a child,” and “a 200% rise in recorded instances in the use of Instagram to target and abuse children.” The charity’s CEO described the figures as “overwhelming evidence that keeping children safe cannot be left to social networks. We cannot wait for the next tragedy before tech companies are made to act.”
This latest investigation makes the same point and comes a little over a month after the U.K. Government published proposals for “tough new measures to ensure the U.K. is the safest place in the world to be online,” claiming these to be the world’s “first online safety laws.” The proposals include an independent regulator with the “powers to take effective enforcement action against companies that have breached their statutory duty of care.” Such enforcement will include “substantial fines” as well as, potentially, the powers “to disrupt the business activities of a non-compliant company… to impose liability on individual members of senior management… and to block non-compliant services.”
The regulation of social media has been in and out of the headlines for most of this year. The prevalence of social media use by under-age children, and the risky interactions those children expose themselves to, has been one of the most disturbing aspects disclosed thus far. Regulation is coming. But the open question is how do the platforms prevent users from deliberately circumventing their security controls with little understanding of the risks they might then face.
I am the Founder/CEO of Digital Barriers—developing advanced surveillance solutions for defence, national security and counter-terrorism. I write about the intersection of geopolitics and cybersecurity, and analyze breaking security and surveillance stories. Contact me at email@example.com .
Pedophiles trade Child Porn through Dropbox Links on Instagram
The Atlantic first reported that teenagers stumbled upon a network of Instagram accounts that were sharing Dropbox links of child porn (Atlantic article). The way it worked is that pedophiles were using certain hashtags on images that advertised how to get in touch. Teens discovered this and proceeded to spam the offending hashtags with hundreds of memes, making it difficult for pedophiles to find each other and trade illegal content.
Brilliant. Kids defending other kids!
And, although it was an admirable diversion, unfortunately these criminals are resourceful. And, with over a billion monthly users, it’s impossible for Instagram to keep pace with nefarious activity.
Maybe your kid already uses Instagram. Great! I’m not saying you need to rip it away. In fact, that is often counterproductive. Instead, we hope this post will help you better understand that the way the app is designed creates risks.
Because remember, not all kids using Instagram end up being groomed and abused.
If your son or daughter receives a private, DM (direct message) from a stranger, does he/she know how to respond? It’s easier to do than you think. Remember, wherever the kids are is where the predators are.
We simply want this post to flash a light in dark places. Since Apple’s App Store Descriptiondoesn’t say anything about predatory activity, it’s our job to tell the truth.
**Warning. Some of the screenshots you will see in this post are not safe for work (NSFW) and include some of the most disturbing content we’ve ever encountered during over four years of researching social media. Nothing has been censored.
Four Grooming Paths on Instagram – Comments, Hashtags, Likes, and DMs
If Instagram leadership reads this post, they’ll try really hard to point to their community guidelines and their reporting channels, saying that they don’t allow predatory activity. But we would argue that the very way in which Instagram is designed creates grooming pathways. In other words – no amount of moderation or guidelines can change Instagram’s features. Allow us to explain.
Oh, and one more thing. Many parents who read this might think, “my child has a private account, so they’re fine.” That’s a common, but incorrect conclusion. None of the four feature issues we discuss below are impacted in any way by the privacy of an account. Anyone, whether private or not, can post comments and search hashtags, and anyone can be seen through the like count and sent a message via DM.
Pedophiles exploit Instagram’s comments to network with each other and fish for victims.
Within the comments, pedophiles find other pedophiles and peddle their illegal and disgusting content with each other. Here are a few samples from an endless number of comments (warning – these comments are extremely disturbing)
You also see comments that go directly at young people as a form of “fishing” for victims, waiting for a kid to bite.
Pedophiles exploit Instagram’s hashtags to drop horrible content into good, clean places.
Almost all social media platforms use #hashtags. Think of them as a card catalogue for social media content – a way to categorize millions and millions of images into groups so that I can find exactly what I’m looking for. We love them! Some people use them as a sort of witty, second language.
But the problem is that they can be used by anyone.
Let’s say for a minute that I’m a teen girl who’s interested in modeling. Or cheerleading. And my mom even made me have a private Instagram account (good job, mom!).
I take a photo at the beach with my friends, and I attach the hashtags #teen #teengirl #teenmodel #snapchat. Fabulous. Later on, with my girlfriends, I’m thumbing through the #teenmodel and #snapchat hashtags, and I see this:
See, any predator can attach #teenmodel and #snapchat to their photo. This allows that photo to show up in front of millions of teen girls, thumbing through #snapchat photos, hoping one will “bite.”
Notice in the one photo how part of the “sell” is to convince a girl to join him in Snapchat, which is a very secure environment for secretive activity. After all, >75% of teens have Instagram and >76% (AP Article) of teens have Snapchat, so there’s a good chance that if a kid has one, then they probably have the other.
In other words, #hashtags allow predators to hover over good places like a drone and drop their smut whenever they want. Pay attention to those screenshots – there’s nothing pornographic about them. There’s no swear words. No use of “sex.” But, the very nature of #hashtags as a feature create this grooming path.
And if someone reports the “daddy” posts you see above and Instagram takes them down, no problem. Since Instagram doesn’t require any identity verification, including birthday, real email, credit card, NOTHING, a predator can create another fake account in seconds. This is yet another huge design flaw that creates a situation where pedophiles don’t mind taking great risks and getting shut down – their attitude is, “I’ll just start over.”
[Note: we experienced this with “daddy,” who we reported multiple times. His account would be shut down, and then he popped up with a slightly different username seconds later, posting the same horrifying images of him masturbating and asking kids to connect with him “live.”]
Predators exploit Instagram’s likes (the heart) to identify potential victims.
Going back to our #teenmodel example, if you click on one photo, you might find that it has hundreds of likes (hearts) similar to the photo of the young boy below (sorry, but if you don’t want your photo in blog posts, then keep your account private).
Predators can click on the likes and see everyone who has liked this photo. Everyone. Even if they have a private account. From that list, a predator can identify someone young who looks interesting and send him/her a direct message (DM) – we’ll explain the whole DM feature in more detail next. But, note how the “likes” feature creates a target audience for sexual predators. This is shown in the image below.
Again, it’s a design flaw. The very nature of the likes feature creates a pool of young people for predators to target (to Instagram’s credit, they are considering dropping the “like” count attached to photos, but so far, this has only been speculated).
Which leads us to DMs. Direct Messages.
Pedophiles exploit Instagram DMs (direct messages) to groom kids. And they’re doing it very successfully.
Two weeks ago, PYE created a test Instagram account. This account was clearly for a young girl, who posted two selfies on the first day of existence. Tagged on these photos were hashtags #teen, #teengirl, #teenmodel. This account went out and “liked” a few photos with similar hashtags and followed accounts that were like mine.
Not much happened for the first six days of the account.
Then, one week later, something in Instagram’s algorithm triggered. It was as if some combination of the test account’s activity unleashed a tsunami of DM activity that hasn’t let up over the past four days, averaging over 10 DMs per day. The screenshots below show some of the activity, including a very creative porn link. Note – PYE is the one who scribbled out the man masturbating in the image below. The photo was sent to our test account as a DM, completely exposed.
Can Instagram Fix their Predator Problem?
Maybe. In order to clean up the issues above, Instagram would have to significantly alter numerous, core features. If Instagram were to create a “Safe Mode,” it might have to:
Remove the ability to DM to or with anyone who isn’t an approved follower.
Allow parents to create a whitelisted set of contacts. That means the child can ONLY like, comment, and DM with people who are on the whitelist.
Remove the ability to add hashtags.
I just don’t foresee Instagram making those changes.
What Can Parents do About the Instagram Pedophile Problem?
1. If your kid uses social media, including Instagram, be curious and involved. Remember, not every kid misuses these platforms. But, if you know the risks, then get involved and talk openly with your children about how they’re using the app.
2. Use monitoring tools like Bark (7-days free!) and Covenant Eyes (30-days free!) to monitor their smartphone social media and texting activity. Bark actually monitors images within the app for appropriateness and alerts parents when kids venture into inappropriate images.
3. Talk to your kids specifically about direct messages and give them guidance for what to do if someone tricky reaches out to them.
The only way anything will change with big tech companies is if the government does something. We’re convinced of it.
Parents, we love BARK and how it helps parents AND kids. Here’s a real story…
“We knew our son was having some issues with school and in his social circle but he doesn’t talk to us about anything…he googled “What is it called when there’s a war going on inside your brain?”…The fact that he used the word “war” prompted BARK to mark it as violence…Call it depression or anxiety or regular mood swings teens experience, he wasn’t opening up to anyone about this and never mentioned it…I have a psych evaluation setup for him in a few days and I just have to say how grateful I am that BARK caught this. I would otherwise have no idea that this was even an issue for him and we can now get some professional help to ensure that it doesn’t become a true problem.”
Parents, do you want a better idea of what your kids are doing on social media? What about the comments on your daughter’s Instagram photos? Or, iMessage activity on your son’s iPhone? Then, look no further than Bark. You can start a 7-day free trial today.
*Note – links in this post might connect to affiliates who we know and trust. We might earn a small commission if you decide to purchase their services. This costs you nothing! We only recommend what we’ve tested on our own families. Enjoy!
I love life. Seriously! Each. Day. A. Gift. Former CPA, business advisor, youth pastor, development director. Manage marketing efforts for Covenant Eyes and CEO of PYE. God shares wild ideas with me about life while I run. I have a relentless drive to help families use technology well.