Advocating for the voices of victim-survivors of child sexual abuse

AUGUST 18, 2023

A child can never give consent. The sexual abuse of a child is just that – abuse. This abhorrent crime must be called what it is and we need to begin with the foundations, by ensuring that the correct terminology is entrenched in our legislation.

We may not realise it, but the words we use when we speak about child sexual abuse have immense power. They can change our perception as a society about this issue, and they can either shame or empower a victim-survivor of this crime.

Our general discomfort with the topic of child sexual abuse has historically led to the use of language which deprioritises the safety of children in Australia’s legislation. The State and Territory laws are inconsistent in their definitions, with many states having referred to the ‘persistent sexual abuse of a child’ as a ‘relationship’.

Recognising the harm and stigma that this causes victim-survivors, The Grace Tame Foundation launched their ‘Harmony Campaign’ in February 2022, which is aimed at making child sexual abuse laws consistent across all jurisdictions in Australia. The disparities around the age of consent, the definition of sexual intercourse, what consent is and grooming, as well as the language used to describe the crime, trivialise the experiences of victims and are often exploited by perpetrators.

The former Australian of the Year has been relentless in her pursuit of these changes, seeing success across the country in how State and Territory legislation refers to the crime. As at August 2023, the word ‘relationship’ has been removed nationwide from the heading of the criminal offence of the ‘persistent sexual abuse of a child’. This is a significant achievement, and the first step towards their aim of removing the word ‘relationship’ from all parts of the offence of child sexual abuse in every jurisdiction.

“Softened wording doesn’t reflect the gravity of the crime, it feeds into victim-blaming attitudes, eases the conscience of perpetrators and gives license to characterise abuse as romance.”The Grace Tame Foundation, Harmony Campaign

Grace Tame has been a powerful advocate for the voice of victim-survivors of child sexual abuse, reminding us through her tireless work that children deserve our commitment to protecting them from harm. Despite how confronting this crime is, we need to engage in public conversations in a mindful and trauma-informed way to remove the stigma surrounding the issue. With the Australian Child Maltreatment Study revealing that 28.5% of Australians have experienced child sexual abuse, this epidemic is not something that we can ignore. It may be difficult to speak about, but children need us to lean into the discomfort to both acknowledge the pain and trauma of victim-survivors and prevent more children from being abused.

With recent high profile media cases shing a spotlight on the issue of child sexual abuse we are currently experiencing an increase in the public conversation surrounding the issue, particularly relating to changes we need to make to current systems in order to protect children from abuse and exploitation. An increase in discourse means an increase in the need for a better understanding of how we refer to this abuse, and how that discussion impacts victim-survivors. The new reporting guidelines for media reporting on child sexual abuse, developed for the National Office for Child Safety (NOCS) are designed to keep the victim-survivor voice at the centre of this topic.

The work of The Grace Tame Foundation affirms just how important, and guiding, the victim-survivor voice is in shaping both our response to and perception of child sexual abuse.

Whether you have an active role in child protection, you’re a parent, you work in the child care sector, or simply as a member of society, we can all play an active role in supporting victim-survivors. And the easiest to do this is by engaging in meaningful public discourse using the most appropriate language. In 2016 ‘The Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse’ were adopted in Luxembourg, establishing a global standard for terminology in relation to child sexual abuse. This is a helpful and comprehensive guide used by many organisations involved in working against this crime. ICMEC Australia has created a simple summary of these global standards for those who would like to start the process of better understanding the correct terminology.

We are encouraged by the achievements of The Grace Tame Foundation in championing the rights of victim-survivors of child sexual abuse. Every milestone that is documented in the media creates more public awareness of this crime. But their Harmony Campaign is not finished. Laws in most states and territories across Australia (except Victoria and Western Australia) continue to use the term ‘relationship’ in other parts of the offence legislation. Using trauma-informed language is essential in helping children feel safe and supported enough to report abuse and to recognise harmful behaviour. It takes champions like Grace Tame to share the victim-survivor voice. Now let’s work together to help her and other advocates remove the stigma that has surrounded sexual abuse and exploitation for too long.

If you, or anyone you know, needs help, find support services available here.


RETRIEVED https://icmec.org.au/blog/advocating-for-the-voices-of-victim-survivors-of-child-sexual-abuse/

The Long-Lasting Consequences of Child Sexual Abuse


Elizabeth L. Jeglic Ph.D.
Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse

SEXUAL ABUSE

Psychological, physical, social and economic impacts of childhood sexual abuse.

Posted May 6, 2021 |  Reviewed by Chloe Williams

KEY POINTS

  • 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.

Source: Lisa Punnels Pixabay Licence. No attribution required.

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:

CSA is also strongly linked to drug and alcohol use, and those who experienced CSA are about 2.5 times more likely to make a suicide attempt than people who have not been 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:

  • Poorer overall health
  • Pain/fibromyalgia
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Gynecological symptoms
  • Cardiopulmonary symptoms
  • Obesity

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:

  • Relationship disruption (break-up/divorce)
  • Dissatisfaction with their relationships
  • Sexual unfaithfulness/promiscuity
  • Increased sexual dysfunction

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.

References

For more information, see: Jeglic, E.L., & Calkins, C.A. (2018). Protecting Your Child from Sexual Abuse: What you Need to Know to Keep your Kids Safe. New York: Skyhorse Publishing.



RETRIEVED https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/protecting-children-sexual-abuse/202105/the-long-lasting-consequences-child-sexual-abuse

When Relationship Abuse Is Hard To Recognize

 | SILVERGIRL

COERCIVE CONTROL

Signs of coercive control are hard to spot; support and information will help.

Great campaign from @CitizensAdvice

By Lisa Aronson Fontes

Paybacks. Silent Treatment. Isolation. Threats. Humiliation. Sometimes even physical abuse. These are the weapons of coercive control, a strategy used by some people against their intimate partners. A relationship that should involve loving support ends up as a trap designed for domination. Although coercive control can show up in a variety of relationships, the most common is one in which a man uses coercive control against his wife or girlfriend. However, people of any gender and orientation(link is external) can be victims or victimizers.

Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors, including physical, sexual, verbal and psychological attacks used to control an intimate partner or family member. Without intervention, violence typically escalates in frequency and severity. safehaventc.org:

People subject to coercive control grow anxious and afraid. Coercive control strips away their independence, sense of self, and basic rights, such as the right to make decisions about their own time, friends, and appearance.

Many men who use coercive control also abuse partners physically or sexually, but some use coercive control without physical violence. Outsiders may not be able to see the signs of coercive control in a couple; those who use it are often quite charming.

 (Do you know someone who is being controlled in this way? Do you wonder if your relationship is too controlling? Here’s a checklist(link is external) from my book, Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship(link is external).)

Victims of coercive control often feel like hostages. Over time, being grilled, criticized, stalked, and monitored may seem routine and inescapable. Victims often blame themselves as they feel despairing and disoriented. It’s easy for a person in this position to lose confidence and accept a partner’s view of reality. They may feel confused as they are told again and again that they themselves have triggered their partner’s behaviors by doing something “wrong.” At the same time, to keep the peace, victims may suppress their own desires, silence their voices, and detach from loved ones. Unfortunately, victims often do not see the connection between their partner’s control and their own isolation until time has passed. Losing self-confidence and close relationships at the same time can be paralyzing.

People who get caught in the web of a controlling person are no different from others. They just have the bad luck to become involved with an abuser at a time when they are especially vulnerable. Typically, an abuser will lavish attention on a woman at the beginning of the relationship. Over time, he becomes jealous, monitors her whereabouts, and restricts her interactions with others. His partner thinks the original “helpful man” is the “real” him, and if she does things right, he’ll go back to being wonderful again. At times he may indeed act loving, if this seems like the best way to maintain his control. Loving acts become another controlling tactic.

Once a controlling man has caught a woman in his web, he will do everything he can to prolong the relationship. Sometimes he will threaten, stalk, assault, or even murder her if she leaves or he suspects she’s trying to leave. For this reason, even if there is no physical violence it is important for a person who is being controlled to contact a domestic violence agency and devise a safety plan.

Only a couple of decades ago, society named and recognized the problems of sexual harassment, dating violence, marital rape, and stalking. Coercive control needs to be similarly named and recognized, so we can begin to address it. We all need to learn more, so we can offer the right kinds of support(link is external) and not allow victims to become isolated.

If you don’t like the word “victim,” feel free to substitute “survivor” or another term that you prefer. 

RETRIEVED

Being a Survivor of Child Abuse
Inside the mind of a victim

Inside the mind of a victim

I was abused for sixteen years by my mother.

From an outside perspective, I belonged to a middle-class family and lived a happy and fulfilled life. I excelled at school and partook in many extra-curricular activities, such as swimming, piano lessons and ballet. I was the textbook definition of a ‘good child’.

My first recollection of abuse was when I was perhaps five or six years old. My parents were arguing and when I tried to intervene, my mother lashed out and struck me across the face.

The stone of her engagement ring cut my face drawing blood. I vaguely remember being upset, however, what sticks with me is the next day. I was at school and met with questions as to what happened to my face. Instinctively I constructed a lie and told everyone that I had walked into the sharp edge of a door.

What amazes me, is that I was able to lie so quickly and convincingly at such a young age. I do not even remember my mother telling me to lie, I just know that felt as if I should.

As I grew older and my mother’s ability to control me diminished, her abuse developed.

There was one time where I truly feared for my life. I do not remember the cause for her distress, however, she became so enraged that she reached for a wooden statue of a seahorse that was in our hallway, and lifted her arm high up to strike me with it. At that moment, I saw her pupils shrink and her face was screwed up in extreme torment. I thought that if she hit me with that statue, I would probably die.

I froze in panic and said nothing. I think my passive reaction caused her to snap out of what I assume was a dissociative state. She changed her mind and she dropped the statue.

Another time, she had kicked my legs so I was sat on the floor and she was slamming my head into the wall. I kicked my legs out towards her and struck her in the chest, hoping to get her away from me. She cried out in pain and began crying, berating me for being abusive and hurting her. The problem with her was that she never thought logically and that situation then became one where I hurt her, regardless of the fact that she had just been assaulting me previously.

Many people have often questioned why myself or my father never spoke out and told anyone about the abuse that we faced. The answer is a complex one, yet it can be simplified to the fact that when you are subjected to abuse for the majority of your life, it can become normalised.

I understood what my mother did was wrong, however, I never believed that it was bad enough to speak out. The other reason is due to embarrassment. The trouble with abuse is the victim often feels ashamed, even though the shame should be entirely on the abuser.

I could not let my friends or teachers know what was happening, yet at the same time, I dreamed that they would somehow know and save me from the horrors that I faced.

When I recall the years of abuse that I faced, I think the emotional abuse affected me much greater than the physical. I did not like to be hit, however, I would’ve chosen that over the alternative, which was the punishment of humiliation.

She achieved this in various ways, such as locking me outside of the front of the house, forcing me to sit outside knowing the neighbours could see me. Another method would be to text my friends shameful and embarrassing messages from my phone, knowing that I would have to pretend it was me, as I could not explain that my mother would do such a thing.

Towards the end, as I neared adolescence, I became really upset with my situation. My mother and father had separated, due to her forcing him to leave, and her distress caused by the dissolution of marriage was taken out on me.

As her mental health spiralled, the emotional abuse and screaming became more frequent. I was nearing the age of taking exams as a sixteen-year-old girl, and I was tired of juggling my school work, with having to look after my mother who was out of control.

I would often have sleepless nights due to her making me sleep on the floor in a cold room as a punishment, or keeping me up by shouting at me for some trivial mistake that I had made. I then became desperate for my situation to change.

At this point, it was still never a viable option in my mind to tell an outsider and get help. Not because I was scared, or because I didn’t think that anyone would believe me. I just simply did not consider doing it. I then started hoping that someone else would save me from my situation. I often opened windows when my mother was in a fit of rage, hoping a neighbour or passerby would hear her and report it.

I shamefully remember hoping that she would do something really drastic- inflict so much damage to me that I would end up in the hospital or that someone would call the police to take her away. Like many others, I ask my younger self: ‘why did you not just simply tell someone?’

Then came the day that completely changed my life. I had recently been in contact with my father and had told him that I could not take the situation anymore and that he must do something. He had a wide range of evidence of her abuse, from text messages to videos. I was at school one day when I was asked to leave my classroom to speak to someone.

The police sat in a room and explained that my father had reported my mother for abuse and that she was in custody.

I was taken to a police safe house in the forest to complete a vulnerable witness video statement, as I was under the age of eighteen and the victim of traumatic crime.

I was asked to outline as much as I could of the abuse that I faced throughout the years. I listed multiple instances in a rather matter of fact way, to which the policeman was shocked. He told me how he was stunned that I could talk of such experiences so calmly and without getting upset.

He also told me how horrified he was, as a father of a young girl, that someone could face what I had. It was at this point, that I truly understood the reality of my experience, causing my resolute appearance to shatter. I broke down in tears, realising that for the first time in my life, somebody else knew what I had faced.

As an adult leading a happy and successful life, I can still see the remnants of my trauma. One of my biggest flaws is that I overthink how others perceive me. I spend hours worrying if I have said something wrong, or embarrassing, which I believe stems from punishments of humiliation, which were designed to render me as vulnerable.


RETRIEVED https://medium.com/@nepiggott/being-a-survivor-of-child-abuse-c19d08cdaae8

Natasha Piggott


Unbiblical, Part 5 – Self-Sacrifice v. Codependence

Sketch for mural “The Spirit of Self-Sacrificing Love” by Kenyon Cox at Oberlin College, Smithsonian Museum (1983.114.15), Source https://americanart.si.edu (PD-Art, PD-Old-95)

“The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.  We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”

– Mother Teresa

Self-sacrifice is natural to Christians, and encouraged.  Christians are to put the legitimate needs of others ahead of their own, in imitation of Christ.  Mother Teresa was a shining example of this.  For abuse victims, however, self-sacrifice can become confused with codependence.

Codependence as an After-Effect of Abuse

Individuals suffering from codependence will allow the emotions and behavior of others to dictate their view of themselves.  Those with codependence will tolerate – even, unconsciously, seek out – relationships that are “one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive verbally or physically” [1].

Codependent characteristics include low self-esteem; fear of anger; denial of any problems with the relationship; and an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the feelings, choices, and actions of the loved one [2].

While on its face, codependence may resemble Christian self-sacrifice, there are distinct differences between the two.

The codependent individual may forego his/her goals and desires to meet the perceived “needs” of a loved one.  But the underlying motive for this is not the welfare of the loved one.  It is fear.

Actually, the codependent individual is attempting to shore up his/her fragile sense of worth, strike an unspoken bargain for love and affection, and maintain the relationship at all costs (however abusive or unsatisfying it may be).  An overly solicitous mother might be a crude illustration.

By comparison, Christian self-sacrifice is not the attempt to manipulate (or placate) an individual perceived as more “important” or powerful.  It is, or should be, truly selfless.

Clinging to an Imitation

None of this is meant to imply that abuse victims cannot love and love intensely.  The problem lies in the fact victims have not seen healthy love modeled.  What feels familiar is a flawed version of love, an imitation.  The real love and support victims need seem out of reach, so we cling to the imitation with all our might, confusing pain for passion.

Reality Check

Codependence does not have to be a permanent state.  What can loosen its grip is reality, in liberal doses.

  • What would a third party identify as problems in the relationship?  Putting aside the excuses victims have always made for him/her, what attitudes and behavior on the loved one’s part cause victims pain?
  • Why is it victims feel unworthy of a satisfying relationship?
  • What would the consequences be, if victims expressed their dissatisfaction or anger? What was the response to their anger in childhood?

Notice that the list of our supposed failures and inadequacies is not included here. That, for the most part, is a work of fiction.  But abuse victims are not likely to recognize the fact until the foundation for the fiction has been undermined.

The reality is victims are no longer children.  We are entitled to have needs, and express them. We are entitled to have negative emotions, and express them.  We will not be annihilated, if the abusive relationship ends.

The reality is victims are not responsible.  Not for the feelings, choices, or actions of the loved one – much as victims might like to believe that.  An exaggerated sense of responsibility provides only the illusion of control.  That illusion may be necessary to the child; it is crippling to the adult.

The reality is victims can survive.  The proof is – astoundingly enough – that we have.  Despite the dire predictions of those who should have loved us.  Despite childhood insults, curses, and neglect; despite adult scars.  Despite even the flawed relationships into which we have fallen, thinking we deserve no better.

Only when abuse victims understand the concept of self-love will we be able to put the needs of another before our own, freely.  Till then, victims will continue playing out the tragedy of abuse.

[1] [2] The Diversified Intervention Group, Education, “The Latest Definition of Codependency”, http://interventiontreatmentrecovery.org/education/codependency/?gclid=CPSfiK3-_8MCFdgYgQodshIARw.

Originally posted 4/5/15

This series will conclude next week with Forgiveness v. Victims’ Rights

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