Beliefs, Biases, and Fears
When a child has been sexually molested one of the biggest fears shared by parents (the victim’s parents as well as others) is that the child will themselves become a perpetrator. While this may happen, it is not “destined” to happen. While it is true that many of those who molest children were themselves molested, there are also many people who were molested as children who have never molested anyone and would never abuse a child. Those who receive therapy immediately following disclosure of abuse are less likely to molest others, but here again treatment is necessary; as is understanding and cooperation from those who care about and are responsible for the child who has been abused. It is very important that a united front, rooted in knowledge and skills, be assembled to protect the child as well as other children.
To help the child heal, 3 essential features must be put into place, Safety, Empathy, and Dedication. (1) Safety. When we use the term safety it is a bit more comprehensive than what is typical. By safety we mean the creation of a safe environment in which the child is allowed to behave as child, but with an awareness of the child’s trauma and vulnerabilities. This means that responsible, trustworthy adults are always in the presence of the child whether alone or with other children. Doors must remain open and the child is to be in the company of the appointed adults at all times, as doing so minimizes the risk for harm for all involved. (2) Empathy. Empathy for the child and what they have endured and are currently experiencing as a result of the abuse they suffered is of paramount importance. The adults must work to understand that the child, though seemingly normal has been traumatized and while they can overcome what has happened to them, they are affected and forever changed because of it. By trying to understand the child as if you were in their position, you may develop a greater understanding of what the child may be feeling. (3) Dedication. Again, when the child is participating and behaving in the manner you would expect from a child, it may be tempting to think that everything is alright so it might be okay to not adhere to the established boundaries. Do not make that mistake. The boundaries are there for a reason and if the child is to get better they must adhere to the boundaries until they feel that the boundaries are normal and commonplace because truthfully, they should be. There can be no relaxing of the boundaries. Follow through is essential.
Group therapy for a sexually abused child is particularly effective. It creates a community of peers with a shared experience and reinforces concepts of good touch/bad touch, the empowered self, and identifying red flags for potentially dangerous people/situations. Group therapy should be in conjunction with Individual and Family therapy as part of a well-rounded regimen.
No Shame, No Blame
There is no room for shame or blame where sexual abuse is concerned, especially the sexual abuse of a child. A child does not possess the capabilities to elicit or understand sex or sexuality and therefore they are not able to process the emotions and actions that denote sexual activity. Often times when a child has been sexually abused, the parents blame themselves. They feel as if they have been negligent in some way, that they put their child at risk. When parents do this they fail to recognize that the abuser has devised strategic methods to victimize their child, often right under their nose. They do not know that the abuser has become so skilled at identifying and manipulating their victims they would have to keep their child at an arm’s length 24 hours, 7 days a week to keep them 100% safe. Parents of molested children must understand that anything short of knowing the abuse has or would happen could not have protected their child, as child molestation is much more prevalent than most of us are aware of. Parents, you can be sad about what has happened to your child, and you can be vigilant about keeping it from happening again. You cannot blame yourself for what has happened, as doing so does not help you and it does not help your child. You cannot be ashamed of what has happened because the only way to teach your child that they are not at fault for what has happened to them is to model that behavior. The perpetrator is the villain. Do not get that confused. When a child discloses alleged abuse always believe and act immediately. Call the police and contact an appropriate local entity such as The Children’s Assessment Center at 713.986.3300. Such agencies have appropriate staff skilled in forensic interviewing, examination of victims, and Child Protective Services on site.
Often times when children are sexually abused, they are seen as somehow having invited the abuse. It is not uncommon to hear people characterize the sexually molested child as being “attention seeking”, “fast” or “grown acting”, and “prone to lying”. People who have been sexually abused and/or molested as children may even begin to view themselves as bad and they may also engage in promiscuous behavior during adolescence or young adulthood. They may begin to believe that they are evil and hyper-sexed: not because they are, but because they want to make sense out of what has happened to them. They want to understand why they were molested. Sadly, when they do not receive the support and boundaries they need, they often blame themselves, and we all know that when people see themselves in a bad light, they often demonstrate recklessness. It is for this reason that a child who has been sexually abused and/or molested must understand that they did NOTHING to deserve what happened to them, they are not a bad person, and that they should not define who they are by the ghastly act that was committed against them. Adults must make certain the child is not further traumatized by negative attitudes or comments toward the abused.
The Importance of Boundaries
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are limits that are put into place to protect oneself and others. They are restrictions that are used to prevent negative events from occurring because boundaries pre-determine what is allowed and what is not allowed.
Why are boundaries important?
Boundaries are important because they allow for the clear identification of what can and cannot be done. Boundaries provide security that may prevent negative behaviors and events from occurring
How are boundaries established?
Boundaries are established by the identifying of an area of concern and coming to an agreement on the best way to address the problem issue(s) that maximizes the safety potential for everyone involved. Healthy physical and emotional boundaries are essential to functioning; boundaries are a sign of respect. Respect for others and self.