Shirley Williams is a retired licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) who specialized in treating trauma-based disorders in her professional practice. She graduated with her Masters in Clinical Child Psychology from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIUE) in 1984 and has had decades of experience working with children and adults. She also happens to be my mother-in-law. 🙂
by Shirley Williams, MS
Mental Health Professionals have long stated that child sexual abuse is: “The gift that keeps on giving”. Once the sexual abuse occurs the resultant trauma effects the child’s life and becomes the force that drives his/her emotions, development and behavior which can last throughout their life.
How Does Sexual Abuse Affect the child?
Developmentally, sexual abuse could affect the child’s ability to move forward in his/her developmental stages. Those tasks are different for children of different ages (as explained in my previous blog).
Any perceived trauma can bring on stress reactions within a child: separation from parent(s), emotional abuse, physical abuse, bullying and sexual abuse to mention a few situations which can impact a child in negative ways. However, sexual abuse may be the most damaging to a child as the shame associated with being sexually abused most often is beyond the child’s understanding of how to fit the abuse into the concept of self.
Most child sexual abuse involves someone known by the parent(s): a caretaker, teacher, priest/minister, coach, a step parent or natural parent. These are the people who have been accepted into the family and trusted to protect their child. These people befriend the child; gain the admiration, their trust and often the child’s love.
When a person acts out sexually against a child he forces that boy or girl to become complicit with the activity through coercion or threats of harm. The perpetrator may give the child presents, give the child his total attention, or may threaten to kill their pet or parent(s). He may convince the boy or girl it is their fault and if they tell the ‘secret’ they would be punished by mommy and daddy or their parents would stop loving them.
All children are vulnerable to sexual predators. However, these predators are very astute in sensing which children to target. They choose children who are viewed as vulnerable in some way. The child may be a loner due to differing contributing factors: a parent’s death, divorce, physical, mental or developmental challenges. Also, many parents have to work which leaves the child with caretakers or home alone.
These situations are listed as possible circumstances that can leave your child/children vulnerable. It is not intended to be judgmental or predictive. The information will, hopefully, provide you, as a parent, with information to encourage you to take preventative action.
A group of children who may be particularly vulnerable are those who are on the Autistic Spectrum. These children have difficulty reading behavioral cues. This deficit in what is referred to as the ‘Uh-oh,’ feeling, usually present in children not on the spectrum, tells them (instinctively) this person is not safe. These children seek out a place of safety to avoid being alone with a predator. I had a lady tell me when she was a child she always felt uncomfortable around a certain uncle. She made sure she was never alone with him. She later learned he was arrested for child molestation. She had the ‘Uh-oh’ feeling as a child.
Many children on the autism spectrum are loners. They may be teased by other children because they don’t fit in. This can make these children very vulnerable to adult attention.
There are numerous reasons why a child on the spectrum may be vulnerable to becoming a victim. There are interventions that can be taken to protect your child from being a target for a predator. Just as we practice fire safety and water safety with our children you can practice body safety. This process doesn’t have to be scary for the child. We don’t throw a child into a river to teach them water is dangerous if they don’t know how to swim. We first teach them all the steps of learning the skills of swimming through practice. They learn there are certain areas where it is safe to swim and areas where it is not safe to swim. Teaching body safety can be empowering for the child and anxiety-freeing for the parents.
There are many good books that teach these skills. Schools teach body safety as well. However, few practice the safety rules. It is vitally important to practice the rules and incorporate them into the child’s daily interaction with others.
If any parent or caretaker has any questions about safety rules I would be more than happy to answer them. Please contact me at “bonnietrotter13 at yahoo dot com.”