I know from the experiences that my clients have shared that it’s not a new phenomena and it’ll be no surprise to you that the resulting trauma (including from family reaction) has long-term effects on the quality of life and decisions of the people involved.
Babies aren’t born knowing that other people are important too. It takes a few years for them to even begin to appreciate this. Also, young minds have little experiential context in which to frame things. Reality and fiction are blurred until a context has been formed. The context comes from the people who influence them, the things they are exposed to and the reinforcement of that message.
A part of finding context is understanding personal accountability and social responsibility. Not just for the child himself (or herself as some child rapists & abusers are female). But for every single one of us who has any influence whatsoever on a child including indirect influence that occurs through a product we make or a service we offer.
Looking after the Victim
We already know that severe stress and trauma has physical properties that go beyond psychological distress. They affect the functioning of our immune, endocrine and nervous systems which all play a major part in our physical good health.
A long-term New Zealand study published in the December 09 issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine finds that the physiological impact of childhood trauma can lead to health implications such as Depression and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome by the time the child is 30.
It’s therefore important that the abused child receive proper counselling and after-care to resolve as much of the anguish and distress as possible to minimise the impact of the stress on the internal workings of the body. Through confusion or fear, some children do keep it to themselves, putting the onus on the parent to be vigilant in fostering an open relationship with their child.
The Abusive Child
Here’s a comment made by Musiba, a reader of the UK article. I’ve added a few line breaks to aid readability.
The abuse of children by other children, particularly sexual abuse, is most definately becoming more common. Violence of a sexual nature by young children is far more prevalant than it ever was.
My husband and I are members of the medical profession. We regularly see the adverse and chilling effects of society’s sexualisation of young children. Extensive current research confirms our own observations at grass roots level ie an increasing number of very young children (4-10 yr olds) are actually carrying out violent sexual acts on other children.
Furthermore, they view aggressive and violent sex as normal acceptable behaviour. They are, in most cases, drip fed sex from an extremely young age….multiple media sources, pop music videos, promiscuous parents (usually witnessing the mother or father having sex with a number of different partners in the home enviroment), observing the use of sex toys, watching soft and hard core porn alongside their mother/father partners etc etc
A number of children now grow up firmly believing that pain and sex go hand in hand and that unless the girl is physically hurt during the act then they have failed to do what they believe should happen!! This growing trend amongst an,as of yet, relatively small number of extremely young children is deeply disturbing. We have seen nothing yet!! – Musiba
Sex and Violence
Children (and adults) are attracted to the forbidden. That’s one reason censorship doesn’t work.
Sex and violence – as opposed to sexual violence – is prevalent in modern society’s entertainment culture, yet every household is not full of abusers. Individuals have different levels of ability to process what’s being presented to them. Most can separate fiction and fantasy from real life. For others, it turns into an obsession that takes over their world.
A client Paul (not his real name) described his introduction to pornography as a teenager. It was common in his school to sneak in and pass around this forbidden titillation. In a way, it’s a normal part of growing up.
However, Paul became de-sensitised to what he was seeing and actively sought out stronger, more violent images and videos. By the time he was 20, his view had become that women were “disposable receptacles”. Objects. Intimacy was not a part of his experience and at the age of 32, could not remember having had a single emotionally intimate relationship with anybody. He attributes this directly to violent pornography having made it impossible for him to connect intimacy with sex.
If violence and pornography can have this effect on an older teenager from a stable, middle-class background, imagine what regular exposure can do to the mind of a younger, more impressionable child.
Repression & Curiosity
Sameena (not her real name) was sexually abused for a period of time and threatened to silence by her 12 year old cousin from around the age of 7. She remembers he was “testing” and “seeing how it fits”.
Sameena’s culture doesn’t permit talking openly about sex. It isn’t always a cultural thing though as I know many Western parents who prefer to leave sex education to be taught by the school.
Because our values, beliefs and attitudes start taking shape while we are young and have an insatiable curiosity, children ask questions when they’re ready to know more about something.
Repressing things – especially relating to natural human urges – becomes self-defeating. Children don’t need all the gory details and if you plan for it in advance, most answers can be framed in a way that furthers a child’s appreciation of relationships. It takes time and effort of course but leaving a child’s questions hanging waiting for the subject to come up in the school curriculum doesn’t make the question go away and might force them to draw their own conclusions.
Children do talk to each other about sexuality and the things they see adults doing. Sometimes they’ll play out a kiss they’ve seen on TV or perhaps take a peak at each others body parts. It’s a mutual curiosity that’s very different to the forceful, disrespectful and self-absorbed curiosity that led Sameena’s cousin to rape her.
If social respect, personal responsibility and the differences between the sexes is taught before a child becomes aware of their own sexuality, then the chances of him experimenting forcefully on others becomes reduced.
Sameena held onto her secret for over 50 years, suffering with depression, recurring stomach ulcers, suicide attempts, self-doubt and lack of self-esteem along the way.
The Media, Hollywood, the gaming industry etc are faceless machines fulfilling a role given to them by the momentum of their own success. It’s unfair to bash the media when they’re simply responding to demand.
As they supply a commodity (news, sensationalism, violence, gossip, sexual imagery etc), de-sensitisation occurs and just like Paul, people need a higher or stronger dose in order to get the same response. For example, the level of gossip and intrusion into celebrity life today is far more potent today than it used to be. In the US and UK, celebrity gossip is also more malicious than in some Eastern countries. Also, todays soft porn was considered hard core in the 1930′s so who knows what today’s hard core stuff will be considered in 80 years.
The individuals who make up these faceless machines have more of a load to bear. The social responsibility that one incurs when one is in a position to influence is enormous. But sadly, it’s a responsibility that is very easy to deny because the banner of the machine protects individuals with a veil of righteousness: “It’s not our fault, people should take responsibility for themselves”.
This is a personal development blog so to moralise about the shortcomings of faceless social systems isn’t going to help much. In the end, everything seems to come down to taking personal responsibility.
A child who commits sexual violence, physical violence or bullies is acting out choices that he’s gained the ability to make. Ultimately, it’s a choice that he’s made and he will have to live with it and deal with the consequences.
But to stop something like this from initially happening, giving a child the ability to make better choices is crucial.
So what can we individually do to have a more positive impact on the children within our scope of influence? It doesn’t matter whether yours is the direct influence of a parent or teacher or the indirect influence of a service provider.
There are many potential Sameena’s out there who need us to *do* something today.