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The Issues Regarding Child Sexual Abuse

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 2603 words Published: 3rd May 2017

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For my final year I have been assigned to produce a dissertation on a topic of my own interest. During my second year of this course I was at a placement in a Supported Housing organisation. Whilst working there I came across a lot of child abuse issues, in particular child sexual abuse and this is where my interest in seeking more knowledge about the subject came about. I have chosen to focus on the issues regarding the sexual abuse of children and how this affects their life as children and as adults. The topic itself is quite a complex one to define and understand. The issue of sexual abuse began to attract widespread attention as a social issue in the late 1970s. However, the extent of child sexual abuse has only been fully recognised over the last 20 years or so. But exact figures depend on how sexual abuse is being defined. The term child abuse refers in this dissertation to the physical or emotional mistreatment and neglect of children or their sexual exploitation, in circumstances for which the parents can be held responsible through acts of commission or omission (cited in Doyle, 2006). The possibility of child sexual activities taking place arouses feelings of disgust and horror; it is condemned by society as a violation of what is normal sexual behaviour.

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I have chosen to structure this dissertation into 6 sections. In the first chapter I will start of by defining and explaining what child sexual abuse is. The second chapter will consist of describing who the perpetrators of child sexual abuse are. I will explore further into their reasons for committing such an offence and if it is linked with their past. Most people who have suffered sexual abuse when they were younger do not grow up to abuse. Jones (2002) states that, a significant minority of those who sexually abuse children have themselves suffered physical and sexual abuse in their own childhood. The most potent predictors of who is likely to commit the most serious and prolonged sexual abuse are childhood family violence, loss of a carer, and family breakdown. Sex offenders are noted for their invisibility. When people think of a sex offender they may visualize a stereotypical image of a man filthily dressed, hanging around street corners though in truth the sex offender appears in many forms and in all walks of life. When people hear of a sex offence, they generally associate total strangers to be the ones who carry out the crime, what they don’t realise is that sex offending itself takes many forms. In some cases the abuser may be diagnosed as having serious mental health problems. For example, a woman drowns her twin 6 month old daughters. Another mother throws her daughter off a bridge into icy water. A father has sexual intercourse with his 6 month old daughter. These descriptions are often enough to convince most people that only someone who is mentally disturbed or truly psychotic would inflict such grievous harm onto a defenceless child (Gelles & Cornell, 1990).

The third chapter is based on the victims of child sexual abuse. Children who are sexually abused generally find it harder to talk directly and clearly about their experiences. Although some children disclose, many do not. Many children assume that, if their parents mistreat them, it is because every parent behaves in that way (Doyle, 2006). Children can become attached to abusing parents. They often want the abuse to stop but crave the abuser’s love. Every child has a right to receive a good standard of care and protection, and parents have a duty to provide this, however, this is not always the case.

Sexual abuse victims may protect their self-image by convincing themselves that there is nothing wrong in sexual relationships between adults and children. Wyre (1986) noted that many men who had raped children had been sexually abused as children and had incorporated their experiences of abuse into their own sexuality. Findings from Trickett and Putnam (1998) show that about a third of sexually abused children who have been sexually abused are at specific risk of developing sexual problems and sexualised behaviour. For some children, being inappropriately sexual with other people is the only way they know to love and get close to people. As adolescents, some boys who have been sexually abused show an increased likelihood of exposing their genitals to women, or being sexually coercive. Some girls become sexually, and often indiscriminately very active. Sexual promiscuity can get both young boys and girls into social difficulties. In the case of early sexual activity amongst sexually abused girls there is the risk of teenage pregnancy (Trickett and Putnam 1998, cited in Howe 2005).

The fourth chapter outlines the long term and short term effects child sexual abuse has on victims. I will describe the extent an abused child’s developmental stage is impaired. The more forceful and violent the abuse, the more the individual is likely to suffer trauma. The most crucial period of a child’s life is when assumptions about the world, others and the self are being formed. Unlike adults, children’s lives are affected and traumatised during this period. REFERENCE These posttraumatic reactions can easily collide with a child’s social and psychological maturation, which leads to a potentially typical dysfunctional development. The amount of damage caused to the victims is unpredictable. Survivors of sexual abuse are often described as having a number of emotional, cognitive, and social difficulties. The child perceives the self as unworthy of being loved or protected. This leads to low self-esteem.

Chapter 5 illustrates a case study in relation to my second year work placement at a supported housing organisation intended for individuals who are just released from prison. Whilst working there, my main interests were within the YOT team. During my first few days I read a particular client’s file, who was part of the Program X scheme. I found his file very interesting as there were serious issues of child sexual abuse associated with his life, which later led to extreme depression and suicide attempts.

Last but not least, the next stage is to determine how these issues can be addressed and if victims find a way to escape the nightmares associated with the abuse. Do they ever live a normal life again? This can prove difficult at times as many abuse survivors inappropriately assume responsibility for what was done to them as children and are often believed to have provoked it in some way, REFERENCE some deny that abuse ever occurred in the first place, and underestimate their personal rights to self-determination and safety. There are many agencies and organisations that provide help and support to individuals suffering from child sexual abuse. Getting help through therapy allows the survivor to find closure.

Finally, I will end the dissertation with concluding comments regarding the issues discussed throughout the dissertation.

Chapter 1 – What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse are two of the most serious and damaging crimes in our society. for victims, these crimes represent a violation which can have a significant and ongoing consequences for health and wellbeing. REFERENCE Many patients who have been abused do not talk about sexual issues with their health care providers. REFERENCE They often feel disconnected from their bodies and health needs. REFERENCE

Sexual abuse is defined in the Department of Health 1999 guidelines as:

‘Involving, forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including penetrative (e.g. rape or buggery) and non-penetrative acts. They may include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, pornographic material or watching sexual activities or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.’ (Department of Health 1999: 6, cited in Corby, 2006).

The above definition states that the sexual abuse of a child does not necessarily need to involve physical contact. It provides examples of such non-contact abuse but does not mention intra-familial abuse or anything about the age of the perpetrator. Another definition used is:

‘Any child below the age of consent may be deemed to have been sexually abused when a sexually mature person has, by design or by neglect of their usual societal or specific responsibilities in relation to the child, engaged or permitted the engagement of that child in any activity of a sexual nature which is intended to lead to the sexual gratification of the sexually mature person. This definition pertains whether or not it involves genital contact or physical contact, and whether or not there is discernible harmful outcome in the short-term.’ (Glaser and Frosh 1988: 5)

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The issue of defining sexual abuse in practice is both problematical and complex. In some cases, there are overlaps and connections between the different forms of abuse. For example, a child might be sexually and physically abused, neglected and physically abused and so on. Very young children as well as older ones are affected by sexual abuse and now it is a crime thought far more common than it was previously. Sexual abuse is harmful at all stages but Corby (2000) suggests it is considered to have greater effects, where the abuse is carried out by a father figure; if it is accompanied by threat, force or violence; where the sexual act involves penetration; where the abuse has continued for some time and finally where the family responds negatively regarding the abuse (Howe, 2005).


There is little evidence about sexual abuse of children in antiquity and medieval times. Growing up in Rome or Greece frequently involved being sexually abused by older men (de Mause 1976: 43). In Scotland 1757, incest was given the death penalty (Corby, 2006). By contrast, in England during the twentieth century, incest became a legal offence. . By the beginning of the Second World War, under the 1908 Incest Act the number of prosecutions for incest gradually increased reaching 100 a year (Corby, 2006). The definition of incest in the Sexual Offences Act of 1956 is as follows:

It is an offence for a man to have sexual intercourse with a woman whom he knows to be his grand-daughter, daughter, sister or mother….it is an offence for a woman of the age of sixteen or over to permit a man whom she knows to be her grandfather, father, brother or son to have sexual intercourse with her by her consent (Smith & Hogan, 1983: 419, cited in Howitt, 1992).

In 1937 the state of Michigan enacted a sexual psychopath legislation. In the same period of the 1930s there is also evidence that the public became more concerned about sexual offences. REFERENCE By 1960 there were some 27 states and the District of Columbia with a version of a sexually dangerous person law. From the late 1930s onwards to the early 1960s there was emphasis on the treatment of offenders through involuntary civil commitment procedures rather than punishment after conviction. Reasons for jurisdictions over such offenders varied among 27 states. Beginning in the late 1950s and continuing for nearly two decades, there was a panic over sex crimes, sexual deviance and sexual behaviour generally. By the late 1980s almost half of the states with sexually dangerous persons legislation had revoked the statutes. In 1994 a provision entitled the ‘Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act’ was included in the omnibus 1994 crime bill. In 1997, the Wetterling Act [1] was amended to allow for community notification, which permitted law enforcement personnel to disclose registry information to neighbourhood residents about sex offenders who live in close proximity. REFERENCE

The NSPCC began to tackle child sexual abuse within the family, which was previously ignored as an issue. The NSPCC did not bring sexual abuse to public attention, in the same way as it had publicised physical abuse and neglect, despite its awareness and recognition. This response reflected a general attitude to the issue, which was one of not wanting to know, a conspiracy of silence. Many parents keep their child’s abuse a secret even if they know of it. By contrast, however, child prostitution received far more public attention.

In the summer of 1987, newspapers reported a child sexual abuse scandal in Cleveland. It emerged that 121 children had been brought into care over a period of six months on place of safety orders on the recommendation of two paediatricians who had diagnosed them as having been anally abused. Up to this time, for child protection agencies in Britain, the issue of child sexual abuse had been a relatively minor concern. Child sexual abuse was beginning to find its way onto the official child protection agenda by 1987, although the response to such abuse throughout Britain was patchy and variable. The Cleveland report had an impact on the passage of the 1989 Children Act through Parliament. Findings from the Cleveland inquiry report confirmed that, child sexual abuse was a more widespread phenomenon than had previously been thought to be the case. Similarly, in 1991 in Clwyd, residential social workers in two children’s homes were prosecuted for serious sexual offences against children in their care. As a result, Clwyd County Council set up its own independent inquiry which commenced in 1996 and reported in 2000. Its findings were that there was evidence of widespread physical and sexual abuse of girls and boys in Clwyd during this period (Corby, 2006).

Concerns about the use of child pornography have risen since the 1990s. Sadly, only a fraction of the sexual abuse of children is ever reported. Silverman and Wilson (2002) reported that in 1995 the Obscene Publications Unit of Greater Manchester Police seized about a dozen images of child pornography during the whole year, but in 1999 the unit recovered 41,000 images and by 2001 so many images were being recovered that they had to stop counting. REFERENCE

Public concern over the sexual abuse of children is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is only recently that the general public in Britain has begun to realise that, far from being an extremely rare phenomenon, the sexual abuse of children is much more widespread. As in the USA, a number of tragic cases in the 1990s in England and Wales have attracted widespread publicity, provoked public outcry and provided a legislative and organisational change. In Britain, media interest in sexual offenders released from prison and allowed to live anonymously in the community created an outbreak in public anxiety following the abduction and murder, of seven year old Sara Payne in July 2000 in Sussex. Here newspaper accounts criticised the probation service for failing to prevent Sarah Payne’s death. REFERENCE. Since then, Britain’s local newspapers have been concerned about the risks to children from sex offenders living in the community. It is seen from all this that sexual abuse of children occurs at all levels of society.


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