Including three readers' responses
The four year old with an unexplained case of a sexually transmitted disease... the elementary school girls fondled by their school teacher... the thirteen year old molested by her child care provider’s husband... the 25 year old raped as a child by a Catholic priest... These are all examples of the types of victims who have been helped by detectives and social workers in the Vacaville Police Department’s F.I.R.S.T. unit.
The FIRST unit is a multi-disciplinary team consisting of law enforcement, Child Welfare Services (CPS), the Rainbow Children’s Center MDIC (where victims are interviewed by specially trained forensic interviewers) victim advocates who provide court support, and social workers and therapists who provide counseling to victims. The team works together to prosecute sexual abuse crimes and provide advocacy and treatment to victims and their families. In 2008 the unit investigated 43 reported cases of child sexual abuse.
In addition to being designated Child Abuse Awareness Month,The month of April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence (focusing on sexual assault and rape) and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. Sexual violence includes all types of sexual behavior, ranging from sexual harassment to rape and incest, that happens without the freely given consent of the victim.
One adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse (by her father), explained the long lasting impact the abuse has had on her this way. “Because my mother hit me and my father had sex with me, I came to associate love with abuse. If you live in any situation for a period of time you get comfortable with it and even want it to be that way. As an adult I always ended up in relationships that were abusive and if sex wasn’t forced or rough, I thought my partner didn’t love me.” (quoted with permission from survivor) The abuser is rarely the “dirty old man” we imagine lurking in the corner of the local park. Sexual abusers are typically people the victim knows well, and they typically engage their victims in “grooming” behaviors where the perpetrator may “try out” behaviors such as nudity and fondling while telling the child that the behavior is acceptable. To engage a child, a sex offender will play on childrens’ need for human contact and affection, their need for adult approval, their natural enjoyment of games and material rewards such as money, toys or candy. If the perpetrator is a parent, family member or other trusted adult such as a teacher or pastor, the abuse and attention and feelings accompanying the abuse is especially confusing to the child. One detective in the F.I.R.S.T. unit stated that he will never forget the words of one child victim molested by her father. “He was my protector. He was all I had.”
Many people believe that a child would tell someone if abuse were really occurring and that children lie about sexual abuse, especially in divorce cases. These are myths. In truth, only 2% of children lie about sexual abuse, even in custody disputes, and 90-95% of cases go unreported to law enforcement. These cases are often shrouded in secrecy with delayed or unconvincing disclosure followed by retraction or recantation by the victim. (Conte, John R. (Ed.) 2002. Critical Issues in Child Sexual Abuse. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications) The secrecy allows the abuse to continue as the perpetrator uses his or her power to dominate, bribe, emotionally blackmail, or threaten the child into keeping the secret. Children may also keep it a secret because they are too young to put what has happened into words, are afraid no one will believe them, worry about “getting into trouble,” or getting a loved one in trouble or feel too ashamed and embarrassed to tell.
If you want to prevent abuse, it is best to talk about child sexual abuse before any abuse has occurred. Take some time to teach your child some basic personal safety skills. Children need to:
Paula LeDoux-Christison is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist employed by the Vacaville Police Department for ten years. She is currently assigned to the FIRST Unit working with abused children and adults.
Spanking leads to abuse?
I read with interest the recent article by the family therapist with Vacaville Police Department's Family Investigative Response Service Team ("Sex offenders play on a child's need for affection," April 14). I thought it was an excellent article with very helpful information for parents and concerned citizens alike. However, I took issue with one particular comment by the author. She suggests that in order to help prevent the abuse of children, one (of several) things to do is "never spank your children. Spanked children learn that their bodies are not their personal property. The child who submits to a spanking on Monday is not likely to say no to a molester on Tuesday." She then references Jordan Riak ("Plain Talk about Spanking," 2008).
My issue with this comment is that it is personal opinion based on no factual evidence, whatsoever. The author is attempting to infuse an article about sexual abuse with personal opinions regarding spanking. One has absolutely nothing to do with the other.
This comment is irresponsible, in that it attempts to play on a parent's fear for the safety of their children, by suggesting they shouldn't choose spanking as a form of discipline. Whether a parent chooses to spank his or her child is a personal decision that should be left up to the individual. No respectable studies anywhere have concluded that spanking is somehow harmful.
Again, however, that isn't the point. The point is this -- spanking or not spanking a child will have absolutely no impact on the safety of our children. To suggest that "spanked" kids are more apt to be victims of sexual abuse is completely ridiculous and wrong.
Response from Dr. Madeleine Y. Gómez, Evanston, IL
It's always ironic to me to find a "Pastor" or other religious leader supporting violence; violence against children to be specific, aka, "spanking". Clearly the Pastor has not done his research if he thinks that the negative consequences of "spanking" (violence against children by those who supposedly love them) are not supported by the research. Even recent studies have found:
Using violent means to "teach" children will not only affect them when they are young, it will color their relationships as well and support violence and abuse of power with the risk of reducing empathy. To suggest anything other than that we are affected by the violence we receive as children or adults and should promote non-violent choices and actions, is irresponsible and not in keeping with what we have learned scientifically, biologically about the brain, psychologically and from history - not to mention, what we should have learned from Jesus!
Response from Sue Lawrence, Manotick, Ontario, Canada
I find it sad that a Vacaville pastor not only believes spanking doesn't lead to child abuse, but that spanking itself is not abuse ("Spanking leads to abuse?" April 19). That striking a child's buttocks can, and often does, lead to more severe hitting and even injury and death is well known. In the United States, an estimated 2,000 children die every year from being hit, and the typical story in these tragic cases is that the parent was "only disciplining" the child. Regarding a second point, that spanking by itself is abuse, 25 countries around the globe have now agreed it is and have legal bans against the practice. Here in Canada, we have a unique situation: the Supreme Court of Canada has decided that it is abuse to hit a child under the age of 2, or over the age of 12, and that those unlucky children ages 2 to 12 at least must be spared being hit on the head or with an object.
So, what is abuse? I was spanked once by my mother when I was young; it only made me hate and fear her. There is no question in my mind that she abused me.
I have never, and would never, hit my own daughter. I've taught her to be clear to others as well that they have no right to hit her, or touch her in any way that makes her uncomfortable.
It will take time, but eventually people come to see the light and recognize the truth: that nobody has a right to hit another except in self-defense. This pastor owes it to himself and his congregation to learn the facts about hitting children. There is much research out there, and the majority of it points to serious risks to children -- physical risks, emotional risks, and yes, sexual risks as well.
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