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Victims of Sexual Abuse

It is very important that when a victim of sexual abuse comes forth and reports the crime to family, friends, law enforcement, and others, that he or she be listened to in the most sincere fashion possible. Studies have shown that the most credible account of what occurred during a rape or child molestation comes from the victim him/herself. Studies suggest that approximately 3-5% of all rape or child molestation allegations that are reported are false...Therefore, nearly 95% are based on a factual incident. When a victim comes forth and reports the crime, there will almost undoubtedly be two sides to the story: the victim's disclosure and the offender's. It is important to remember that the offender will most likely find people to support his/her story. This is a part of the offender's mode of operation--to have a planned out alibi with people to support it. When the victim is related to the offender, a sharp divide may consume the family system, with some family members supporting the alleged offender's story and others supporting the victim's. This divide not only serves to facilitate familial dysfunction, but also can severely traumatize the victim and create a very strong perception of shame and guilt for reporting.

There are thousands of victims of sexual abuse that never come forward and report the crime. This may be due to a number of factors. First, the grooming technique an offender uses can make the victim feel as if he or she was an active participant in the abuse itself. If the victim feels this way, they may not report the crime because they may feel responsible in some way. A rape victim may not report the crime out of fear, since many rapists will tell the victim that if they disclose the crime, he will return (however, very few rapists actually do). The victim of sexual abuse may be very aware that people may doubt his/her disclosure, their character, their choices, and because of this perception, they may not disclose. This would be considered the community reaction to the crime, and it includes boyfriends/husbands, the police, neighbors, family, the court, etc.

There are still numerous people in our society that feel that rape is justified under certain conditions. Many people believe that a prostitute "cannot" be raped. Just imagine if a prostitute entered a police station and reported that she had just been raped. If the police are aware that she is a prostitute, how might they react? Moreover, maybe the woman chooses not to tell the officers that she is a prostitute. How would she relate the dynamics of the crime? How would the police react when they discover she is a prostitute?

In an American Medical Association study, over half of the 6000 teenagers stated that there were some circumstances under which rape is acceptable, such as if the male and female had dated six months or longer or if he'd spent considerable money on her.

Much of the psychological damage a victim receives comes not from the assault itself, but from the post assault reactions from others. It is very important that police investigators and prosecutors recognize how their behavior with the victim affects not only the immediate and long-term ability to deal with the incident, but also his or her willingness to assist in a prosecution. Recognizing this fact, the first people who come in contact with a victim post assault have an opportunity to set the stage, through their behavior and reactions, for an easier or more difficult recovery for the victim.

It is important to understand that there is no single, standard, or "appropriate" victim response to rape or molestation. There would be two general response types that many victims follow: expressive or guarded. Some victims will be very verbal, be in tears, and be angry, and so forth following the offense. Others will be guarded, quiet, attempt to go on. Some victims may switch back and forth from being expressive to guarded.

When a sexual assault occurs, there are numerous victims that are produced. Obviously, there is the primary victim--the one in which the assault was directly targeted to. There are many other secondary victims. The children of the victim, husband, and other family members. They will all grieve in their own way, and it is important for professionals to assist everyone involved.

Investigators, juries, judges, prosecutors, and everyone else must understand that rape victims, immediately following the assault, may not react with all of their normal faculties. When someone suffers a traumatic event, it may take a while for your head to clear and your heart rate to return to normal. For sexual assault victims, this temporary detachment may result in delays in reporting...Which can also hinder a successful prosecution. If there is a delay in reporting the assault, it is imperative that investigators and prosecutors do not berate her, or challenge her for not reporting immediately. Instead, they should recognize the courage it takes to report a crime of this nature (and to survive such crimes), and no one should ever second-guess the victimís tactics in handling the crisis.

Many victims of sexual abuse do fully recover. This is not to suggest that they ever forget about what occurred, because they do not. However, they can, with the help of family, friends, and professionals, go on with their lives and be happy again.

Victims of Child Molestation

Being sexually abused as a child or as a teenager can have a wide-range of both short and long-term effects. Many times, the offenders will try and use the following line in their defense, "if I really sexually abused him/her, why did she still want to play with me?". I will also be told from family members of offenders that the alleged victim and offender are very close and have a good relationship. These dynamics can be very confusing (especially for the victim) for mental health professionals, law enforcement, judges, and prosecutors. How can a child be sexually abused by someone close to him/her, yet still want to "play" with that person, or have a relationship with that person?

The reason this may occur is due to what we call grooming, or the method the offender used to have the victim comply with his or her wishes. For instance, if the offender was very nice to the victim prior to the offending, bought gifts, or gave special attention to the victim, the child victim would naturally yearn for such behaviors or items. Just as important, however, is the fact that the victim may be a close relative to the offender, and truly does not want the offender to leave (especially if this is in conjunction with gifts and attention); however, this does not mean the victim wants the abuse to continue.

Many people erroneously believe that child victims of sexual abuse are always traumatized by the abuse, and overtly angry with the offender. Sometimes this could not be farther from the truth. I have worked with both adult men and women who have been sexually abused as children, who state that they were not traumatized, nor did they want the offender to be incarcerated. Did the sexual abuse affect them? Of course, just not in a traumatic way. The abuse may have affected their boundaries, sexual interests and behaviors, trust, and sexual orientation; however, it did not traumatize them. What may traumatize them, however, is the reaction from others. For instance, if the child and offender were caught by the child's mother, and the mother, rightfully so, goes ballistic. Within minutes the police arrive and take the child away. In a few hours, the child is being interviewed by child protective service workers, who may be acting like something traumatic happened. The child will then interpret the entire situation as traumatic, even if the child did not interpret the abuse, at the time, as traumatic.

A very high degree of psychological damage can occur if the offender makes the victim feel physical pleasure during the offense(s). This will produce a level of guilt and shame that is very powerful. Moreover, the victim is less likely to disclose the abuse, and if he or she does, they are very likely to minimize it. This would be because the victim may feel partly to blame for the abuse because they experienced pleasure (this is a grooming technique). I have treated countless victims who, after the abuse was revealed (either through someone observing, or indirectly), did not disclose the full extent. They fear they will get in trouble for not telling themselves, and fear and shame because they experienced physical pleasure. As the victims grow older, they may be unable to process the abuse, and continue to blame both themselves as well as the offender. The shame produced can be so intense as to create suicidal ideation, a loss of "self", and self-destructive behaviors.

Victims of child sexual abuse can go on to lead normal, healthy lives. They can learn to let go of the pain, and to increase their self-awareness of how the abuse affected them. Sometimes it takes the right therapist, just the right book, or even just time.

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