One more thing: it has been observed by workers in this field that the
effects of abuse are often worse when the victim denies that the abuse
occurred. They may say, "It wasn't that bad" but will describe horrible
atrocities when asked for details. They may say, "I deserved it,"
feeling they were so bad that harsh punishment was necessary. When
parents or other care-takers have been cruel, it is healthy for the child
to believe "my parents were wrong" and "I was innocent."
Child sexual abuse (CSA), incest
One hundred years ago, Freud at first thought child sexual abuse
was a major factor in many emotional problems in adults. But as he
saw more cases, he couldn't believe sexual abuse occurred so often.
So, he decided that children had sexual/love wishes and imagined the
childhood sexual experiences. Of course, some fantasies or
"memories" are almost certainly just fantasies, but today, many
therapists (Forward & Buck, 1978) believe real, actual sexual abuse is
fairly common. Incoming data seems to support that view. We are left
with the difficult problem of deciding when such a memory is real and
when is it not. In general, however, clinicians tend to believe a client's
report of CSA, unless some unusual experience, like exposure to a
biased therapist, has occurred that might tend to "implant" or
encourage such a memory.
Sexual abuse of a child or young person is a self-centered, self-
gratifying sex act sometimes by a considerably older person who
ignores--or doesn't know--the fact that great psychological harm may
be done to the victim. CSA acts may range from fondling and
masturbation to actual intercourse, sometimes only once or a few
times but often for several years. The median age of occurrence is
amazingly young--about 9 1/2 or 10 for both boys and girls. (Note:
this young age may partly be due to the fact that sexual "assaults"--
frequently included in CSA research--are more often committed by
brothers or by friends than by adults.) For incest specifically, the
contacts start, on average, between 7 to 9 years-of-age!
How often does CSA happen? Of course, surveys vary but in one
study 17% (another study found 27%) of women and 12% (other
studies found 15% to 20%) of men were inappropriately touched
sexually as children, 96% of the time it was by someone they knew,
not a stranger. Additional recent surveys have found that 20-45% of
women and 10-18% of men were sexually molested as children (Janus
& Janus, 1993). The "abuser" of children is usually defined as being at
least 5 years older than the victim, and sometimes much older, like a
grandfather. (We don't seem to have words for the pushy harassment
by siblings and peers that go beyond casual sex "play" or "exploration"
but might not reach the criminal "assault" level, e.g., the brother who
demands some sex play every time mom and dad leave home.)
Between 20% and 30% of adult women have been forced to do
something sexual before 18, but only 3% of men report having been
forced (Laumann, Gagnon, Michael & Michaels, 1994). Nevertheless, it
is important to keep in mind that young boys, as well as girls, are