Child Abuse Awareness Month: Sexual Abuse

This is a topic nobody wants to hear about.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four girls report being sexually abused before age 18, and one in six boys.  Now, these statistics only include cases that are reported, and were gleaned from retrospective studies that the CDC conducted.  Other sources predict that one out of every two girls will experience some sort of sexual abuse by the time they reach 18, and those forms of abuse can include:

  • Inappropriate touching
  • Fondling, i.e., inappropriate stimulation of sex organs
  • Forced non-intercourse sex acts such as fellatio or cunnilingus
  • Intercourse, vaginal or anal
  • Forced or coerced posing for pornographic photographs or videos

Most sexual abuse is committed by someone known to the child, usually male, although there are female abusers out there too.  The abuse usually starts with some kind of grooming, to establish rapport and trust with the child: buying toys, taking the child to the movies or amusement parks, giving the child sweets, etc., until the child regards the abuser as a trusted “friend.”   The grooming process may take place over months or even years.

Once this has been accomplished, the abuser ofter begins by having the child watch pornography with him, or look at pornographic materials, especially of children engaged in various sex acts.  The child begins to see these things as somewhat normative.  Somewhere along this line the abuser begins to touch the child, often telling the child that this is how love is expressed.  The child may be frightened, but the abuser comforts them and tells them it’s all right because they love each other, don’t they?

The child cooperates because they feel that they will hurt the abuser’s feelings if they don’t.  Sometimes this works all the way until penetration is attempted, at which point the child is in pain and becomes afraid.  At this point the abuser often switches to using threats that he will tell the police and the child will be taken to jail, or he will tell the child’s parents and they will be very angry; or if the child is very attached to the abuser he may tell the child that if he tells, the abuser will be taken away and the child will never see him again.

This pattern of abuse may continue for years until adolescence, when the girl or boy finally realizes what has happened to them and they shun the abuser.  It’s very rare for kids to disclose at this point.  It’s much more common for them to become depressed, self-harm, attempt suicide, get into drugs, run away, or enter prostitution.

In my former position as Child Sexual Abuse Expert Witness for the Prosecutor’s Office of Monroe County, NY, and then for the State of Ohio, I most often encountered children 18 months to four years old who had been discovered to have physical evidence of abuse by either their parents or a pediatrician on routine exam.  We used various methods to obtain disclosures of who the perpetrator was: play therapy using dolls to act out the scenes and methods of abuse, sitting on the floor with crayons and paper, all sorts of things.  Everything was videotaped to use as evidence at trial, even though many judges refused to use that evidence at trial because it was from a minor.  Go figure.

My youngest patient was five months old, and had been vaginally raped by an adult in his 40’s.  My worst-ever case was a nine month old boy who had been anally raped and then beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend (and pimp) when he was left alone with the baby while she went to the convenience store down the street.  That perpetrator was tried by grand jury, not a regular jury trial, and was sentenced to 7-to-15 years with possibility of parole at 3.5 years.  This was in a state where rape-murder was a capital crime (Ohio). I was never called as a witness, even though I was the receiving physician in the emergency room when the lifeless baby was brought in.  That trial, which I watched on closed circuit television as they let the bastard off, was the end of my position;  I couldn’t stand it any more.  I quit then and there.



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  1. Horrible stuff. Happened to someone in my family too. What isn’t realized is how this one selfish act ruins the victim’s life. Sure we talk about “rising above”. Not everyone can completely get over the scarring.

  2. Wow, powerful post on a broken system. I applaud you for trying to do the right thing. The court system is so jaded and overloaded with ever more horrible cases of injustice and torture that human empathy has been tried and put to death.
    One would think that the prior generation would do all they could to prevent the same happening to the next. I have a post with a poem called the “Dark Side of Secrets and Lies” that fits this horrible theme quite nicely. We are all “Pictures of Dorian Gray” in one way or another, but child abuse, if sin and suffering can be classified, is one of the most heinous.

  3. Thanks for posting this. It’s a very important topic that doesn’t get enough attention. Following your lead and also posting on this topic to help raise awareness. Hope you don’t mind a link back;-)

  4. It’s hard to click “like” on this post, it seems wrong. However, I do like the fact that you a opening discussion about child abuse. We need to understand it, we need to talk about it – as difficult as that is. I have suffered from this kind of abuse, along with several cousins. You may be interested to read my story..if so, it is here
    The man you are talking about should have been jailed for life. It is so hard to understand how the legal system can justify such light sentences for such disgusting crimes. It happens far too often. Why didn’t they call you as a witness? It sounds like you were crucial to this case! Jen

    • Wow, Jen, I just read your post. That is so horrible. Was your uncle caught and jailed? I don’t know what happened to the rapist of the little baby. I was at that hospital only for three months and this happened toward the end, so I never knew the follow-up. I have some more horrible stories where the perpetrator only got 7-15 years with eligibility for parole in 3 1/2! Can you imagine? What a broken system….

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