Incest and Sexual Abuse: Our Problem!


By Halima Gresham

According to the World Health Organization, Child Sexual Abuse is defined as “the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violate the laws or social taboos of society”. Child sexual abuse is evidenced by this activity between a child and an adult, or between a child and another child who by age or development is in a relationship of responsibility, trust or power, the activity being intended to gratify or satisfy the needs of the other person.”(pp. 13-17, Report of the Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention, Geneva, 29-31 March 1999, World Health Organization, Social Change and Mental Health, Violence and Injury Prevention).

What does a person who sexually abuses children look like? Unfortunately, male and female family members, friends of the family or other people known to the child are the most likely individuals identified to sexually abuse children. Crimes of convenience happen all the time and when children are left unattended, their chances for being abused increases. Abuse can occur by the hands of anyone who has a preference for sexual relations with children. Although it is acknowledged that the majority of sexual abusers are male, females also commit sexual abuse.

According to the laws of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, a person is considered a child until he or she is 18. In addition, a person must be at least 16 years of age or older to consent to sexual activity.

Sexual abuse can be characterized as physical, nonphysical and exploitative.

PHYSICAL

• Fondling a child or touching a child in a sexual way
• Having a child touch an adult’s or other children’s sexual organs
• Oral/mouth contact with genitals between a child and an adult or older child
• Penetration, attempted penetration or any genital to genital contact

NONPHYSICAL

• Indecent exposure or showing genitals
• Talking to children about sex for inappropriate reasons or telling sexual stories
• Sexual phone calls or text messages sending sexually oriented emails
• Allowing a child to watch or hear sexual acts or materials
• Showing child pornography or other sexual material

EXPLOITATIVE

• Child pornography, photographs, films, videotapes, internet sites or live performances of children in sexual activities or poses
• Child prostitution i.e.: adults paying children, (young schoolgirls and boys), money for sex in exchange for goods such as clothing, BlackBerry’s, food or shelter
• Sex rings: when one or more adults sexually abuse children in small groups i.e.: “running a train”
• Internet exploitation: when adults use e-mail or web sites to find children to sexually abuse

Incest is defined as sexual abuse performed by one family member or multiple family members against another family member.

What causes some people to abuse children?

According to ‘Basic Facts about Child Sexual Abuse’, published by Prevent Child Abuse America, many factors can contribute to sexual abuse. Some abusers may have a history of abuse themselves or a mental health disorder, known as pedophilia, which causes them to be attracted to children. Abusers may lack impulse control, have trouble seeing how their actions affect other people, have poor social skills and trouble forming relationships, or have an alcohol or other drug problem. In addition to these factors, general conditions have to exist in order for the offender to sexually abuse, as follows:

• Ability to overcome internal inhibitions against committing sexual abuse
• Ability to ignore or rationalize the attitudes of society about child sexual abuse and the prospect of criminal punishment
• The opportunity to be alone with a child who may not have proper adult supervision
• The victim lacks the power to evade the abuser

How does sexual abuse affect children?

According to Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, authors of ‘The Courage to Heal, A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse’, children learn about the world through their bodies. If you were sexually abused, you learned that the world was not a safe place. You experienced pain, betrayal and conflicting sensations of arousal.

Children often learn to ‘leave’ (or emotionally detach from) their bodies to avoid these feelings-or they numb themselves as best they can. Sexual arousal becomes linked to feelings of shame, disgust, pain and humiliation. When children are sexually abused, their natural sexual capacity is stolen, since sexual abuse victims are introduced to sex on the abuser’s time and according to the perpetrator’s needs.

Intimacy

The building blocks of intimacy -giving and receiving, trusting and being trustworthy- are learned in childhood. If children are given consistent loving attention, they develop skills for establishing and maintaining nurturing relationships.

Unfortunately, if you were abused, your natural trust was distorted by adults who misused your innocence. You could have been told, “Daddy’s only touching you because he loves you” or “I’m doing this so you’ll be a good wife to your husband someday”. You grew up with confusing messages about the relationship between sex and love, trust and betrayal.

Incest

Relationships are distorted in incestuous families. The essential trust, sharing and safety are missing, and in their place there is secrecy, isolation and fear. If you were abused by a family member, you may have been made the family scapegoat, repeatedly told that you were crazy or bad, you may have felt isolated, cut off from nurturing contact with others.

Adult responsibilities may have been forced on you. If the abuse took place outside your family and you weren’t properly heard, the message you received was that your pain wasn’t important, that you couldn’t rely on your family to protect or understand you.

Sexual abuse and incest occurs among all groups of people throughout the world. Sexual abuse in St. Kitts and Nevis affects individuals from all socio-economic and educational levels, and within all religious and cultural populations.

According to the landmark study carried out across the Eastern Caribbean from October 2008-June 2009, by UNICEF with the University of Huddersfield and Action for Children, ‘Perceptions of, Attitudes to and Opinions on Child Sexual Abuse in the Eastern Caribbean’, the respondents presented an alarming picture of a social problem that is escalating, has increasingly severe consequences for Caribbean societies, has multiple layers and is perpetuated not only by adults who carry out harmful sexual practices with children but also by non-abusing adults through complicity, silence, denial and failure to take appropriate action.

Stopping the violence

While many people try to ‘sugarcoat’ the effects of abuse, minimizing its effects can be detrimental to one’s recovery. Also, abuse affects people in many ways, a survivor may have been abused once in their lives and exhibit the same effects emotionally as someone who has suffered from years of abuse. Abuse left untreated could lead to depression, violence, cycles of abuse and various mental illnesses.

Unfortunately in our society, the victim is often re-victimized, and made to feel as if the abuse was their fault. That somehow “She lookin’ man”! or, “The wife couldn’t provide for him”? We couldn’t leave out the most famous one, “She wanted it”! As if a child once ‘turned out’ sexually by a pedophile in the first place, is now given the free ticket to ‘ride’.

What is this??? Those are just a few of the common statements often heard after an incident of sexual abuse becomes public. We have to stop displacing our anger onto the victim, especially a child victim, and deal with the perpetrator and the false perception that is being portrayed that a child is good for nothing but sex.

Displaced anger will get us nowhere in addressing the issue of sexual abuse; it only intensifies the pain for the person that is, was and continues to be abused. Should we continue to turn a blind eye while our young girls and boys are being sold away for materialistic goods such as Blackberrys, pretty clothes and brightly colored shoes?

Innocent children are being sexually slaughtered and ‘turned out’! Why? To create a society filled with depressive individuals filled with hate, mistrust, anger, distorted perceptions of relationships and mental anguish, while continuously allowing perpetrators to run free and cycles of abuse to continue.

It is proven that early exposure to sexual abuse and activity can lead to unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted disease, HIV and Aids, drug usage and suicide. And we wonder why the increase in crime??

In order to provide safety for the children in the Federation we must bond together to work for the good of all of the children. We should hold individuals responsible for their actions pertaining to child welfare.

Many times when support should be given to the person who has suffered the abuse, his or her suffering, once known publicly, becomes more about exploiting the victim and ‘spreading news’ as opposed to addressing the abuser and his or her crime against a child!

First we must be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that we do have a problem in St. Kitts and Nevis.

The good news is that sexual abuse can be prevented! Prevention is the best cure! In order for prevention to occur we must begin educating our youths about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’. We must begin by teaching children that their bodies are temples of God and that no one has the right to abuse them.

I am encouraging churches and community organizations to get involved in child safety and protection. These organizations can make a huge impact on the population they serve by becoming catalysts for change, and by standing firm in the belief that child sexual abuse is wrong!

Focus groups could be started to support individuals in need and individuals should be encouraged to seek counseling services to actively address the problem. There are laws in St. Kitts and Nevis that clearly state that children are not to be ill-treated in a manner likely to cause them unnecessary suffering.

Parents and guardians should not take money or bribes to ‘forget’ about reporting abuse. Call the police, make a report, and see that justice is done by following through with the case. Call your Social Services Agency involved in protecting children, seek support and wrap-around services where available.

Let’s ensure that every child is safe from sexual abuse within each and every home in St. Kitts and Nevis, then maybe real protection and healing can begin. “A society that does not protect its youth is a society doomed for failure”!

By Halima Gresham,
MA Counseling and Therapy, Family Services Supervisor
Social Services Department, Nevis

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