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Questions and Answers about Sexual Abuse

 

Sexual abuse of children and teenagers often has painful and long-lasting effects on the victim, the family, and the community in which it occurs. If wounds heal and recovery does take place, the process takes a long period of time and some emotional scars are inevitable. Members of the Georgia Association of Physicians for Human Rights are aware that many of their patients have been victims of sexual abuse or have concerns about sexual abuse. We offer the following set of questions and answers to promote a better understanding regarding sexual abuse.

Q: What is sexual abuse?

A: While there are several definitions of sexual abuse and much controversy surrounding this issue, many experts maintain that sexual abuse of minors occurs under circumstances where

there is a significant age difference between the abuser and the victim, and

the incident includes one of the following: violence, threats of violence, verbal intimidation, coercion, or manipulation.

A broader definition states that sexual abuse occurs when there is a significant difference in power between the abuser and the victim. Sexual abuse occurs in situations in which an adult seduces a child or teenager by way of enticement, bribery, taking advantage of the natural curiosity most children have around sexuality, and taking advantage of the child’s trust of the abuser. That the child or teenager experienced sexual pleasure from the abuse is not relevant. What is relevant is that an older individual has taken advantage of the lack of maturity of his or her victim. Even many teenagers are not emotionally or intellectually mature enough to make responsible decisions about their sexuality, are not able to understand the full consequences of their behavior, cannot appreciate the nature (and consequences) of the difference in power between themselves and their abusers, or cannot make sense of their strong sexual feelings. They will often comply with the demands of someone older out of respect, out of fear of rejection, or out of curiosity.

Q: What is the prevalence of sexual abuse?

A: In general, more girls than boys are sexually abused, although recent studies have shown that the sexual abuse of boys may be highly under reported. It is estimated that between one out of five to one out of four females have been sexually abused and between one out of six to one out of four males has been sexually abused.

Q: Who are the most common perpetrators of sexual abuse?

A: Contrary to popular belief, most sexual abusers (perpetrators) of both girls and boys are heterosexual men. The percentage of gay men who are sexual abusers is much lower than that of straight men, and is likely close to that of female perpetrators (straight or lesbian). Many experts in the field of sexual abuse believe that child sex abusers are a distinct group of individuals who have a strong sexual attraction to children in general. Thus, many abusers molest both boys and girls.

Q: What are some of the common myths about sexual abuse?

A: These are some of the most common myths about sexual abuse:

Most child molester were once victims themselves (or conversely, most victims grow up to be child molesters).

If the victim was a willing participant and enjoyed the experience, it was either the victim’s fault or it was not abuse.

Boys are less traumatized by the abuse than girls.

Boys abused by males will grow up to be gay.

Most child molesters of boys are gay.

There are no female sexual abusers.

Q: What are some of the common long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse?

A: The effects of any type of trauma can vary greatly depending on the environment, the coping skills, and age of the survivor. Not all survivors experience severe long-term effects, yet some may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

depression and anxiety

confusion about sexual orientation

problems with intimacy

alcohol and drug addictions

sexual addiction or oversexualization of relationships

post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Q: Is there treatment available for the effects of sexual abuse?

A: There have been many studies of the effects of childhood abuse in the last decade. There are several recent studies that indicate that psychotherapy is the best form of treatment for relationship difficulties, problems with self-image, depression, and anxiety. Psychiatric medications can be an important part of treatment, given that the current array of psychotropic medications (e.g., Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, etc.) has proven useful in alleviating anxiety, and some of the symptoms of depression. Medications may allow some people to enter into psychotherapy and make better use of it. Psychotherapy and psychiatric services should be sought from a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor or social worker with expertise in working with sexual abuse survivors. It is also important to choose a physician and psychotherapist who is gay/bi/lesbian friendly. A referral to a trained professional can be made by contacting a professional association such as the Georgia Psychiatric Association, the Georgia Psychological Association, the Georgia Council on Sexual Abuse, or the Psychotherapy Guild.

 
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