Mind Matters: Sexual abuse facts to face the myths

We may think that the perpetrator of child sexual abuse is usually a stranger. In fact, sexual abusers are generally known to the victims. The American Psychological Association reports that approximately 60 percent of perpetrators, while not family members, may be, for example, family friends, neighbors, child care providers. However, 30 percent of perpetrators are family members such as fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins. So it is, then, that 10 percent of abusers are strangers.

Generally the perpetrators are male whether the victim is a boy or a girl. Furthermore, these male perpetrators are equally likely to be heterosexual as they would be gay. The APA notes “a perception that most perpetrators are gay men is a myth and harmful stereotype.”

Women were reported as abusers in 14 percent of the cases among boys, and in 6 percent of the cases among girls. In 23 percent of reported child sexual abuse, the perpetrators are minors. Consider the recent case in Colorado where a young seventh grade boy was raped by his teammates. This sexual abuse was minimized by the community as a hazing rite of passage. “Boys will be boys,” in other words. Instead of rehabilitating the youthful perpetrators to help them understand the grave harm of their actions, this particular community supported them and shunned the victim. Such a collective attitude of blaming the victim can only exacerbate the trauma that the victim has experienced.

About 300,000 children are abused each year in the U.S. Before the age of 18, one in four girls and one in six boys will have been sexually abused.

The APA recommends steps that parents and caregivers can take to prevent and minimize risk for sexual abuse. Children need to be given basic sexual education that they can handle at their developmental level. Teach children healthy boundaries. That is, teach children about “okay” and “not okay” touches and that sexual advances from adults are wrong. Allow children the chance to communicate their feelings openly, and to ask questions and to talk about their experiences.

Get to know your child’s friends and families. Trust your instincts.

Resources:
·         Child Sexual Abuse: What Parents Should Know (www.apa.org)
·         National Child Traumatic Stress Network (www.nctsn.org)
·         Clearinghouse on Child Sexual Abuse (www.nim.nih.gov)

* Kayta Curzie Gajdos holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and is in private practice in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. She welcomes comments at MindMatters@DrGajdos.com or 610-388-2888. Past columns are posted to www.drgajdos.com

 

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About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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