Prevalence and incidence of child sexual abuse
The Neesa Gopaul tragedy remains an emotionally and affectively stirring episode in the character of this nation. Nevertheless, it may be necessary but not sufficient to internalize the daily happenings and feelings pertaining to this traumatized adolescent’s life; for once the emotions and affective behaviour subsides, the people, the community, and the nation at large, should know that this case and most cases of child sexual abuse are not merely a family dysfunction matter; it is vital that the role of the environment in which the child resides and the societal influences that work toward the unfolding of this tragedy be open to full examination (Bolen & Scannapieco, The Social Service Review); for these researchers argued that it’s only when we can recognise the pathways to abuse, can we lessen the prevalence of abuse.
I said in my piece in the Sunday Chronicle (October 10, 2010) that “The U.S. National Center of Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) reports the ratio of sexual abuse as four females to one male, with the peak time for abuse starting from around age 7 or 8 through adolescence; and that annually, 300,000 children experience sexual abuse in the U.S., with a substantial number passing through the school system.”
The prevalence of child sexual abuse is huge in the U.S. Bolen and Scannapieco noted that the prevalence rate for female sexual child abuse is between 30% and 40% and male child sexual abuse is at 13%.
These researchers believe that as long as the general public does not see child sexual abuse as much of a problem, then this public is unintentionally and indirectly condoning child molestation; and to the extent that people can erase qualms about child sexual abuse occurring, to that extent will the child and family be able to reduce trauma.
And let me say a word to the wise. We must not beat up on the local Ministry of Human Services, as if this entity caused the Neesa Gopaul tragedy; it is true that all systems failed, and it was not a singular but a plural failure.
You see the magnitude of child sexual abuse in Guyana may be greater than how the society perceives it. Let us see what happens in the U.S. which has enormous resources to address these horrendous problems.
I already gave the prevalence rates for both male and female child sexual abuse; and prevalence is the proportion of a population that experiences child sexual abuse at a given point in time. Let me turn now to the incidence rate; incidence is the number of new cases of child sexual abuse in the population over a period of time.
In 1993, the incidence rate for females was 6.8/1,000 and for males 2.3/1,000.
Sedlak and Broadhurst noted that even with current levels of investigation and authenticated abuse, the child protection system is hardly able to cope with the striking increase in child maltreatment cases.
In fact, in 1993, only 44% of child sexual abuse cases where harm did happen were subject to some kind of investigation, reduced from 75% in 1986. And as much as 87% of female child sexual abuse cases are not identified, assessed, and treated.
The bottom line for Bolen and Scannapieco is that the authorities are unable to even investigate the cases that come to their attention.
And I am not mentioning the issues in the U.S. as a pretext for justifying any inaction on the local scene. Each society has its own protocols, belief, values, and norms, and the authorities will act or should act in accordance with its own parameters.
Clearly, while some of this difficulty of identifying cases may lie with the child feeling uncomfortable to disclose the abuse, the child protection agency, too, has a tough time coping with the cases that are already with the system.
The researchers suggest as possible adjustments to the problem, an overhaul of the total system that will enable it to identify, assess, and treat each abused child. Nevertheless, at the endpoint, research is necessary to study the causes and impact of child sexual abuse.