Aptly titled “Cries in the Dark, ” a ChildLink report has given a detailed and disturbing picture of the lifelong trauma victims of child sexual abuse experience.
The report noted that Child Sexual Abuse is a particularly alarming and distressing type of trauma, because of the shame it instills in victims.
It explained that Child Sexual Abuse occurs when an adult or older child forces, persuades or coerces a child into sexual activities.
Though the act is so alarming, ChildLink’s studies have found that reports continue to increase year after year. In 2014, the Childcare and Protection agency had reported that, of the 3,883 cases it received for that year, 628 were child sexual abuse cases. In 2017, the total number of abuse cases for that year was 4,179, of which 841 were sexual abuse cases; amounting to a growth from 16% of cases in 2014, to 20 percent of cases in 2017. This, the abuse posits, could indicate that more child victims are being enabled and empowered to recount what has happened to them, but that the revelations alone are still daunting.
The report states that “57.7 percent of the victims reported to the Child Advocacy Centres (CACs) had experienced forcible rape, which means physically forced penetration of the child’s vagina, anus or mouth with the abuser’s penis, finger or an object. These acts were sometimes initially quite violent, causing bruising bleeding or tears in sensitive tissues.”
“It stated that 18.9 percent of the victims reported to the CACs had experienced sexual contact, consisting of intentional touching of their breasts, bottoms or genitals. Underneath their clothing, or being made to touch the abuser’s genitals.”
“The report added that 12.4 percent experienced statutory rape. That is, they were considered below the age of consent, and were coerced into participating in sexual acts by an older person, without the use of physical force. In some instances, threats of violence formed part of the coercion.”
“According to the report, 4.4 percent of the children referred to the CACs were victims of sexual abuse by an older brother or stepbrother.”
The effects of the abuse were numerous. Victims reported being sad, easily prone to anger, “feeling bad”, thinking about the abuse “all the time”, and feeling depressed. Many victims also reported “spacing out a lot”, referring to dissociation, which is a coping mechanism characterized by mild to severe detachment from reality and their immediate surroundings. Further, the report states that victims described feelings of loss of control over their emotions and their lives, along with nearly constant anxiety.
The reports state that victims experienced constant nightmares, problems with sleeping and eating, flashbacks, numbness, irrational fears incessant crying, and suicidal feelings, including suicide attempts. Participants displayed low self esteem, that they felt bad about themselves, and that “everything was their fault.”
Victims reported increased isolation following instances of abuse. They described keeping to themselves, having no friends, and their families not talking to them. One victim had said that they had “trouble talking to family because they pretend it never happened.”
The trauma of the assaults even affected the romantic relationships of victims as they grew into the first stages of courting in their adolescent lives. They reported thinking they made poor choices in their relationships with males “because they were abused by their fathers or father figures” and were subconsciously attempting to find a replacement for the care they should have received. The relationship between a child sex abuser and their victim, the report states, “serves as a distorted model for future relationships, and interferes with victims’ abilities to form meaningful, lasting and stable relationships with others.”
As for material changes, at least four of the 338 victims reported to the CACs “suffered from a ruptured uterus as a result of the abuse and needed to be hospitalized, some requiring surgery for their injuries.” Some abusers eventually became pregnant and were made to mother the children who they had given birth to as a result of being raped. Other victims contracted sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis. The report states that “Child abuse must be seen as an important path for the transmission of HIV, Hepatitis C, and other STIs, including the virus that causes cervical cancer. Left untreated, some of these infections will lead to infertility and even death.”
Victims reported being unable to focus in school because of the trauma they suffered. Their performance in school was affected both academically and behaviorally. Their grades grew worse, and they repeatedly “began getting into trouble”. Some dropped out of school, and were unable to complete their CSEC examinations. The report found that Child Sexual Abuse “precipitated school cessation or failure”, permanently altering the course of many children’s lives.
The report states that the victims’ living situations were affected as well. Often times, reporting the abuse resulted in fallouts with family members, including the abuser who may continue to live in the victim’s home. Victims were forced to move out of their homes to live with other family members or be institutionalized. In some cases, the abusers were the breadwinners of the home. As these were imprisoned, “victims’ families often fell deeper into poverty and were forced to live in crowded conditions with relatives.”
The effects of child sex abuse on someone’s life, the report states, are vast and life-altering. The participants in this study were asked what would be different if they weren’t abused. They described “completing the activities and enjoying the peace that should be every child’s birthright: they would have finished school, continued living with their families, been happy, had friends, and would have been able to make something of their lives.”
ChildLinK is a non-governmental organisation that functions to protect children from physical, sexual, emotional and commercial abuse, exploitation and neglect. Their expertise lies in providing child friendly counseling and other psychosocial interventions to children, youths and their families, from a rights based approach.
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