27 December 2008

Abuse hinders normal development
Therapists face daunting task in treating children

By Lucinda Dillon Kinkead
Deseret Morning News

Child sexual abuse cases are some of the most sensitive faced by therapists because the daunting issues of a child's behavior, sexuality, appropriate development, peer interaction and family dynamics all are impacted with these crimes.

Doug Goldsmith is director of The Children's Center at the University of Utah, which hosts a therapeutic preschool for 350 children ages 3, 4 and 5. About 40 percent of these children have been physically and/or sexually abused.

The age group is — appropriately — quite interested in their own bodies, he said.

"So if a child is masturbating, it does not mean the child has been sexually abused. If the child is wetting the bed, it doesn't mean they've been sexually abused," Goldsmith said.

But committing sex acts in a way an adult would is not age-appropriate. "Committing oral sex is not something that comes naturally to a child of this age. Putting things into the vaginal area is not something that is normal," he said.

An examination of child psychology and sexual abuse also must consider the uncomfortable notion that the crimes are not always entirely unpleasant to the child.

"A part of it feels terrible to the child. It can make them scared and confused," Goldsmith said. "But a part of it can also feel good." In some cases perpetrators have created a "secret" or "special" relationship with the child.

So a young child who has been exposed to sexually inappropriate touching, behavior or pornography often becomes "eroticized," he said.

"They are preoccupied with sexual feelings," Goldsmith said. Problems increase when that child moves into elementary school years. "Many stay very excited and sexualized."

So these children, victims of abuse themselves, begin inappropriate contact with other children.

In some cases, a child who has been made to feel helpless through abuse may try to gain power and control by abusing another child. In other cases it can be an effort to create "twinship," Goldsmith explains. "If I've been abused and you've been abused, then we have something in common."

"So this is not just about finding the adult perpetrator," Goldsmith warns. "It is happening in our communities."

And it is happening between children. This sexualizing of very young children is the most daunting aspect of child sexual abuse, he says.

"This is one of the problems, and putting a stop to it is very, very difficult."

For this reason, Goldsmith encourages adults to supervise children at all times, no matter what age. No closed doors. No kids playing upstairs while Mom or Dad are downstairs.

Through counseling, child victims can learn how to soothe themselves and interact appropriately, he said. "But it's a significant, significant relearning process."

The topic also raises issues beyond criminal actions to this society's outlook on sexuality and the situations in which adults include kids.

Is it a wonder, Goldsmith asks, that our children are having trouble with appropriate sexuality?

In public, we've got Britney Spears, Victoria's Secret catalogs and Abercrombie & Fitch ads with teenage girls showing half their breasts, he says. In private, there is an "epidemic" of men addicted to computer pornography. "We really don't know what kids are being exposed to," he said.

"Or kids in the birthing room," Goldsmith laments. "Is it not confusing to a 4-year-old to see his baby brother born?"

Has it gotten out of hand with children?

"Absolutely," said Goldsmith.

With 50 percent of marriages falling apart and new partners coming onto the scene, children watch as Daddy kisses his girlfriend — or worse, Goldsmith said.

"Kids are watching incredibly inappropriate behavior between parents," he said. "We really have to take a look at these issues and ask: 'What are we modeling for our kids?"'

I have been talking a friend about the topic of abuse because we were discussing my childhood. I was a very promiscuous child. I was exploring sexuality at a very young age. I know that it started with masturbation around the age of four or five, if not before then. It then developed into having oral sex with my friends. He sent me the article above and it has made me wonder if I was sexually abused and don't remember it. I always thought that I was just a promiscuous child and that I curious--that I discovered what felt good. I have no idea anymore and I don't know what to think. Another strike against me for abuse is that when I played Barbies with my girl friends, we would have sex to make babies. Most children shouldn't know how to do that. I knew. I don't think my parents told me about it and I know that my girl friends didn't know what it was until I explained it to them. I never really thought about it because I have always had a curiosity for the human body. Maybe this curiosity is what drove me to discover these things or maybe I was abused. I don't know.

I was up pretty late last night thinking about my childhood. I was racking my brains trying to figure out if and when I was abused. It had to be at a young age if I was. If I was abused, I am pretty sure that it wasn't my parents--it would have been a peer. I don't know though. It hurts me to think about this because I became an abuser myself by teaching my friends about sex and sexuality. I just hope that I didn't hurt any of them and turn them gay like I might have been turned gay. The thing is that I don't feel like an abuser because I introduced the idea to them and they went along with it--I didn't force them to do anything. Ugh! This is so frustrating to think about.

Does anyone else have similar experiences like this? If so, I would like to chat. Please send me an email or comment here.

Does anyone have thoughts about this topic? If so, please share.


Abelard Enigma said...

Linking childhood sexual abuse and homosexuality is controversial at best. That was the general consensus 20 years ago; but, from what I've read, it's been largely refutted. There are plenty of heterosexual males who were sexually abused as children by men - and there are plenty of homosexual males who grew up in loving homes and had no such abuse. I was a victim of early childhood sexual abuse - but I don't believe that's what turned me gay.

100 years ago, tomatoes were considered poisonous. That's because a lot of people used pewter dishes; and, the acid in the tomatoes leached out the lead causing lead poisoning. But, the people at the time saw a cause and effect: Eat tomatoes - get sick. Therefore tomatoes must be poisonous.

I think we may find the same is true with childhood sexual abuse and homosexuality. It may be true that there is a disproportionate number of homosexual men who were sexually abused as children - but there are other possible explanations that could be explored. For example, perhaps an abuser is able to subconsciously sense something different about a young boy who will eventually turn out to be gay - and seeks out such boys.

Ry said...

Ok... so here's the thing... i too thought that i was never sexually abused! However... i was! I never knew it, until i was talking to my dad, and he told me, "son, when i was a stake president in salt lake city, i NEVER had anyone come into my office dealing with this, who hadn't been sexually abused." And then i reminded him that i was never sexually abused! "...Son, there is something i need to tell you..." Apparently i was abused when i was a young child, but i don't remember!

The hippocampus, the part of the lymbic system that controls memory, doesn't mature until children are about four years old, Which is why most people have very few memories before they turned four years old. So there are FOUR YEARS of your life where you have NO IDEA what happened to you! You could have been dropped on your head, kidnapped, abused, hooked up to heroin, and all sorts of things! And you might never know!

There are plenty of other things factoring into this, but just because you can't remember it, doesn't mean it didn't happen!


If you have any questions, comments, concerns, asinine comments, or refutations of your own, feel free to message me! I love talking about this sort of thing! I feel like i know ALOT, because i have been open to all ideas, and now i've researched them heavily, and found what i know to be true! :D


playasinmar said...

If you clear your mind, breath slowly, and concentrate hard enough you should be able to plant a memory.

Z i n j said...

Sean...this is tough stuff. Out of my league. Like has been said above some of us have had abnormal experiences and others no obvious deviations to account for our SSA. I would say that your early manifestations were not normal development behaviors. Why....maybe Ry is on to something. Good Luck

Z i n j said...


Chester said...

I too was sexually active at a young age with boys at or near my same age. In the beginning I'm sure it was abuse because I have distinct memories of being coerced into stuff I didn't particularly like. As I learned that it felt good, though, and as I sought for it more and more it's difficult for me to consider everything from my youth "abuse".

I went to counseling for a number of years while I was still trying to resolve being Mormon and gay. What I ultimately discovered for myself was it didn't matter if me being gay was a product of my childhood experiences or not. I am gay now, and there's nothing wrong with that. The best thing for me to be happy is NOT to keep butting my head against a wall wondering if things could be different.

I am what I am. I live with my fiance and life is wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I have learned through my own experience that when the mind is ready to remember the abuse of the body, if it indeed happened, then it will give you the details and will give you the details as you are ready to accept and assimilate them.

I have had LDS counselors, even my own Stake President who has a "counseling backeground" tell me the only reason I am gay is because of the abuse I suffered as a child. I disbelive this as the only reason, similar to what Abelard said about there being too many contradicitons, otherwise.

I was physically and sexually abused by both genders, so I do not think I am gay because of what happened to me.

Good luck in your quest to understand the things that have hapened to you. Luckily, I was le to a very gifted and compassionate therapist, with whom I have been working for several years. The progress has not been as quickly as she may have hoped, but it is the progress I can live with and handle. SO, it is all good.

Best wishes for a joyful holiday season! Duck

Kengo Biddles said...

Abuse is difficult. Some people remember it, some don't. Miki was abused as a child, and she remembers all the gory details.

I was sexually aware around the age of 8-9--but I don't believe that I was abused, and I can't remember any abuse. I think that Playa's on to something when he says,

If you clear your mind, breath slowly, and concentrate hard enough you should be able to plant a memory.

I don't think this is necessarily something to worry about, overly much. And I agree with Abelard, there's no real link, yet.

Ry said...

It's true that you can recall false memories. I distinctly remember a cartoon character with gold hair, when in fact his hair was silver! HOWEVER!!! This is NOT that kind of instance! These psychologists, therapists, and counsellours are PROFESSIONALS! When they say that kids who are sexually aware at a young age were abused, it means that they were most likely abused! If you look at the article from it's home page, then you'll see pictures of one of the guys. I actually volunteer at The Children's Center, in their theraputic preschool! It is amazing and wonderful! But don't discount their research because you don't remember it! Sometimes the body is so shocked by the details of the event, it won't let you remember, because the memory is too painful. But other times, the body remembers it pleasurably! Like mine! I really liked it! Oh... and people were abused by friends, then it is still abuse. I was talking to my friend about it... it is referred to as "peer abuse."

Kengo Biddles said...

Ry, I won't argue with your point that yes, you should leave the true input of this to professionals. I also know that some professionals aren't as ethical as they should be.

My wife's family and my own have each had tragedy come about due to an unethical mental health practitioner who convinced members of each of our family that they were abused when there is no sort of evidence to support the claim.

My point? Just be careful. Don't try to assign everything to abuse, ESPECIALLY before you have any sort of supporting proof.