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The Voices of Victims: Surviving Child Sexual Abuse

Debra Nelson-Gardell in her article explores the consequences of sexual abuse for victims of these abuses and makes an attempt to find out possible strategies which would help victims to get through difficult period after abuse and cope with the tragedy. She also was interested in the techniques of counseling strategies, which could be helpful for the victims of sexual abuse. This research is very important since it can be very helpful for specialists who work with the victims of sexual abuse. In addition, it can also be helpful for the relatives and family members of victims of sexual abuse, since the research gives ideas about behavior and reaction of the surrounding which may help the victim to feel better. The research is also valuable because it contains not only information about specialists in the field of victimology and sexual abuse but also the ideas about victims themselves. People who went through this personal tragedy share their experience and think about possible ways to pass through negative consequences of sexual abuse. In the introduction to her research Debra Nelson underlines that despite considerable research and many tools and psychological models designed for the work with victims of sexual abuse, the victims of abuse were seldom asked themselves about things which would be useful for them.
The problem is very important. The author of the research states that according to the research performed by Finkelhor, more than 20 % of women and from 5 to 10% of men experience sexual abuse during the period of childhood or adolescence (Finkelhor, 1994). Moreover, specialists believe that many cases of child abuse are underreported and those facts which make an official statistics do not real numbers of children, who experience sexual abuse. Unfortunately, in many cases children do not tell the parents about sexual abuse or parents, who know about it do not report it to the police. These facts underline the scope of the problem and remind that millions of people, who get through abuse in the childhood should have opportunities for rehabilitation.
It has been proposed several ways of making research on this subject. Governmental statistics could be helpful in the research of child abuse. The only problem with this research method is that it includes only officially reported cases and thus reflects not the full information as very often. Governmental statistics usually include: social services agencies reports; investigation materials collected by child protection workers; court cases when there was collected enough evidence to address to the court. Governmental statistics aren’t enough to get 100% trustworthy information.
Representative method consists of taking survey on a small group of typical respondents and making conclusions about the bigger group based on the research. This method can be very useful as the representative sample of people can reflect different age groups, social layers, education, etc. Possible demerit of this method is the big probability of mistake because of small amount of respondents.
Retrospective method is based on research made among adults making them recollect any possible cases of abuse they have experienced in the childhood. Till recent times retrospective data collecting was a very popular alternative method of child abuse study. (Widom, 1995). This means that data was obtained from the recalls of adults about the abused the persons suffered from being children. This approach causes a lot of debates and some hesitations in its credibility. There are some doubts that memories of the past can be trustworthy with the flow of time. Some researches worry about the changes in the memories because of the influence of the present state of the person (Ross, 1989). So, retrospective approach is greatly influenced by: “...both internal and external forces. Social influences, childhood amnesia, and the simple fallibility of memory all impose limitations on the accuracy of recall.” ( Brewin, Andrews,Gottlib, 1993). In addition, the lack of trust between interviewer and interviewee can cause the distortion of the information. The way out could be the use of retrospective method in combination with the study of historical records of the events. This information can be found in court records, police records, records of the family members, etc. So, the combination of statistics research with retrospect data collecting "provide a more comprehensive measure of the scope of child abuse and neglect known to community professionals, including both abused and neglected children who are in the official statistics and those who are not" (U.S. National Incidence Study). The checking up the results of the retrospective research using official sources is called construct validity. When choosing the method of survey it’s necessary to keep in mind the complicated character of the problem surveyed. Most of the people are afraid or ashamed to talk about the child abuse. It’s worth the think about the possibility of anonymous data collecting. It’s also necessary to be sure that all the respondents of the survey understand the meaning of the term “child abuse”.
The material of research was collected by different methods. Gathering general data on the subject from different sources was the first method of the research.Analyzing this material was another method of research. Unique group work with the victims of sexual abuse was third and unique method used by the authors of the research. During the period of research five focus groups, which consisted of young girls, who experienced sexual abuse gathered together and tried to find answer for the questions of the research through in the process of group work. The members of all groups went through the series of psychotherapy before they got into the research groups. The age of the girls who took part in research groups varied from 10 to 18.
In order to enhance the interest of girls in the experiment and in order to underline the importance of their participation girls were paid for taking part in research groups. They were addressed and treated like consultants. During the research they were treated like people who had to pass through negative experience and had inner strength in order to stand it and in this way they possessed ability to share their knowledge with others. Research consisted of the series of sessions where girls discussed different strategies which might be useful for coping with the situations of child sexual abuse. The sessions were audiotaped or written down which gave additional opportunities to evaluate the results of the research. The main goal of the research was finding out the facts which would increase abilities to cope with the abuse from the point of view of the victims themselves. The questions for the group work were composed taking into account age peculiarities of the participants of the groups. The analysis of the research was manly based on the analysis of audio and written material achieved during group sessions of the participants of investigation. These tapes and records were also supplemented by background information about the girls. This information included their age, social background, race, ethnicity, age when they experienced abuse and many other facts which might have been helpful for the research. This data was provided by parents or people responsible for girls. During analyzing the material achieved during group sessions these material was divided by themes and later main questions and problems were identified inside theme themes. Information was also group together according to the questions of research. Careful analysis of the data let to distinguish main themes of the research which became the main material for further research and analysis. Despite the big scope of the research it still had certain limitations.
In the process of counseling and collecting the data four main themes were presented. These themes were aimed to define the kind of help provided: who believed the abused children, who talked with them about the accident, what their feeling were and where they attended group sessions. It is necessary to note that most girls who were abused identify the person who believed them with the person who helped them. Those people who did not believe them were considered as bad or even harmful. “The belief factor is a very important thing to kids, because if people doubt you then you feel really bad” (Nelson, 407). Children unconsciously treat people who believe them as their supporters and this factor should in no way be neglected. The second theme is who should talk with children about what happened and how to do it in a proper way. This theme is always of current importance. It is always difficult to choose an appropriate approach because the incident is always a painful theme for children and provokes emotional reactions. It can be difficult not only for the abused children but also for therapists and sometimes they try to escape this topic, however, this actual presentation can help very much. “Just thinking of it hurts, but when you talk about it you really let out your feelings, so it hurts a lot worse than just thinking of it” (Nelson, 308). This difficult step should be done and the obstacle between the child and the therapist would disappear. Another important aspect of research becomes the necessity to speak about the emotions and feeling after therapeutic sessions. It plays an important role in the treatment process provided by the professionals. Especially girls require emotional support and their first step can be getting the feeling out. “Because everything connects to it when you’ve been abused. All your feelings change immediately after something like that happens to you. Your thoughts about a boy or a man or relatives or the way you feel around other people. I mean everything really revolves around that one incident” (Nelson, 409). This theme was discussed in all five groups. The last meaningful theme that should not be neglected is the group therapy that can really help. Despite all possible advantages of this kind of therapy no one wanted to go to such groups. This theme was proposed for discussion only in two groups. The results show that only under pressure sexually abused children agreed to attend special groups for children and teenagers with the same problems. The group support, however, is very important. In group you meet people who have already come through the same problems, you feel their sympathy and find understanding. “Group helps a lot… at first you feel kind of like you don’t want to talk to anybody because you don’t really know them. But once you get to know them it makes you feel a lot better than just being in single counseling” (Nelson, 410). The period of rehabilitation for victims is much shorter if the person has come through the group therapy.
Another import point that provides the article is the fact children and teenagers who were sexually abused must be main focus groups. The information given by them can be much more important than numerous theoretical researches in this sphere because it can help to find the key to the problem solution. Participants, in fact, are also interested in this question. They ask about the necessity of information presented and about its further purpose. Vaughn (1996) emphasizes that communication with sexually abused children should no way be based on power and influence. The atmosphere plays a very important role in this process.
First of all it was performed in one part of the country and thus there exists a threat that results reflect only limited social, ethical and racial layers. In addition all participants of the research were recruited in the social agencies dealing with child sexual abuse and this means that research reflects only category of victims who get any kind of necessary help and the cases where the problem of sexual abuse became investigated.
Research performed by the authors is very valuable because it supplements rich theoretical data on the subject by the practical experiences of victims of sexual abuse. Horrible sufferings in childhood may lead to further emotional problems, problems with friends, relatives and communication as a whole. Negative effects of child abuse depend on many factors: the kind of abuse, the conditions under which the abuse occurred, the person who committed abuse, the frequency of abuse, whether violence was involved and others. Every case of child abuse is unique and so it’s practically impossible to determine common effects of child abuse. Every person suffered from abuse in his childhood has different combinations of risk and protective factors and so the influence of them is also different. It’s evident that this problem exists in modern society and it’s also evident that this problem should be resolved. The problem of child abuse can not be resolved until all necessary researches are made. Research can help to trace the roots of the problem, to define the scale of the problem and even suggest possible ways of solution. This research not only achieved additional data on the subject but also gave practical advices which can help the victims of the abuse to cope with their situation. In addition, the authors of the research believe that research was also useful for its participants because girls who went through sexual abuse got an opportunity to share their experience with others, and sharing this experience had its own therapeutic value. Data received though this research gives definite ideas about type of support and help, which victims of sexual abuse need. Their primary needs include the need to be understood and the need to be believed. For the victims trust and support become two most important components, which help them to cope with the problem and transform this negative experience.


Works Cited
Brewin, C.R., Andrews, B., & Gotlib, I.H. Psychopatholology and early experience: A reappraisal of retrospective reports. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 82-89, 1993.
Fivush, R. Developmental perspectives on autobiographical recall. In G.S. Goodman & B.L. Bottoms (Eds.), Child victims, child witnesses: Understanding and improving testimony (pp.1-24). New York: Guilford Press, 1993.
Gelles, R.J., & Edfeldt, A.W. Violence towards children in the United States and Sweden. Child Abuse and Neglect, 10, 501-510, 1986.
Ross, M. Relation of implicit theories to the construction of personal histories. Psychological Review, 96, 341-357, 1989.
Russell, D.E.H. The incidence and prevalence of intrafamilial and extrafamilial sexual abuse of female children. Child Abuse and Neglect, 7, 133-146, 1983.
Straus, M.A. Measuring intrafamily conflict and violence: The Conflict Tactics (CT) Scales. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 41, 75-86, 1979.
Widom, C.S. Child abuse, neglect and adult behavior: Research design and findings on criminality, violence, and child abuse. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 59, 355-367, 1989.

 

 
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