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.
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