By Nicole Stinson
Photo courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt.
Despite changing policies, research has found that those sexually abused as a child are still not receiving the support they need.
Pope Francis may have recently overhauled the 1889 Vatican Laws and criminalized sexual violence against children but Barry Gardner, a representative for the UK-based National Soceity for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) tells BTR there is still “a significant gap in the provision of therapeutic services for children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse.”
A recent study by Committee of Child Maltreatment has also found that existing structures within the United States are inadequate for dealing with the consequences of child abuse.
The report criticizes existing approaches and states that existing systems need to focus on the long-term, mental well-being of the victims particularly children who have been sexually abused.
This inadequacy is not limited to America according to Cathy Kezelman, the president of the Australian non-profit organization Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA),
“There has never been enough support available for victims of child sexual abuse, or in fact survivors of all forms of trauma and abuse,” she says. “There has also been a long-existing stigma and taboo about child abuse, with those abused carrying an inappropriate sense of shame and self-blame, and society not being receptive to hear stories of molestation”.
There are also substantial long-term effects of sexual abuse that need to be addressed Gardner tells BTR. These include the potential for depression, obsessive behavior, excessive drinking and drug-taking and inability to form long-term relationships.
“Abuse skews your view of the world,” says Elaine Sheehy, a clinical therapist. “The child often feels as though they somehow brought the abuse on or deserved it.”
In 2011, the Children’s Bureau of the Department of Health and Human Services, reported over 60,000 cases of children being sexually abused in America. The National Prevention of Cruelty to Children also found similarly high statistics in the United Kingdom with over 18, 000 reported cases from 2012.
Despite the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of a Child which attempts to universally criminalize sexual violence against children, how such abuse is dealt with varies from country to country and even by state and providences.
In New York, a child sexual offense conviction carries a minimum of sentence of five years’ imprisonment and up to life, depending on the class of the felony.
In the United Kingdom, the maximum prison sentence is much lower and cannot exceed 14 years.
In an attempt to change the way the crime is approached, New York is in the processes of reviewing its statute of limitations. Currently, victims must report the sexual abuse before their 23rd birthday. The proposed Child Sexual Abuse Reform Bill seeks to remove these limitations so that the crime can be reported any time.
Photo courtesy of Geraint Rowland.
If passed, New York will join states such as Minnessota and Illinois in their removal. Many, such as Gardner, consider these actions to be a step the right direction in allowing victims to report the abuse as adults.
“Many victims will still not have revealed anything until they are well into adulthood and we know from calls to our helpline that some have stayed silent for many decades,” he says.
Others such as Anne Cossins, an associate professor of law at the University of New South Wales, are more doubtful about the impact of these law changes.
“The laws aren’t the problem, the investigative and prosecution processes are the problem, since conviction rates are very low at trial and guilty pleas are low,” she says.
Victims of child sexual abuse also face problems reporting the incident to authorities.
“Research shows only 1 in 3 victims report the sexual abuse at the time,” Gardner says.
Molly Jenkins, a research analyst for the American Humane Association, says there are a number of reasons why child sexual abuse often goes unreported.
“Children may be reluctant to disclose their sexual abuse because they do not fully understand what is happening to them, they have been groomed by their abuser or they are ashamed or feel guilty about the abuse,” she says. “They may also have been threatened by the abuser to keep the abuse a secret or they fear that no one will believe them or want to help them”.
Organizations such as NSPCC and ASCA are attempting to increase support and reporting rates of child sexual abuse.
NSPCC provides two helplines one for children and another where adults can report concerns about children they believe are being sexually abused.
“Nearly 600 cases in June and July were referred to police and social service by NSPCC,” Gardner says.
ASCA provides a support helpline for adults survivors of child abuse and workshops on coping with trauma.
As these recent studies show, it is the victims of child abuse that are imprisoned mentally by these incident when it should be the child molesters and pedophiles doing time for these crimes. Current laws may fashion placing heavier punishment the perpetrators that are caught, but helping promote higher instances of reporting and otherwise supporting victims actually can focus doing good where it is needed most.