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Sexual abuse of children: signs, numbers and common cases


Child sexual abuse is a problem that is closer than it seems. How to prevent or not overlook trouble? Littlevan continues a conversation on an important topic with clinical psychologist Svetlana Markova and social activist Julia Kuleshova, who survived sexual abuse in childhood and advocated for a wide discussion of this problem in society.

Julia Kuleshova, 31, mother of a three-year-old Juno. Founder of the chain of charity shops "Thank you", a public activist. In December 2018, Julia Kuleshova told reporters that she was a victim of sexual violence from her stepfather from 5 to 12 years old. After publication, she began to receive letters from those who experienced similar situations in childhood. More than 500 of them have already accumulated. Soon, Julia organized a community of victims of sexual violence in childhood, held meetings in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Now work is underway on the website “You'll Believe”, by contacting which victims of sexual violence or incest will be able to get the support of specialized psychologists. The official launch is scheduled for early April. Group on VKontakte.

Svetlana Markova - psychologist, candidate of psychological sciences. Experience as a psychologist - more than 15 years.

Now works in a psychological center in the USA, which, among other things, is involved in helping victims of sexual violence.

Svetlana conducts diagnostics and makes an examination in court, is engaged in psychotherapy with adults and children from 4 years old who have experienced sexual violence.

Sexual abuse of a child: what is it and how to recognize it?

- What is sexual abuse?

Svetlana: “In a broad sense, these are any actions of a sexual nature on the part of an adult in relation to a child or between two children with a significant age difference.

It is believed that violence is rape, and everything else is not. But in fact, a lot of things fall into this concept - all that we call everyday life the words “seduction”, “corruption” and “attempted rape”. Grandfather touched his granddaughter between his legs - this is violence. The stepfather showed the child pornography - this is violence. Uncle regularly and purposefully opens his bathrobe in front of his niece and demonstrates his genitals - this is violence. A 12-year-old brother plays with a 5-year-old sister as a doctor and touches her intimate parts of the body - this is also violence. If people have an understanding of how many manifestations relate to sexual violence and what consequences it has for children, then the scale of the problem will feel better. ”

- By what signs can you find out that a child is experiencing violence?

Svetlana: “We need to look at changes in behavior. Children in a certain way react to any stress. One symptom by which to establish a fact does not exist. But if the child’s behavior has changed, you need to ask yourself the question: “Why?”. I urge all parents to keep in mind that besides other possible stresses - divorce, removal, change of school, difficult relationships with classmates - there may be one related to sexual violence. ”

“What might it look like?”

Svetlana: “The child began to behave aggressively or detached. More time is alone and does not want to be in the company of children or spend time with family.

The child looks like he is depressed. He is sad all the time, nothing pleases him, or he suddenly became irritable. He had fears, especially fear of the dark, anxiety.

The child has urological infections. Redness, irritation, damage in the genital area is already a serious symptom.

Constipation, loss of appetite, sudden weight gain or weight loss, frequent complaints of pain, talking about sex, knowledge about it at an early age, a desire to touch mother’s breasts, the genitals of other children, or an offer to touch hers (at the age of understanding that this behavior is unacceptable), detailed knowledge of a little girl about how the male genital organ is arranged. At school, a child runs to the toilet and spies on others. Removes clothes from children to see their genitals. Shows his.

For older children, one of the noticeable symptoms may be a problem with hygiene, for example, refusal to wash as a result of low self-esteem and a feeling of spoiled and dirty. In some cases, children can start writing at night, spreading faeces on the walls - at an age when they should no longer do so.

If you have an explanation for any of the above problems, this is one thing. But if there is a problem, but there is no explanation, it is worth considering that this may be sexual violence. Often not only parents, but even professionals do not keep this in mind. ”

Facts and Figures (UNICEF)

• 11% of children in the world experience sexual abuse.

• From 40 to 60% of the facts of violence are committed in the family - not necessarily by biological parents. Girls who live with their stepfather or mother’s men are twice as likely to experience sexual abuse.

• 30% of cases of violence outside the family are committed by people familiar to the child.

They hide that “people did not recognize” and the family was not “disgraced”

- In the 2019 study of Out of the Shadows: Shining Light on The response to Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation, which measures the attention index, government measures for the problem of sexual abuse of children, Russia ranks 40th out of 43 countries. Is this an indicative fact?

Julia: “Very. According to various sources, from 11% to 30% of children and adolescents experience sexual violence, while only 10% are committed by people unfamiliar to the child.

The problem has not yet been comprehended in Russia. If in our country they talk about it, then they discuss the last stage of stories - the punishment of the rapist. The leitmotif of the discussions: “Pedophiles must be shot and hanged.” But general awareness through the education of children, parents, and teachers can make a big difference. If a child knows how and to whom to tell, to understand that something is wrong, then adult abusers will be much more difficult to manipulate. If parents know how to understand that the child has been sexually abused, the children will receive help and the trauma will be less deep.

If this topic is not taboo, it will be much more difficult for rapists - they will be able to fight back, their secrets will be revealed, their name may be revealed. When a child tries to talk about their experiences, parents and teachers will not push this information away.

Around me has developed a community of women who have experienced violence in childhood. For the most part, their family members were unable to protect the child. Did not see what was happening. Or, having learned, they did not believe. One simple story is very revealing: the school guard systematically grabbed and touched the girls between their legs. When they gathered courage and told their mothers, they decided that they did not need to “inflate an elephant from a fly”. Like the director. Those girls grew up, and he still works at school.

There are many such stories. Our project is approached by people who, having learned, for example, about violence against children in the family of acquaintances, ask: “How would I do to help the child, but so that I would not appear anywhere?”.

- When people want to avoid noise, do they help ensure that violence is committed?

Julia: “Yes. Now a lot contributes to this - many mothers do not believe a child who, as he can, in his own language, says that he survived the violence. If they believe, they want to hide this fact, “do not destroy the family,” covering the rapist and forcing the child to imitate good communication with the one who raped him. For some reason, fake communication with a relative is more important than the feelings of a small person. And they hide that “people did not recognize” and the family was not “disgraced”. So children and adolescents do not receive help from specialists. ”

- Are there other reasons why some mothers do not defend their children, even if they understand what is happening?

Julia: “They can be intimidated, dependent on men. In their family system, a man is perceived as the home king, without whom one cannot live. And also sexual violence is painful information that a person pushes away from himself, just not to touch this topic. And this is very wrong: close your eyes and leave the child face to face with a topic that is beyond his power. This approach should be a thing of the past. The new norm is calm informing the child about his boundaries and unacceptable attitude towards him, trust in relationships and caution. Such actions are not the destiny of overly worried parents, but one of the layers of basic parental literacy. ”

- The fact that a child comes with a story about sexual violence, but they do not believe him, is a frequent fact?

Julia: “Yes. Especially if the child talks about domestic violence. Or if we are talking about a distinguished teacher or coach with awards - as if they were some sacred creatures who, by definition, can do nothing of the kind. Under the materials on the prevention of sexual violence, I see comments that “children are vile creatures, they deceive adults, make good people rapists, they have a whole technology.” A convenient position. ”

Svetlana: “Research gives us serious reason to believe in children. Between the ages of 3 and 18, only 4% of those who report sexual violence make false statements.

In cases where information on perfect sexual violence reaches the investigative authorities, 79% of the children who actually survived it deny the facts. But 96% of them subsequently talk about it, while 75% - by accident. Such a high percentage of initially denying reflects just the child’s fear of talking about violence, the fear of being guilty of what happened or future consequences. Unfortunately, children often hear even the closest phrases leading to guilt. For example, that it is because of them that Dad will now go to jail, and there will be no money for new toys.

- Julia, when did you need to raise a topic and cope with your experience?

Julia: “I got pregnant. And at that moment, retraumatization began - the discovery of old emotional wounds. After my stepfather subjected me to sexual violence for many years, it was very scary to bring the girl to a world where no one helped me. I started to work with an injury. My daughter is already three and a half years old, and I have only now got the strength to speak about it out loud. ”

Svetlana: “Yes, there is such a well-known pattern - a woman experiences retraumatization during pregnancy or when the child reaches the age at which she experienced violence. A large percentage of women never tell anyone about violence. And among men who have experienced this in childhood, he is even higher. There is also the phenomenon of the suppression of memories - a person does not remember violence until he encounters a trigger, an event that causes a sudden “resentment” of psychological trauma. Pregnancy, shots from the film, snippet of someone’s conversation, smell. And time! Under the influence of a trigger, a whole layer of painful memories rises. ”

Prevention of Sexual Abuse: Prudent Behavior

- Prevention of sexual abuse is possible? What is she like?

Svetlana: “The best prevention is a trusting relationship between parents and a child. In addition, there are three more important points.

The first is conversations on the topic of sexual violence, explanations of what can happen on the path to growing up, what dangers are. Talk that there are good and bad touches, and there are people who can do the latter. Emphasizing that for these bad touches of wine lies exclusively with these people.

The second is a clear explanation: if someone asks to keep something secret, does something that is unpleasant, the child can trust the parent and tell everything.

And the third is the setting in the settings of the "parental control" function on all gadgets, including TV, tablets and game consoles. This will allow you to filter access to content that is not suitable for age.

I also advise you to pay attention to any special, excessively close relationships of your child with adults and adolescents in the environment. Often, what seems to be touching attention to parents is nothing more than the desire of an adult to approach the child for their own purposes. In my practice, there are cases when people from the immediate environment - for example, a neighbor or a friend of the parents, offered regular help with the child, but actually used this opportunity to get unlimited access to it. I understand that hearing and knowing it is uncomfortable, that this information can cause a feeling of vulnerability and widespread danger. But, as parents, we must bear in mind that the likelihood of sexual violence is absolutely equivalent to other threats in the daily life of the child. ”

Julia: “Many people who have experienced sexual violence in childhood or adolescence say: the level of trust between me and my parents was low, there was no prospect that someone would want to hear about what happened, believe and stop. Close relations between parents and children are, in my opinion, the main prevention of violence. And the second is the attention of mothers and fathers to what is happening with the child. When my stepfather first abused me in my 5 years, I sharply showed a reluctance to be near him: “I do not want to stand next to him in the photograph,” “I do not want to stay with him in the room” - and here it would be right to ask carefully and gently me why. I knew how to do nice to the genitals, and my mother was horrified, but did not ask how I knew this. I constantly masturbated! No one paid attention to it. Much of what my stepfather did was obviously unacceptable and transgressed personal boundaries. He could walk at home in a bathrobe without underwear. He could put a finger under my skirt and say that I seem to have a hole in pantyhose. Today, as the girl’s mother, I recall this with particular dislike. He was allowed to wash me when I was already far from 3 years old. “How can this be allowed to be attributed to games or“ special attention ”to the child?”

- But sometimes children are silent and do not talk about sexual violence, even if they have confidence in their parents.

Svetlana: “This happens. The rapist intimidates the child: “I will kill you, and then mom. Nobody will believe you. They’ll take you to the orphanage. ” Or: “You like it. You yourself want this. ” And the child has an understanding that one can never talk about it. ”

- And what should the parent do in this case?

Svetlana: “You can directly ask:“ Did someone touch you? ” Or ask: “How do you know that?” And then - you believe, support and listen - and then there is a high probability that the child will cope with this situation. The forecast is worse - for those children whose parents, and especially mothers, do not believe them or put guilty feelings in the child.

As prevention, there should be the formation of a firm belief that a son or daughter can absolutely share everything with a parent. It is very important that the child feels that he will be listened to and believed. One of the main reasons why children don’t tell is the fear of being punished for their words or accused of lying. And of course, the cautious behavior of the parent is of great importance: for example, it’s better not to leave your child alone with an adult or teenager who pretend to be too close relations with him, in which you are not 100% sure or with whom your daughter or son. "

“Even if this teenager is a brother or sister?”

Svetlana: “Unfortunately, up to 40% of sexual violence is committed by other, older children. In my practice, there are constantly cases when this happens between children living in the same family with a large age difference (3 years or more). For example, a teenager learns the details of sex, he becomes curious. If he does not have clearly defined personal boundaries and knowledge of acceptable touches, he may want to try what he learned with his younger brother or sister. Just because of the availability and the ability to make sure that no one knows about it. Gifts, arrangements, threats, and even physical strength are used. This leads to the suppression of will, violated personal boundaries and a distorted idea of ​​the norms of the youngest child. Often these situations turn into years of violence. Parents are absolutely sure that their children are playing behind a closed door, while the youngest does not see any opportunity to tell, frightened by the threats of the elder. He can only make weak attempts to convey this. For example, he’s naughty when his parents leave and he remains under the supervision of an elder.

If a teenager seeks to remain alone with a small child as often as possible, this should be suspicious. It’s better not to allow this. And games in the family where the husband kisses his wife, or in the doctor with the undressing of a small patient should not be. A child who is 3 years or more older than another can already manipulate games and engage in sexual violence. ”

Julia: “Rapists use manipulation and threats. Especially if violence occurs within a family or close circle, children are silent for months and years. It is believed that in Russia a detocentric culture. I have a lot of doubts about this. But if this is so, then this does not add rights to children. Они находятся в очень уязвимой позиции постоянной зависимости от взрослых, самых разных — ведь факт рождения малыша не делает человека «хорошим родителем». Во многих семьях за образец берется неуклонное управление интересами и жизнью ребенка до 18 лет, а то и до 40.In such families, children obey the will of their parents, do not have the right to disagree, have their own opinion and word, and in the list of priorities their emotional problems are low. Nominally, a child has the right to protection from all forms of physical or psychological violence, exploitation, abuse, negligent or brutal treatment by both parents and legal guardians or any other person who cares for him. How can a child realize it if anything can happen behind closed doors? ”

Children can do a lot

- Can you survive the consequences of sexual violence?

Julia: “The human psyche is a flexible and adaptive apparatus. The consequences of the injury can and should be worked out, taking care of their own quality of life. But the effectiveness of this work is very much tied to individual characteristics - the situation, the person, his resources and motivation. ”

Svetlana: “The sooner and longer the violence occurs, the closer the person who exercises it emotionally, the worse the consequences. But, of course, a lot depends on the child. There are children for whom one case of sexual violence is more than enough. They will "disentangle" the consequences of it for a very long time, maybe all their lives.

But there is comforting news - children can cope with many things. And the help of psychologists and competent behavior of loved ones will help to survive the trauma. An important criterion for choosing a specialist should be his attitude and competence, which can be recognized in how he talks about what happened. From a professional, you will never hear accusations against the victim or parents, words that the child provoked violence, and other stereotypes. A competent specialist is obliged to show unconditional acceptance, full faith in the words of the child and support for parents. ”