Our Readers' Opinions
April 17, 2009
Child sexual abuse and its effects

By Garvie Thomas. Corporal 649 17.APR.09

Daddy don’t touch me there,

Am gonna tell on you one day I swear,

Can’t you see am scared,

You’re supposed to be my father. ……. Queen Ifrica

“Mummy I have something to tell you, uncle touched me on my vagina this morning,” said X. “Shut up! You little liar.” yelled Mummy.

“ ‘Can you keep a secret?’ asked Mummy’s friend as he touched me on my breasts and kissed me on my lips. He then gave me $5.00 and told me not to tell anybody.”

My cousin told me to come and sit in his lap and he would buy me a popsicle.{{more}}

These are some of the testimonies that we receive from our children about their harassment by people we expect to protect and care for them.

Child sexual abuse is a significant health problem in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and across the world. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, one out of three females and one out of five males have been victims of child sexual abuse before age 18. Sexual abuse occurs across ethnic, racial, economic and religious groups. Unfortunately, sexual abuse is considered a common experience among children. There are gender differences with regard to sexual abuse incidents; specifically, girls are at twice the risk than boys for sexual victimisation throughout childhood, and at eight times the risk during adolescence. Because significant physical, emotional, social, cognitive and behavioural problems are related to childhood trauma, the need to effectively address the issue has become paramount (Itzin, 2000).

According to Flinn (1995), children and adolescents who have been sexually victimised are at increased risk for HIV infection, unplanned pregnancy, and other negative outcomes. Unfortunately, the personal skills needed to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies are exactly those eradicated by sexual abuse. People who work with youths must be aware of the possible connection; sexual abuse prevention must be a component of any programme promoting adolescent reproductive and sexual health.

Child sexual abuse was thought to be rare, and centred among the poor in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Experts now agree that child sexual abuse has always occurred and still exists in all socio-economic groups. Increased public awareness has led to greater reporting with the establishment of the Family Court, while child sexual abuse has increased more than any other categories of neglect or abuse.

The American Medical Association (1992) defines child sexual abuse as “the engagement of a child in sexual activities for which the child is developmentally unprepared and cannot give informed consent. Child sexual abuse is characterised by deception, coercion or force.”

Sexual abuse can include fondling, genital exposure, intimate kissing, and forced masturbation, oral, penile or digital penetration of the mouth, vagina or anus. Child prostitution, pornography and cult (or “ritual”) abuses are specific activities included in the definition. Incest is sexual abuse where the offender is a family member.

Child sexual abuse is of two types. These include:


• Photographing of the child for sexual purposes

• Showing the child pornographic materials

• Sexualised talk with the child

• Making fun of or ridiculing the child’s sexual development, preferences, or organs

• Verbal and emotional abuse of a sexual nature

• Exposing genital area to child for sexual gratification

• “Peeping” in on a child while he or she is dressing, showering, or using the bathroom

• Masturbating in front of the child

• Making the child witness others being sexually abused


• Touching the child sexually

• Invasive care of the child’s genitals

• Stripping the child to hit or spank; obtaining sexual gratification out of hitting

• Making the child touch the adult sexually

• Making the child masturbate the adult

• Making the child engage in oral sex

• Making the child engage in vaginal or anal intercourse

• Making the child engage in prostitution

• Making the child engage in sexual activity with animals

Sexual abuse occurs in rural, urban and suburban areas, and among all ethnic, racial and socio-economic groups. A recent Department of Justice report found that half of the females who reported rapes in 1992 were under the age of 18 years, and 16 percent were under 12 years old.

Most children are abused by someone they know and trust, although boys are more likely than girls to be abused outside of the family. A study revealed by the American Medical Association (1992), found that 96 per cent of reported rape survivors under age 12 knew their attackers, 4 percent of the attackers were strangers, 20 percent were fathers, 16 percent were relatives, and 50 percent were acquaintances or friends. Abuse typically occurs with a long-term, on-going relationship between the offender and the victim, and escalates overtime, and lasts an average of four years. Offenders often develop a relationship with targeted victims for months before the abuse begins. Sexual abuse often occurs in successive generations of the same family.

A recent report by the American Medical Association (1992) suggested that about a third of children who have been sexually abused “subsequently manifest post traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, a third or more of child victims of sexual abuse report depression and anxiety. Other frequently occurring problems include promiscuity, general behaviour problems, poor self-esteem, and disruptive behaviour disorders.”

It is rare for a child to speak directly about sexual abuse. Evidence of physical trauma to the genitals, or mouth or rectal bleeding, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, unusual and offensive odours, and complaints of pain or discomfort of the genital area can all be indicators. Most often, children who are victims of sexual abuse exhibit emotional or behavioural characteristics that may include distress. Most disclosures from children are to trusted adults, or friends in their life – the teacher, coach, pastor, grandparent or therapist.

The legal system can especially be intimidating, confusing and frightening for children. Many aspects of the process (such as providing testimony and multiple interviews) can be overwhelming for children. It is estimated that the number of interviews a child victim whose case is going on through the court system undergoes is eleven. It is often said that during this time, a child can potentially be “re-traumatised.”

The American Medical Association (1992) stated that there are modalities of psychological treatment that have demonstrated positive benefits for child victims of sexual abuse. These include: individual psychotherapy, group based therapy, and treatments involving the entire family. When treat ment for this population is trauma-focused, structured, and targets the specific symptoms of sexual abuse, it can be effective at reducing short-term and long-term effects.

The initial short-term effects vary, depending upon the circumstances of the abused and the child’s developmental stage, but may include regressive behaviours, such as a return to thumb sucking or bed-wetting), sleeping disturbances, eating problems, behaviour and or performance problems at school, and non-participation in school and social activities. But the negative effects of child sexual abuse can affect the victim for many years and into adulthood. Adults who were sexually abused as children commonly experience depression. Additionally, high levels of anxiety in these children can result in self-destructive behaviours, such as alcoholism or drug abuse, anxiety attacks, situation-specific anxiety disorders, and insomnia. Many victims also encounter problems in their adult relationship and in their adult sexual functioning. “Revictimisation’’ is also a common phenomenon among people abused as children.

Research has shown that child sexual abuse victims are more likely to be victims of rape or to be involved in physically abusive relationships as adults. In short, the ill effects of child sexual abuse are wide ranging. There is no one set of symptoms or outcomes that victims experience. Some children even report little or no psychological distress from the abuse, but these children may be either afraid to express their true emotions or may be denying their feelings as a coping mechanism. Other children may have what is called “sleeper effects.” They may experience no harm in the short run, but suffer serious problems later on in life.

In the end, however, the most effective way to prevent subsequent abusing is to decrease or eliminate opportunity; offenders should not have uncontrollable access to vulnerable children or previous victims.

Let me sound a warning to all parents, including our mothers. We must not cover up when our children report cases of sexual abuse. Do not tell them they are telling lies and do not beat them and make them feel guilty or it was their fault that it happened. Be respectful when the child discloses the abuse to you. Reassure the child by telling him or her that it is not his or her fault, believe the child and tell the child he or she did the right thing. Mothers, you have a duty to protect the child you gave birth to for life. We must teach our children what is good touch and bad touch, and we must teach them about their private parts. We also, have to teach them not to take things from strangers and we have to set them good examples and have strong family values. It is time that we as parents teach our children the correct names of their private parts and re-emphasise that nobody, ABSOLUTELY nobody, is allowed to touch them on their private parts, except in the case of a doctor or otherwise.

To the worthless fathers, grandfathers, cousins, brothers, uncles, nephews, boyfriends, common-law husbands and other sexual predators in our society, am begging you PLEASE leave our children alone. They cannot give consent and they must be cared for by you. Don’t spoil them and make them sex slaves. Let our nation’s children continue to be productive boys and girls, so when they grow up, they can contribute meaningfully and productively to the building of our beloved St. Vincent and the Grenadines.