All Woman

The effects of sexual abuse on children

By Ann-Margaret Lim

Monday, March 22, 2004    

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Of the approximately 100,000 Jamaican children suffering from abuse, sexual offenses ranks in the top five - this according to Dr Ganesh Shetty, government child psychiatrist.

"Five to nine year olds are more commonly abused, so they should constantly be watched. Teach them safety tips such as not accepting gifts from strangers or entering their homes. But if sexual abuse happens don't panic because this will in turn make them panic, carry them to the clinic and report it," explains Shetty.

He also advises that the case can be reported up to six months after, but warns, "You have to go soon enough, while the physical evidence is there." He also notes that each parish has children officers and a child development office.

At the same time, Psychologist Ruth Doorbar, who described rape as an act of anger and resentment, not a sexual one, says that this will always be on the increase when harsh economic and social conditions proliferate. "Rape is prevalent when there are many people angry at the world," explains Doorbar.

"In this particular situation, the man was not in control of his impulses, because many men are aroused by children, but they do not lose control," says Doorbar of a man who would sexually abuse his 10 year-old stepdaughter.

Doorbar also said that plans are underway to add stepfathers to the list of people who can be prosecuted for rape.

Describing the side effects of childhood sexual abuse as 'very profound and expensive,' Doorbar made the point that these individuals will have 'terrible feelings of inadequacy and shame'.

"If she is menstruating, we have the problem of pregnancy, and if this happens right before her first period, this right of passage will be accompanied with excessive pain and cramps," says Doorbar. She also says that shyness, nervousness and anxiety symptoms such as bed wetting are short-term effects, with long-term ones being mistrust of the sex that molested them.

Shetty adds an aggressive behaviour change, nightmares, psychosomatic illness such as early sexual maturity to the list of short-term effects. "In the long run, they may become low-achieving, short tempered adults with low self-esteem. Sometimes they become perpetuators themselves, enter into abusive relationships, or have multiple personalities, though the latter seems more common on television," says Shetty.

According to Shetty, factors shaping the child's development and future prospects after sexual abuse are his/her level of resilience, whether or not the perpetrator was a stranger or family member, whether the abuse is a one off or on-going situation and also whether or not the child is supported or blamed for the incident. " If the child is blamed, he/ she is further victimised. But, children amaze me with their resilience," concludes Shetty.

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