In this week’s episode of The Guardian, Nick
represents Luke, a teenager whose
whose mother becomes sexually involved with Luke’s teenage
friends and classmates. Nick tracks down Luke’s father, who is willing to have
Luke stay with him. But when a criminal background check reveals the father’s
long history and recent charges of domestic violence, he is ruled out as a
potential placement for Luke. Meanwhile, Jake is badly beaten and sexually
assaulted by a sexual partner, then struggles to maintain his privacy and
secrecy about his sexuality when questioned by the police.
Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault
Many people associate sexual assault and
sexual abuse with rape, molestation and other forms of forced physical
brutality, like the attack on Jake in this week’s episode. It is important to
understand that sexual abuse and sexual assault do not require physical force
and include any form of unwanted sexual act or intent to assert sexual control
over a victim. This can include rape, molestation, incest, voyeurism and
exhibitionism. That is why the police in this week’s Guardian were
investigating Luke’s mother regarding her sexual involvement with her son’s
teenage friends and classmates – and possibly with her own son.
Child abuse reports estimate that
approximately 1.6 million children are abused annually, and that 88% of child
molesters and perpetrators of sexual assault are people that children and their
parents know and trust. (for more statistical details and information, visit http://www.debevans.com/protectchildarticle.htm
Steps can be taken to protect children from becoming victims
of sexual assault. Parents and caregivers should speak to children at an early
age about what behavior and touching is appropriate from adults and other
children. Children should be educated about their bodies, and be familiar with
key words that a perpetrator might use to lure them into a dangerous situation.
Still, there are times when a child cannot be protected. So it is important
that children be encouraged to speak openly to caregivers, and have no
hesitation about asking for help if violated. When a child discloses sexual
assault or abuse, it is vitally important that caregivers reinforce that the
child is not at fault and will not be punished for telling. However, children
should not be forced to speak about the event until they are ready to do so.
Parents or caregivers should seek help from professionals in counseling and law
enforcement who are specially trained to work with victims of sexual assault
Victims of sexual assault are stripped of their dignity and
likely will experience a sense of loss of control over their lives. Sexual
abuse is one of the most disturbing problems that children face.
Victims of sexual abuse often need a great deal of help and
support to overcome their grief, confusion and anger. In addition to needing a
strong support system from family and friends, there are other places victims
can go to for help. The National Coalition Against Sexual Assault can be
reached at 717-728-9764. The Rape, Abuse and National Network can be reached at
Domestic Violence and The Impact on Children
Hearing or seeing domestic violence traumatizes children
psychologically and has a devastating impact on their emotional and
psychological well-being. Statistics suggest that children who witness
domestic violence are:
24 times more likely to commit sexual assault crimes
50% more likely to develop substance abuse problems
74% more likely to commit crimes against another person
6 times more likely to commit suicide.
Violence is a learned behavior. Statistics suggest that 90%
of children who live in violent homes witness acts of abuse. A study reported
in Child Advocate newsmagazine indicates that in families where domestic
violence is present the likelihood of child abuse and neglect is fifteen times
greater than in the overall population. Other
studies conclude that half of all men who batter their wives also are abusive
to their children and that women victims of domestic violence also are
far more likely to abuse their children.
There is a generational pattern of family violence.
Domestic violence literature suggests that boyswho witness domestic abuse are five times more likely to
abuse their female partners than boys who grew up in non-violent homes.
Another study concluded that 75% of boys who witness domestic abuse struggle
with behavioral problems throughout their lives.
Many children who witness domestic violence suffer
emotionally, physically and developmentally. Some children are physically
injured when trying to intervene to protect the battered parent. It is not
unusual for children who witness domestic violence to experience guilt, shame,
fear and low self-esteem. Other consequences include nightmares; acting
aggressively towards family, friends or property; stomach problems;
bed-wetting; insomnia; and verbal, cognitive or other developmental delays.
Children who witness domestic abuse frequently develop
unhealthy beliefs about themselves, the world, and the nature of relationships.
They may conclude that it is typical for conflicts to be resolved with
violence, and that it is appropriate for men to assume the dominating role in a
Visitation between children and a domestic violence
perpetrator must be carefully considered. By demonstrating abusive behavior,
the perpetrator has shown inappropriate parenting and a lack of consideration
for the emotional well being of the children.
Some judges, caseworkers and attorneys believe that unless
the father has abused the children, his abuse of his wife is not relevant to
evaluating his capability to be a good father. Focusing on whether the
children have been abused ignores the fact that spousal abuse has a dramatic
and detrimental impact on the emotional and physical health of children.
Children may identify with the “victor” in the violent altercations they
witness. Children as young as six or seven begin to model the behavior of the
aggressor and see violence as the acceptable method of producing desired
results. A child may try to manipulate the victim by saying something like:
“Give me what I want or I will tell Dad to hit you.” Witnessing repeated acts
of violence may cause children to lose respect for the victim instead of
sympathizing with them. Sadly, many of these child-witnesses later either will
repeat the behaviors they witness or accept violence in their own adult
relationships because they never learned other ways to relate or resolve
Many professionals believe that the most effective stand a
victim can take is to separate themselves and their children from the
perpetrator. Unfortunately, without strong community support systems, the abuse
often worsens upon separation. One study found that 75% of calls to the police
requesting intervention in domestic violence disputes were made after separation.
The abuse often escalates as the perpetrator becomes desperate to
retain control. Many women who have stayed with their
perpetrator report that they only stayed after their children were threatened.
It is important to limit the
children’s exposure to parental conflict and to be aware that the greatest risk
of violence is during visitation exchanges. There have been several
cases where a father has murdered his spouse and/or children while picking up
the children for visits. The potential for continued
violence must be taken into account when courts determine what custody and
visitation arrangements are in each child’s best interests.
It is important that the courts and the community take an
active role in protecting children from domestic violence. Rarely is the
emotional impact on children addressed. Without a support system, it is
difficult for victims to protect themselves and their children. Professionals
should be ready to strategize and follow-through with carefully planned
One approach and resource that has helped in several
communities is the idea of supervised visitation centers—a facility where
parents can safely exchange children and where supervised visitation is
available if needed. That type of arrangement supports a continuing and safer
relationship between the father and child without endangering the mother and
Although children may not be the physical victims of
domestic abuse, they will carry the images, sounds and emotional scars of
domestic violence throughout their lives. It is important to take steps to
break the generational cycle of domestic violence by helping children to
understand that there are other ways that adults in relationships interact and