Molestation of children is a subject which most adults would prefer to ignore. Although both teachers and parents begin to instruct children at an early age of the dangers of matches, traffic, and poisons, we are loathe to mention the possibility of sexual abuse. “Don’t talk to, get in a car with, or take candy from strangers” is usually the extent of our warnings.
Being wary of strangers does not always protect a child. Unfortunately, those who sexually assault children are primarily men who are known to the child. A prominent study done in 1969 by the Children’s Division of the American Humane Society found that this was true in 75% of the sex crimes against children. This study used a sample of 250 cases reported in an eighteen month period in Brooklyn and the Bronx. (This sample was a small portion of the total reported cases since in one year over 1000 cases were reported in Brooklyn alone).
Because the offender is often a family member or friend, the reporting of child rape is a very sensitive issue. Children must depend on adults to report a rape to the police. The reaction of a parent to a child’s claim that she* has been molested is not always one of sympathy for the child. Some parents will punish a child, saying they misbehaved and brought on the attack themselves. For children, who are taught that adults are authority figures, placing the blame on themselves may be a common reaction. Some parents refuse to believe the child. They become angry and may even defend the attacker’s integrity. Many parents feel embarrassed for themselves and do not want others, including the police, to know that their child has been sexually assaulted.
In his essay on Femininity, Freud concluded that “Reports of childhood assault were fantasies that the child contrived as a defense against her own genital pleasure and her guilty wish to sleep with her father.” Many who followed Freud continued to blame the child and to describe the child rape victim as attractive, seductive, and/or charming. While young children may appear to behave in a seductive manner, they are usually seeking affection and attention. Not until puberty do youngsters “have conceptions of sexual responses and behavior that are analogous to those of adults.”
It is possible, of course, to read of incidents of reported sexual molestations of children where the child has either fabricated or fantasized the assault.
*In the Humane Society study, 10 girls were molested for every 1 boy.
Feminist writers see the abuse of young girls as a reflection of our male-dominated society. Children are viewed as possessions, and while there exists a taboo against incest, there also exists a taboo against outside interference with the absolute rule of the man in the home.
Because of the reaction children may receive from parents if they relate an incident involving sexual molestation, children may suffer extreme guilt feelings if anyone forces them to submit sexually. Adults must recognize the seriousness of sexual abuse and discuss this issue with children so that they understand it is the offender and not the victim who is guilty. In the Humane Society study, over 40% of the cases involved repeated sexual abuse by the same person over a period of time. This statistic may well be a reflection of the abused child’s difficulty in accusing an adult of sexual assault.
Finally, many parents are reluctant to press charges against their child’s rapist in order to protect the child from an unpleasant court ordeal. Few defense lawyers are used to cross-examining children, and many, in an attempt to defend their clients, will try to place the blame on the child. In the Humane Association study, 173 arrests were made, and the child victims appeared in court more than 1000 times. Asking a child to recount the circumstances of a sexual assault even once before a courtroom of strangers is unthinkable for many parents and children.