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Definition Vermont statute defines child sexual abuse as: Any act or acts by any person involving sexual molestation or exploitation of a child including but not limited to incest, prostitution, rape, sodomy, or any lewd and lascivious conduct involving a child. Sexual abuse also includes the aiding, abetting, counselling, hiring, or procuring of a child to perform or participate in any photograph, motion picture, exhibition, show, representation, or other presentation which, in whole or in part, depicts a sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sadomasochistic abuse involving a child.
Contact Sexual Abuse Touching the genital area or breasts, over or under clothing Oral sex Vaginal or anal penetration with part of the body or with an object Non-contact Sexual Abuse Invitation to touch another in a sexual way Voyeurism (“Peeping Tom”) Encouraging or forcing a child to masturbate or to watch others masturbate Indecent exposure (“flashing”) Involving children in the viewing or production of pornographic materials or in watching sexual activities Encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways Forms of Child Sexual Abuse
The Sexual Abuser It is impossible to describe the ‘typical sexual abuser’ Most child sexual abuse is committed by people known to the children: Family members People in the family’s circle of trust Older or bigger children Most offenders are male (although not all) Approximately 1/3 are under age 20
Adult Offender Individuals who choose to work with children and end up sexually abusing them typically fall into two categories: Intentional abusers – Behavior is calculated and purposeful Opportunists- Those with emotional and/or psychological problems that may not initially seek to abuse children, but do so if the situation presents itself
Why Offenders Target Schools Easy access to children Position of authority over children Can gain trust of child and other adults Believe they can get away with it Believe there are no consequences Validating their sexual interest in children as beneficial
Why Offenses Go Undetected Offender is well-liked, dedicated, great with children, outstanding employee/volunteer, etc. Can’t imagine the person would commit such an offense Belief that the signs of misconduct/abuse would be obvious Offender conceals the behavior as legitimate job duties (e.g., caring for children, going on outings, spending extra time with the child, toileting, etc.) Fellow employees/volunteers unaware of their legal duty to report suspicions of abuse
Adolescent Offender Adolescents pose the same risk of sexually offending as adult employees/volunteers Approximately 30-50% of all child sexual abuse offenses may be committed by adolescents and young adults Adolescent offenders should also be viewed as possible victims of sexual abuse As with adult offenders, contact DCF in these cases, and possibly law enforcement
Grooming Using a variety of techniques to gain sexual access to the child Building trust and comfort with a child and adults around the child Building an emotional connection to reduce likelihood of disclosure Slow, gradual, escalating process Process of normalizing inappropriate behavior (e.g., sexual jokes, physical contact, etc.) Children can become confused by behavior they know is wrong coming from someone they trust, like, and respect Purpose is to access and control child – usually through non-violent means, but some may use threats and/or physical force Compliance does not make the child a lesser victim
Grooming Process Establishes friendship and gains trust of child and adults around the child Tests child’s boundaries (e.g., sexual jokes, games, or comments; roughhousing; backrubs, etc.) Moves from non-sexual touching to “accidental” sexual touching (e.g., during play) Confuses the child into thinking s/he is equally responsible for the contact Becomes more involved in the child’s family to build trust Makes child feel complicit to what is happening, which discourages and prevents child from telling anyone about it Makes child feel obligated to the offender Engages child in unnecessary/unwarranted physical contact/restraint Manipulates child into becoming a cooperative and compliant participant Builds an emotional bond and connection with the child so they are unlikely to report and likely to return to the offender
Additional Grooming Techniques Used with Adolescents Identifying with the adolescent. The offender may appear to be the only one who understands the adolescent. Displaying common interests (music, games, movies, TV, Internet, etc.). Recognizing and filling the adolescent’s needs for affection, attention, flattery and/or risk-taking. Providing basic needs (food, shelter) or giving gifts or privileges to the adolescent as incentives. Allowing or encouraging the adolescent to break rules (smoking, drinking, using drugs, viewing pornography, etc.). Personal communication outside of the organization (instant messaging, , giving the adolescent his/her phone number, etc.).
Behaviors to Watch For Seems overly interested in a child Frequently initiates time alone with a child Becomes fixated on a child Gives special privileges of gifts to a child Befriends a family, and potentially shows equal or more interest in building a relationship with the child than with the adults Displays favoritism toward one child Creates opportunities that cater to the child’s interests so that the child/parent will initiate/allow the child to spend time alone with the offender Creates opportunities to be around the child outside the context of their working/volunteer environment Uses overly harsh or punitive methods with the child Displays age and gender preference
Why Children are Vulnerable They are still developing socially and emotionally, and therefore can be easy to confuse, control and coerce Speed of development and transitions during adolescents are stressful and can cause a child to be confused and vulnerable They are taught to respect and listen to adults They do not have a developed understanding of sexuality They do not interpret or identify an adult’s intent They, like all human beings, enjoy attention, affection, kindness and gifts They, especially during adolescence, are inexperienced, curious, rebellious and easily aroused
Factors Increasing a Child’s Risk of Being Victimized: Child is emotionally insecure or deprived of emotional connection Child has exceptional attention needs Child is in a trusting situation with an adult Child lacks knowledge about touching that constitutes abuse or lacks general knowledge or access to sexual education Child is already sexually active Child is vulnerable (cognitively, physically, and/or emotionally) and can easily be manipulated Child is experiencing sexual orientation confusion The powerlessness of children
Examples of Concerning Behavior (Potential Offender Behavior) Deliberately walking in on a child who is changing or using the washroom Asking or having a child watch the adult/youth change or use the washroom ‘Accidentally’ touching genitalia Activities that involve the removal of clothing (massage, swimming, etc.) Wrestling or roughhousing Telling a child sexually explicit jokes Teasing a child about breast or genital development Tickling Discussing sexually explicit information while pretending to teach a child sex education Bathing a child or showering with a child Showing the child sexually explicit images or pornography Looking at or taking pictures of children in underwear, bathing suits, dancewear, etc. Making sexual comments or sharing inappropriate stories of sexual activity Using physical restraint
Concerning Behavior (cont’d) When reflecting on someone’s behavior, consider the following: Does it seem weird? Does it make you feel uncomfortable? Does it seem to happen all the time or too often? Has anyone else commented or noticed?
Healthy Relationships with Children Examples of appropriate affection with children: Handshake, high-five Appropriate verbal praise Eye contact Holding hands while walking with young children Sitting with a child Using words to comfort a child It is always best to try to avoid physical contact with students whenever possible. However, brief hugs initiated by the student or other signs of affection (e.g., touching hand or shoulder) may be appropriate depending on the development level of the student and the circumstance behind the need for affection.
Reacting to Inappropriate Behavior Employees are expected to monitor and enforce protocols surrounding contact with children. If a situation seems inappropriate, remember to carefully and objectively review the conduct before assuming the individual is grooming the child. Remember: Use your instinct as a guide: Would a reasonable observer feel comfortable when witnessing the behavior? Is the behavior tied to the job function? Whose needs are being met? What is guiding the interaction? Stay calm and act appropriately: Don’t overreact or underreact Determine how the child feels about the behavior Find out whether the child feels uncomfortable, scared, or confused The child may not reveal his/her true feelings for a variety of reasons Report suspected abuse to DCF regardless Do not dismiss your concern Report to CPT or your school principal Monitor behavior – Talk to the individual about your concern and keep a close eye and ear out for similar or repeated behavior
Teaching Boundaries Defining a child’s role and teaching appropriate boundaries reduces the child’s risk of sexual exploitation and the likelihood that s/he will be groomed. Although children naturally test boundaries, it is important to consistently re-establish them and set limits on their behavior. Maintaining appropriate boundaries with children will build their security and help them learn how to create healthy relationships and set personal boundaries. Respecting a child’s personal boundaries (including physical, emotional and sexual boundaries) teaches him/her how s/he should expect to be treated by others.
Crossing Boundaries Physical Boundaries Emotional Boundaries Insisting a child hug or kiss others Assaulting a child: beating, hitting, shaking, pushing, choking, biting, burning or kicking Bumping, pushing, restraining, pinching, or squeezing a child Using invasion of personal space (proximity and posture) to intimidate a child Shaming, guilting, demeaning, threatening, ignoring, intimidating, using sarcasm or putting down a child Reversing appropriate roles (sharing worries, problems, and/or sexual feelings with a child) Socially isolating a child or not allowing him/her to have any privacy Making unreasonable demands of a child
Crossing Boundaries (cont’d) Sexual Boundaries Sexual abuse Sexual Jokes Showing sexually explicit material Engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child Sharing sexually explicit information Invitation to touch a child or adult in a sexual way
Helping Children Set Boundaries Model appropriate boundaries for children and reestablish them if they are crossed. Teach children to respect personal space and privacy. Establish privacy for using bathrooms and changing. Establish and reinforce the child’s role. Set limits and discourage children from listening to and engaging in adult conversations.
Potential Signs a Child is Being Abused Displaying sexual knowledge and behavior that is beyond his/her normal developmental stage Talking or writing about sexual acts (or drawing sexual acts) that s/he should have no knowledge or experience of Verbalizing what sexual contact looks like, sounds like, or feels like Repeatedly acting out sexually and not responding to limits placed on his/her behavior (e.g. continues to fondle other children or adults after boundaries have been explained) Sexualized behavior resulting in complaints from other children Over the age of four, not having a good grasp of boundaries (e.g. tries to French kiss adults)
Potential Signs a Child is Being Abused (cont’d) Sleep disturbances Drastic change in overall emotions and/or mood swings Unexplained fear or refusal to go certain places Resisting being alone with a particular person whose company s/he has previously enjoyed School problems such as plummeting grades, suddenly acting out or becoming withdrawn/secretive Insisting on spending time with a particular person Excessive crying or depression Excessive worrying Becoming clingy Extremely aggressive or displaying risk-taking behavior Lack of emotion (blank expression) or not reacting as s/he previously did Avoidant behaviors such as running away or drug/alcohol use Suddenly seeking excessive amounts of time with younger children
Potential Signs a Child is Being Abused (cont’d) Self-harming behavior such as scratching to the point of bleeding, or pulling out hair Eating disorders Regressive behavior Acting out in an angry manner Injuries from an unknown origin An increase in self-abusive behavior An increase in self-stimulating behavior Aggression toward a specific individual Emotional outbursts when near a particular person Withdrawal from daily activities or people
Reacting to Signs of Possible Abuse How you react to signs of possible sexual abuse will depend on the context of the situation. Signs observed in isolation may not always be cause for concern, but the severity of that behavior should be considered when deciding whether to report your concerns to DCF. Consider Age – How old is the child? Is the behavior age appropriate? Severity – How severe is the behavior? Frequency – How often does the behavior occur? Impact – How is it affecting the child? How is it affecting other children?
Reacting to Signs of Possible Abuse (cont’d) Document the concerning behavior (including who was notified and when). If the behavior is enough cause for suspicion of child abuse, report to your school’s CPT and DCF. If the behavior is a cause for concern, but not at a level to cause suspicion of child abuse, address the behavior with the child. Reestablish boundaries and behavioral expectations in a supportive, caring manner. Continue to observe the child’s behavior, noting any escalation or changes. If the child’s behavior does not change, continue to document it and work with the family and/or other professionals (e.g. counselors) to address the behavior. Contact the parents to share your concerns and observations. Continue to work together with the family to support the child. If the parents are resistant to working with you and the child’s behavior continues to escalate, contact the DCF and report to your school’s CPT.
Disclosure of Abuse Disclosure is not always obvious, and can be missed by adults A child may disclose to another safe adult before telling his/her parent Disclosure is a process rather than a one-time event – The process may span hours, days, weeks or years Disclosure may be though hints and signs vs full disclosure A child may retract or deny the abuse after an initial disclosure A child may not fully disclose since s/he may not be aware that the behavior was wrong The disclosure may seem vague, inconsistent, or seem unbelievable A child may seem hesitant, confused, uncertain, or agitated during disclosure It is your job to report, not to investigate
An Adolescent Who Discloses May… Try to protect the offender, as s/he believes the offender to be a ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’. Describe the victimization in more socially acceptable ways due to guilt and shame. S/he may omit details about their role in seeking out the offender or embellish physical force [ Lanning, 2001]. Feel guilty and blame him/herself for participating in the victimization by not saying ‘No’. Deny the abuse, fearing the potential outcome of the disclosure — s/he does not want life to change. Feel embarrassed and ashamed, and believe that society (family, peers, community) will judge or abandon him/her. Protect the offender. The adolescent may not understand that s/he is a victim (especially if s/he has been groomed by the offender). React in a negative manner if the offender gives attention to another adolescent.
Why a Child May Not Tell Feels s/he will not be believed Has been manipulated and groomed by the offender and feels like a participant in the abuse Has been threatened with violence, or his/her family, friends, or pets have been threatened Is being blackmailed Does not want to lose perceived benefits (gifts, status or playing time on a sports team, academic recognition, etc.) Believes that s/he is receiving love and acceptance from the offender Fears judgment Does not think s/he has a safe adult to tell Feels shame and embarrassment Fears his/her life will change dramatically (loss or breakup of family) Believes s/he is not a victim Has not been believed when disclosing previously Fears perceived stigma of homosexuality Believes that society will not understand Feels s/he waited too long to disclose the abuse Likes the offender
Hints of Disclosure “What do you think of __________?” “__________ does not pay attention to me anymore.” “I don’t want to go to __________ (organization’s name) anymore.” “I don’t like __________ anymore.” “Please don’t go! Please don’t leave me with __________.” (The child desperately tries to avoid being left alone with a certain individual.) “I don’t like it when you’re gone… I feel uncomfortable when you aren’t here…” “ __________ hits my Mom.” “__________ likes boys better than girls.” “__________ is not nice.” “I don’t feel good when I’m with __________.” “I’m bad…” “You will be mad at me…” “ __________ gets mad a lot.” “ __________ did things to me.” “ __________ does bad stuff to me that I don’t like.” “ __________ plays games with me that I don’t like.” “ __________ hurt my cat.”
Always the Victim It is important to understand and BELIEVE that a child CAN be a victim even is s/he: Did not say no Did not fight Did not tell Initiated the contact Actively cooperated Accepted gifts or money Enjoyed the sexual activity When a child appears to have cooperating sex with an adult, the adult is ALWAYS the offender, and the child is ALWAYS the victim.
Tips for Handling Disclosures Listen actively – show the child you believe them Control your reaction – be aware of your body language Do not correct language – if a child feels bad or stupid, s/he may stop disclosing Never communicate blame or imply guilt – be non-judgmental Praise the child for telling – assure the child s/he is not at fault Protect the child and other children from overexposure – respect the child’s need for privacy and confidentiality – only disclose to those with a need to know (e.g., DCF, CPT, Principal) Show affection, support and understanding Take quick action to stop the abuse, but avoid making promises about matters that are out of your control Make a report to DCF – Call
Increasing Likelihood Disclosures are Recognized Train personnel to understand the problem. Increase your overall awareness about sexual abuse. Increase the child’s awareness about personal safety using developmentally appropriate educational material. Nurture a consistent, positive relationship with the child. Listen to and appreciate the child’s feelings, hopes, and fears, and make sure the child knows you are available to listen and help. Notice and respond to changes in the child’s typical behavior. Increase the child’s awareness of boundaries.
Post-Disclosure Support Confidentiality - Make sure that the disclosure and information about the abuse is limited to those who need to know, and that those people are not openly discussing what happened. It is important to let children know that other adults must be told about what has happened. This is required, even when they plead with you not to tell. Information - Keep the child informed of the process and what’s going to happen next. This will help make them feel more in control of the process. Connection - Let the child know you care by communicating openly and frequently. Be available and check in with the child regularly to see how s/he is doing. Structure - Keep activities and routines the same. Structure and familiarity will offer security to the child. Boundaries - Re-establish boundaries if the child acts out. Redefining appropriate behavior with limits will provide security.
Post-Disclosure Support (cont’d) The post-disclosure period is often stressful and requires support based on the adolescent’s reaction and mental state Make sure the adolescent always has access to a safe adult to discuss any concerns s/he might have about her/his feelings, the offender, or any other issues Accommodate appointments related to the disclosure, and support any goals of the investigation and therapy If an adolescent is not believed, s/he may become alienated and confused. Since consequences for the offender may not be immediate (as a result of logistics and/or criminal proceedings), the adolescent may be left with feelings of fear, shame, self-blame, self- harm, injustice, and/or confusion [Wolfe, 2001]
Vermont Statute (13 V.S.A 72 §3252) The legal age of consent in Vermont is 16 years old, with the following exceptions: The persons are married to each other and the sexual act is consensual. The older person is under 19 years old, the child is at least 15 years old, and the sexual act is consensual (without force, threat, or coercion). An adolescent (under the age of 18) cannot consent to sexual activity with someone in a position of trust and authority.
Trauma Type of abuse Relationship of the offender to the child Length of time and extent of the abuse If the child was groomed by the offender Length of time since the abuse took place [Kendall-Tackett (undated); Hindman, 1999] Initial response to the child’s disclosure Quality of the child’s support system Point at which the abuse was disclosed The child’s personality Level of confidentiality maintained The degree of trauma suffered by the victim can vary based on any of the following:
Possible Reactions to Abuse Reduced confidence and trust in authority figures Loss of trust Shame and humiliation Fear and avoidance of any reminders of abuse Further trauma stemming from the disruption to family and personal relationships Self-destructive behavior resulting from emotional impact Assumed responsibility for abuse Depression or anxiety Trauma-related symptoms specifically associated with the organization in which the abuse occurred. If the abuse occurred in school, symptoms might include disinterest in learning, frequent absences, etc.
Possible Reactions to Abuse (cont’d) Use of coping strategies to manage the emotional pain: Engage in antisocial or criminal behavior (violence, vandalism, theft, arson) Self-harm (such as cutting) Excessively people-pleasing Under-function or overachieve Show extreme passivity Cling to others Self-medicate (with drugs, alcohol, food) Avoid dealing with problems Distance self from others Use denial Become promiscuous
Children with Disabilities Abuse is more prevalent with children with disabilities Eager to ‘fit in’ and be accepted Don’t understand what is happening, or that the behavior is illegal May not have a way to communicate what is happening Don’t know they have the right to say ‘no’ Children with disabilities are less likely to report and if they do, are more likely to being ignored, disbelieved or misunderstood The inherent dependence and vulnerability of children with disabilities increases their risk of being sexually abused (e.g., dependent on others for toileting, undressing or bathing; often cared for outside of home or one-on-one; etc.) Many children with disabilities to not have the full capacity to set their own personal boundaries
Teaching Personal Safety To Children with Disabilities Sensitize the child to boundaries Teach acceptable vs unacceptable touching Communicate that it is okay to say “No” and to tell an adult if something makes the child feel bad, uncomfortable or is wrong Teach the concept of public versus private behaviors Provide many opportunities to rehears safety skills through role-play and community-based experiences Make a list of safe adults the child can go to for assistance Integrate short and simple daily personal safety lessons (e.g., concrete questions and brief answers)
Why Adults Often Fail to Act Negative attitudes and beliefs Indifference Fear of retaliation Dismissing your gut feeling Denial Not believing the child victim Placing the responsibility on the child to use the words “someone touched my private parts” Do not want to be responsible for wrecking a family Believe a person only has to report what can be proven of observed Do not know who to report it Are not encouraged to report
True of False? Most offenders are Strangers. False - Adults/youth who sexually abuse a child usually know the child in some capacity All offenders were sexually abused as children. False – Although individuals who were abused as children are more likely to abuse children as adults, not all sex offenders were sexually abused as children, and not all individuals who were sexually abused as children become sex offenders. If a child is sexually abused s/he will tell someone immediately. False – Disclosure may not occur immediately after the abuse and may not happen all at once. Children often do not disclose abuse until they are adults.
True or False? All offenders are male, unlikeable, and look creepy and weird. False – Offenders to not fit a particular description. Many offenders are seen as nice people who are liked by kids and adults alike. Offenders may test a child’s boundaries in front of others – ‘accidently’ touching them in private areas while rubbing their backs, tickling, wrestling, etc. True - This is often used as part of the grooming process to confuse and desensitize children to inappropriate touching Adults/youth who sexually abuse children can also be in age- appropriate sexual relationships. True
True or False? Sexual offenses against children are the crimes least likely to be reported to authorities. True Some sex offenders hold distorted perceptions of their relationships and physical contact with children, and do not see their offending as forced or coercive. True - They may believe that a child is sexually interested in them and that sexual contact is harmless because the child seemingly initiates, wants, and enjoys such contact. A sexually victimized child would never freely return to a non-family offender. False – The offender typically established an emotional bond and friendship with the child that keeps child coming back
True or False? Some sex offenders engage in inappropriate behavior that is sexually motivated but may not be considered criminal (e.g., adult may create opportunities where children must change in front of him/her.) True Some sex offenders initiate personal contact with the child outside the school (e.g., befriend the family, offer the child a job, etc.) True – This can be part of the grooming process and how the offender builds trust with the child and adults around him/her. Only offenses that include touching impact the victim. False – Sexual abuse that does not include contact can still have a psychological and emotional impact on victims.
Information Source The information contained in this presentation came from the Step- By-Step training materials provided by Commit To Kids ™, Section II: Educate, Chapter 2: Understanding Child Sexual Abuse.