Sexual Abuse – Covert (Subtle) Forms

“Traditionally, incest was defined as “sexual intercourse between two persons too closely related to marry legally–sex between siblings, first cousins, the seduction by fathers of their daughters.” This dysfunctional blood relationship, however, does not completely describe what children are experiencing. To fully understand all sexual abuse, we need to look beyond the blood bond and include the emotional bond between the victim and his or her perpetrator. Thus, a new definition has emerged. The new definition now relies less on the blood bond between the victim and the perpetrator and more on the experience of the child.” E. Sue Blume, Secret Survivors.

“Incest is both sexual abuse and an abuse of power. It is violence that does not require force. Another is using the victim, treating them in a way that they do not want or in a way that is not appropriate by a person with whom a different relationship is required. It is abuse because it does not take into consideration the needs or wishes of the child; rather, it meets the needs of the other person at the child’s expense. If the experience has sexual meaning for another person, in lieu of a nurturing purpose for the benefit of the child, it is abuse. If it is unwanted or inappropriate for her age or the relationship, it is abuse. Incest [sexual abuse] can occur through words, sounds, or even exposure of the child to sights or acts that are sexual but do not involve her. If she is forced to see what she does not want to see, for instance, by an exhibitionist, it is abuse. If a child is forced into an experience that is sexual in content or overtone that is abuse. As long as the child is induced into sexual activity with someone who is in a position of greater power, whether that power is derived through the perpetrator’s age, size, status, or relationship, the act is abusive. A child who cannot refuse, or who believes she or he cannot refuse, is a child who has been violated.” (E. Sue Blume, Secret Survivors).

Adhering to the definition of Sexual Child Abuse (see above), sexual abuse can be as subtle and insidious as:

o allowing the child to see pornographic pictures or movies or including the child with him/her as if the adult and child are peers

o a father rubbing cold water on his daughter’s chest–ostensibly to make her breasts grow

o a parent insisting a daughter do certain exercises to make her breast grow or grow bigger

o making jokes about a girl’s flat chest–i.e. two fried eggs, etc.

o giving a girl a T-shirt with two fried eggs in the strategic area of her breasts

o pulling a child’s bathing suit bottom down–the perpetrator usually laughs–causing humiliation

o a game of swimming pool tag–the person who gets ‘tagged’ gets his/her bathing suit pulled down, invariably a child is the only one who gets tagged and laughed at

o a man hugging a child while pressing his hard penis against her

o a man giving a child a ‘wet’ kiss on the lips

o a family member putting his tongue on a child’s lips or into her mouth–ostensibly the ‘family/friend’ kiss–the child doesn’t like this type kiss, but has no recourse since the child believes this is a family practice

o anyone, who has sexual intent invading a child’s privacy, such as entering the bathroom or bedroom without knocking, catching her unaware and indisposed

o anyone ‘playfully’ pulling his/her swimsuit bottom down or pulling her panties down without implied permission or permission

o bathing a child when the child is old enough to bathe him/herself

o any person touching or caressing the child in ways that are sexual

o a man holding a child on his lap while he has an erection

o a person who stares (ogles) at or makes provocative sexual comments about the child’s body

o anyone kissing the child in a way that is sexual for the giver

o seemingly innocuous touching, wrestling, tickling or playing, which has sexual overtones or meaning for the other person

o touching a boy’s penis with sexual overtone or meaning, while changing his diaper or bathing/drying him

o smacking or hitting a boy’s penis if he has an erection–generally done to boys age 2 to 5

o playing ‘red light/green light’ – If I touched you here (the person touches an erogenous area) would you say “Red light or Green Light? No matter the answer the person has transgressed a boundary and the child has experienced in-appropriate touch and therefore has been abused

o any adult asking/instructing a child to touch him/her in his/her erogenous or genital area

o copping a feel in the child’s erogenous or genital area

o a man touching/patting a child’s leg with sexual intent or meaning while driving

o a man with sexual intent or meaning while seemingly unintentionally touching a child’s chest/or breast

Women know how unnerving and icky it feels when a person ogles, touches, cops a feel or makes in-appropriate or unwanted sexual comments. Can you imagine how a child feels? While the child doesn’t know the intent or ramifications, the child feels the person’s sexual energy and doesn’t know what is transpiring, therefore a copped feel, ogling or sexual comments are more profound for a child than an adult.

While you might think these examples are far reaching–let me assure you each one has been told to me by a person who suffers the aftereffects of sexual child abuse. These aftereffects were consistent with others who had the same experience and same aftereffects. Furthermore, these covert (subtle) forms were seldom the extent of the sexual abuse. These covert forms of sexual abuse are usually grooming the child to have penetration.

Covert sexual abuse is more insidious than blatant sexual abuse. Thus, identifying it is more difficult because the sexual nature of the action is disguised. The sex offender acts as if she/he is doing something non-sexual, when in fact she/he is being sexual. The betrayal then becomes two-fold. The child is not only abused, but also tricked or deceived about the act. In this dishonesty, the child is unable to identify or clarify his/her perception of the experience. The unreal or surreal sense that accompanies any sexual abuse is intensified when the child is tricked into disbelief. Thus, the child doubts his/her perceptions and feelings and believes that there is something wrong with him/herself because he/she feels terrible.

To make matters worse, those around the child act as if nothing is wrong or there is collusion. For example: Uncle Lewie pulls his 3-year-old niece’s bathing suit bottom down and everyone laughs. Or a game of tag is played and the person who gets ‘tagged’ gets his/her bathing suit pulled down, invariably the child is the only one who gets tagged and laughed at. The child feels humiliated or shamed as everyone laughs at his/her expense. Thus, the child feels inadequate or crazy that he/she feels bad, as if she/he is the one with the problem.

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