Do children who are sexually abused become abusers?

6 June 2016

Child abuse in the aspects of sexual abuse is defined as any form of forced or coerced contact or interactions where a child is engaged in a sexual situation with an adult (Conte & Shore 2).

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The need to look into the perspectives of the offender and of the victims may help us understand commission of the crimes of sexual abuse: attempted or complete oral, anal, vaginal intercourse (Hooper 24-25); nude child photography (Hobbs et al 319); exposing body parts to a child; having the child view any sex act; and touching, grabbing (Prendergast 33), or kissing a child in the context of sexual abuse. The intensity of the experience measures the intensity of the transformation and shift of the victim’s personality.

Any form of traumatic experiences of the offender may or may not explain the current behavior and commission of crime. The problem lies in how we connect experience to behavior in child abused crimes. This seeks the probability of a victim becoming the abuser himself.

Perpetrators of sexual abuse for both sexes are mostly men (Briggs 2). Sexual abuse may recur over a period of years before its disclosure (Miltenberger & Roberts 84). The most vulnerable victims are those who came from families separated by divorce, having only one natural parent, and one whose family has discord or violence (Itzin 413). Physical symptoms of the abuse may result to vaginal or rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, bruised genitalia, and a sexually transmitted disease (Page & Page 286-287).

Other children tend to exhibit inappropriate sexual stimulation behavior symptoms or excessive sometimes compulsive masturbation preferred even to play by putting objects into genitals or anus for sexual stimulation and by sexual play with peers. (MacConaghy 3). The severity of the resulting behavioral patterns largely depends on the severity of the abused made. Emotional symptoms may cover nightmares (Botash 11-15), dinginess, physical or verbal aggression, excessive dependence or fear of specific people like withdrawal or decreased level of social functioning to greater incidence of suicide attempts (Goldsmith 15-16).

Other symptoms of depression, self-destructive behavior, increase levels of anxiety, substance abuse, bulimia nervosa, and problems related to sexual functioning may be depicted as the child becomes an adult (Duncan 31). The most recent finding is the additional sign of hosting physical complaint such as rashes, vomiting and headaches without medical explanation (Couchenour & Christman 106). They all have the tendency to develop problems each time they reach a developmental stage (Richardson & Bacon 47). The child’s emotional growth naturally gets stifled at the age when the first attack was made.

The psychological impact of sexual abused may differ according to gender. First we have to understand the effects of sexual abuse dominating in both sexes defined as the emotio-sexual conflict. The term emotio-sexual (Furniss 45) conflict refers to confusion on emotional and sexual levels. This is illustrated when a child comes to an adult for emotional care and is given a sexual response. In their confusion they have the strong tendency to bring sexualized behavior when what they wanted was plain emotional care.

The parent inability to deal with their respective sexual and emotional problems sets a scene which can maintain long term child sexual abuse within the family once it has started. Their life experiences explain their responses in the way they do and handle things and why they chose each other as partners.

This likely recreates the family pattern of their family origins (Bolen 128). The ongoing cycle of intergenerational abuse may pass on from generation to generation if the effects of the trauma were not resolved in a certain generation. The unhealthy ways of behaving regarded as normal may be passed on to their children without them being aware of the result or the consequence.

The effects of sexual abuse on girls display a strong intergenerational pattern. Molested girls may fail to protect their children from prospective sexual abuse or may lack the desired parenting ability and most likely to produce children who will be abused. Developmental stability lies in connections of adverse victimization environments in which many adult survivors suffer for years and yet never fully recovered. This is when adversity leads to revictimization (Fontes 153). They are more likely to be the victims of rape and be involved in other forms of abusive relationships in their adult stage because of low self esteem.

Male sexual abuse survivors showed a different pattern. The victim’s mental and emotional trauma is found to be especially acute if the perpetrator is the father or a sibling divided into internal and external factors. A male’s sense of powerlessness during the abuse has a greater probability of being channeled into aggressive sexual behavior wherein the victim will transform to become the offender (Clarke 141). Boys who were sexually molested may become the molesters themselves basing from criminal reports that sexual offenders were said to having been sexually abused when they were young. The link between early abuse and later crime was proven to be caused by exposure of traumatic influences (West 539).

Many of these men discover unsettling anger within themselves expressed in forms of violent fantasies or rage. For some men, snapping results in perpetration of considerable violence (Lisak 525-548). For a minority of men, the need to be in control drove them to victimize other people especially with helpless kids as was once their experience. Norms dictate that appropriately masculine men don’t acknowledge nor express their pain, vulnerability, and feelings of helplessness which results in anger as the only thing that could fit well within societal acceptance.

Research showed that there exist an intergenerational pattern of predominantly male victims becoming the abusers themselves. Emergence of unaddressed traumatic feelings often worsened in time developing negative identities ingrained in their mental state. This damage developed an equally pervasive assault on the victim’s connection to others being devoid of the ability to trust others. It was clarified in the intergenerational transmission theory that parents who were victims in their families of orientation will manifest reenactment of observed behavior from parents in their families of procreation.

In some instances when they do not perform the victimization process, their children are the ones seen as vulnerable for victimization themselves (Plass & Hotalling 335). This is what will happen when victims, mostly women, choose abusive partners who will most likely abuse their own children with the victim unable to protect the siblings. Anger and rage is the only powerful and active emotion acceptable to masculine gender norms. This shaped men to become sexually or emotionally predatory or abusive adults.

Abusiveness is a product of identification of an internalized image reenacted subtly in everyday relationships. For men it will be the fate of becoming the abusers themselves. For women it will be the fate of revictimization. Whatever fate such traumatic experiences bring to the victim, society must start to learn to understand child sexual abuse and related domestic violence to be able to intervene appropriately.

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