Child Sexual Abuse: Offenders, Disclosure, and School-Based Initiatives

Article excerpt

The sexual abuse of children is a serious problem, although its extent can only be estimated since it is the most underreported form of child abuse (Finkelhor, 1984). Vogeltanz, Wilsnack, and Harris (1999) noted that in a sample 1,099 women, the prevalence of child sexual abuse ranged from 21.4% to 32.1% and 15.4% to 26.1%, depending upon the definition of child sexual abuse that was used and the method of classifying cases. The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (1996) notes that 39% of substantiated cases of sexual abuse involve children under 8 years of age.

Friedman (1990) notes that most states define child sexual abuse as nonconsensual physical contact with a minor for the purpose of sexual gratification. Finkelhor, Hotaling, Lewis, and Smith (1990) define child sexual abuse as including any of the following acts committed by an adult upon a child 18 years of age or younger: attempted or completed sexual intercourse (i.e., oral, anal, vaginal); touching, grabbing, kissing, or rubbing up against the child in the context of a sexual situation; photographing the child nude; exhibiting body parts to the child, or having the child view a sexual act.

Although the impact of child sexual abuse is complex (Crouch, 1999), researchers note that many victims of sexual abuse suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (Morrissette, 1999), act out sexually (Hall, Mathews, & Pearce, 1998), and experience periods of dissociation (Hall & Powell, 2000). Calam, Horne, Glasgow, and Cox (1998) note a host of symptoms exhibited by victims of sexual abuse including anger, sleep problems, and school difficulties. Further, many symptoms actually increase over a two-year follow-up period, and many victims of childhood sexual abuse are vulnerable to revictimization (Krahe, Scheinberger-Olwig, Waizenhofer, & Kolpin, 1999; Messman-Moore & Long, 2000).

While there is a range of different treatment possibilities, schools can serve as an invaluable setting. Daro (1994) reported, for instance, that more than 85% of a sample of 400 school districts offered prevention programs and Finkelhor and Dziuba-Leatherman (1995) found that 67% of a random sample of school children had been exposed to such prevention programs. Unfortunately, many teachers, administrators, and school counselors lack knowledge of the magnitude of the problem, as well as the extent of school-based services being provided.

This paper explores the characteristics of the child sexual offender and the nature of self-disclosure of victimization. In addition, recommendations are suggested to improve school-based sexual abuse programs because schools are in a critical position to provide assistance.

CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE OFFENDERS

Juvenile sexual abuse offenders represent a large segment of the population of sexual offenders. In fact, juvenile sexual abuse offenders are responsible for 20% to 30% of the rapes and 30% to 60% of the child molestation cases in this country, with an alarming rise in the 6- to 12-year-old age range (Social and Rehabilitation Services, 1995).

Sadly, many abusers were themselves abused. In a study of 72 children who had engaged in sexual misconduct with other children, Gray, Busconi, Houchens, and Pithers (1997) determined that 95% of the children for whom maltreatment data could be collected had been sexually abused. In addition, 48% had suffered physical abuse.

Pithers, Gray, Busconi, and Houchens (1998) conducted a study exploring the family characteristics of 6- to 12-year-olds who had engaged in problematic sexual behavior. In general, the parents of these children established an insecure attachment to their children and rejected those characteristics they found disappointing. In addition, the parents exercised little supervision, which contributed to the sexual acting-out behavior and reduced the chance that this behavior would stop. …