Responses of Very Young Girls to
Paternal Sexual Abuse
Shirley R. Rashkis, M.D.
Olivia Capers, M.D.
Relatively few contemporary studies of the immediate or long-term effects of childhood sexual experience with an adult have focused upon the question of how such experiences might influence the normal course of development. Observations by Greenacre (1952) of the psychological consequences of overstimulation in early life provided a basic conception of the potentially profound impact of excessive excitation upon the child's future self-regulatory capacities. Ferenczi (1949) noted that young children sexually stimulated by an adult feel great anxiety, lack the personality consolidation to protest effectively against the force and authority of the seducer, and hence may lose confidence in their senses and even in the reality of the event. Rosenfeld and colleagues (1979) have considered the child's report of incest a function of the stage of congnitive and psychosexual development and subject to the influence of fantasy, memory changes, and defensive alterations. Peters (1976) pointed out that the use of overt behavioral or psychological changes as indicators of the young child's response to sexual abuse may fail to detect
early problems in the aftermath of sexual abuse, whereas changes in the child's fantasy life might provide a more sensitive reflection of the experience.
Utilizing their own clinical findings, Lewis and Sarrell (1969) discussed the relationship of seduction, rape, and incest to psychological outcomes. They reported that such experiences during infancy not only result in nonspecific signs of anxiety, but that there might also be later effects upon the resolution of such developmental tasks as establishing trust and self‐ pride and later modulation of response to stressful events. In the phallic-oedipal period of the children they studied, reactions occurred that related to the concerns of that phase, apparently reflecting the disparity between intensified fantasy and ego controls. The authors concluded that seduction, incest, and rape could be important contributing factors to subsequent symptom formation and character disorder. Drawing upon her analyses of adult patients who had been raped before the age of six years, Katan (1973) described a disturbance of drive fusion with a resultant escalation of primitive libidinal development and regression in the development of aggression.
In the present study, the responses of girls whose sexual abuse had taken place before they were three years old were compared to____________________