Process of Victimization

Child sexual abuse does not involve a predictable process or a set of uniform, expected behaviors. Instead, each child victim, each perpetrator, and each sexual abuse event is individual and influenced by a host of unique variables. Berliner and Conte (1990) interviewed children about their sexual abuse experiences and found no single pattern. However, victim responses can generally be incorporated into categories of:
  • Attitude toward the perpetrator - Ambivalence is the common denominator in victim perspective towards abusers. Victims both like and dislike, enjoy and despise, love and hate their perpetrators. Many victims report the relationship with the perpetrator as positive, while others report it as neutral or negative.
  • Pre-abuse and abuse behaviors - Children describe warning signs occurring before the sexual abuse. However, at the onset of abuse, some children were not aware that it was sexual abuse. Victims describe perpetrators: using sexualized language, treating them differently, not respecting their privacy, having a lot of physical contact, touching them on their private parts or exposing themselves in a supposed accidental manner. 
  • Perpetrator statements - Victims describe offenders providing justifications for the abuse and making statements about being lonely or needing affection. They describe perpetrators making promises and then breaking them. Victims said that offenders minimized the significance of the sexual abuse and made statements about it being an acceptable behavior.
  • Coercion - Almost all victims interviewed said that coercion had been used by the perpetrators. Most said they were threatened of consequences if they did not cooperate. Consequences included threats of harm to the child or punitive consequences to the offender. Sometimes the threats were indirect, through bribery or exploitation. Almost all children were told to keep the abuse a secret. Many children also experienced physical violence if they did not cooperate. 
  • Vulnerability - Children are vulnerable and want the parent's attention and affection. If they disclose, they recognize that their security is compromised. They may lose home, mother, siblings, school,and friends if they tell.
  • Beliefs - The children who were interviewed were clear about the effects the abuse had on their lives and made statements recognizing long-term consequences of the abuse.
  Read about the Eight Common Myths About Child Sexual Abuse.     


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