The following is one of my final research papers for my Psychology degree. I finish this degree this month and I was glad I did this research. I have focused all my research papers around abuse. Feel free to navigate my blog and use any of the material to help you and your community. These topics tends to make most people uncomfortable, but reality is what it is. We cannot avoid uncomfortable subjects that may some day be of importance. We never know who might cross our paths and need some guidance.
Various studies have shown that young children who experienced sexual abuse in most cases have lasting experience that affects their relationships as they grow into adults. These studies indicate there is a correlation between adults who were sexually abused early in their lives form romantic relationships in the future. These findings highlight the relative need for further exploration into the emotional and physical wellbeing of youths. The findings can aid significantly on how the legal and administrative authorities treat sexual abuse cases involving children. In addition, focusing on children’s emotional state can help link negative behaviors associated with negative sexual abuse experiences. Treatment centers and practitioners can offer concepts on how they can change or modify cognitive and behavioral strategies that facilitate the management of an abused child. The hope is to learn more to help prevent the escalation of sexual abuse and find more innovative ways to treat the negative symptoms. It is important to understand how sexual abuse can be a source of immense discomfort for a child as they grow and form future romantic relationships.
Extensive research on sexual violence on youths and young adults have only begun a few years ago. There was not much research done prior to 2012. This paper focuses on very recent published reports from 2014 and 2015. The intention is to present updated information and statistics so we can see the current trend as it stands today.
The statistics looks grim around child sexual abuse issues. Each year increasing numbers of children worldwide come into contact with the legal systems, social services, and child welfare systems as a result of child abuse (Katz & Barnetz, 2014). In the United States, almost 3.5 million investigations or assessments are conducted each year in responses to suspected child maltreatment issues. In Israel more than 15,000 children were referred for abuse investigations during 2011. This alarming statistics does not just exist in a few countries; they extended to other countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia.
Globally sexual violence impacts roughly 25-33% of women (Rahill, Joshi, Lescano, & Holbert, 2012). According to a recent 2015 report published in the Journal of Affective Disorders by the University of South Florida, 50% of females in Haiti after the earthquake experienced sexual violence. This is one of the highest levels of sexual violence known and recorded. The perpetrators in these alleged cases were primarily non-intimate partners’ sexual violence. The situation is grim in some countries that the World Health Organization recently called for more research especially in disaster-affected countries.
Less is known today about the impact of sexual coercion and its effects on long term relationships. However, there is hope that future research studies may be able to shed light on this once closely protected secret that is starting to unravel little by little. As we know, an important milestone for young adults is the forming and development of romantic relationships. It is clear from recent studies that adolescence who experience sexual violence or sexual coercion that the consequences are both long-term and very significant. It is still unknown how significantly romantic relationships are affected. However, research did show that individuals who have been sexually molested or victimized report high levels of fear and anxiety as well as lower self-esteem and poor social development. Sexual coercion in adult samples is associated with sexual difficulties, such as negative sexual perception, lower sex desires and lower satisfaction rate (Collibee & Furman, 2014).
The research field is yet to explore the extent of victims’ sexual and romantic relationship on a more long-term basis and how possible treatment may aid in the recovery process. There are only a handful of studies thus far. The focus of this research paper is primarily around sexual violence and sexual coercion. There are three peer review articles used as a demonstration of the current findings. The first research focused on the impact of sexual coercion on romantic relations of young adults. The next one focused on the symptoms of these experiences in female victims. Finally, we will take a look at the behavior patterns of abused children based on testimonies obtained during the research.
The published research in 2014 that focused on the impact of sexual coercion on romantic relationships involved participants who were part of a longitudinal study. A total of 200 10th graders, consisting of 100 males and 100 females with a median age of 15 years were surveyed. Selections were made from a diverse range of neighborhoods in Denver, Colorado. In order to secure time with the families and explain the project, $25 was paid to the families for the time spent in their homes. The demographic was represented by African Americans, Hispanics, Native Indians, White American, Asians and other ethnicities. Several waves of this project was conducted and compared over a long term period. Only those participants who reported sexual violence or coercion was included in the research study. From the initial 200 selected, the final 94 consisting of 44 males and 50 females were the basis of the research. 32 of the 94 reported more than one incident of sexual coercion.
Participants completed interviews, observations behaviors, and self-reported questionnaires. The measurement was conducted for sexual coercion, romantic support and negative interactions, relationship satisfaction, jealousy, dating experience, and analytical strategy.
In 2015 a research was published that focused on the symptoms of a sample of female victims of sexual violence. The goal was to measure the trauma and stress related disorders from the experiences. This would give researchers added information on the related cognitive and behavioral patterns of the participants. This study as approved by the University of South Florida. Data was collected in 2013 and results published this year. There were two focus groups and special attention was paid on crisis intervention and follow-ups with local mental health providers. Demographic information such as age, education and ethnicity were gathered for analysis.
The final research published also in 2014 focused on the behavior patterns of abused children based on their stories and testimonies. This is one of the most important aspects of any study as the thoughts, experiences, and feelings come directly from those affected. This study attempted to bridge the two areas of interest. First, the forensic line of studies that identified the ways children can be interviewed and next is the clinical line that explores the ways professionals can intervene (Katz & Barnetz, 2014). 224 alleged victims were referred by the welfare services following suspected cases of sexual abuse. 102 boys and 122 girls ranging from ages 5-13 with a median age of 10 participated in the study. 48% of the children were interviewed following sexual abuse and 52% were interviewed following physical abuse. The children who were sexually abused about half experienced the abuse just once and the other half experienced abuse multiple times. 15% of the sexual abuse cases, alleges their abuser was from a family member.
The studies show negative interactions and quality of the relationships affected negatively as a result of sexual coercion and/or sexual violence. In the case of negative interactions, the studies show levels of negative interactions increased following incidents of coercion (Fig. 1). In addition, jealousy driven by low self-esteem showed increased jealousy rates following those incidents (Fig. 2).
Serious dating by individuals who experienced coercion or violence declined at a steady rate but then recovered slightly, but not to previous levels. The conclusion was that youths exhibited less increase in serious dating. The reduction in serious dating may be related to their past relationship experience. After sexual coercion relationships, victims may not see the merits in a serious relationship. In addition, victims showed increase in sexual frequency and number of sexual partners. This can be due to what is called re-victimization where the victim needs to prove to himself or herself that they are worthy of having a relationship. Nevertheless, those relationships do not last and leads to less and less long-term serious relationships.
The study that focused on the symptoms following sexual violence resulted in varying degrees of many areas that affected the participants. These include lack of sleep, feeling scared, always feeling like the rapist is near, and uncontrollable crying are just a few of the more severe symptoms. Other symptoms such as difficulty breathing, eating and hearing beats racing are a few more consistent symptoms. The figure below is a depiction of these and other symptoms following sexual violence experiences by the participants.
The final study published in 2014 based its research on actual testimonies of victims. It was concluded that the pattern of behavior by children is one of self-change. The two self-change patterns are fight or flight. The percentage of children who displayed each pattern is about equally split between 39-43% each. The result is presented in the Venn diagram displayed below.
Discussion, Strengths and Limitation
The consequences of sexual violence have a severe risk on youths and adolescents as they enter new romantic relationships. Negative behavior patterns surface as a result and long-term relationships become difficult to keep and maintain. Increased negative interactions were consistent in all the studies where victims have a heightened sense of ambiguous or negative partner behavior even in relationships where sexual violence is not present. In addition, victims tend to lower their expectations from partners which in turn placed even more risk of being in a relationship with someone that is less of a contributing partner or someone who may be abusive. Dating behaviors were also showing a decline especially for long-term dating. This can result in a dissatisfaction of the dating experienced and this hinders the development of adolescents into the early adulthood years.
It is important to note that participants are apprehensive to share all the information relating to sexual violence especially when the alleged perpetrator is a member of the family, especially a parent. The results may be skewed due to a lack of full disclosure. This study on sexual coercion was the first longitudinal study and may have limitation as there were no prior studies to reflect and learn from.
In the study relating to the symptoms, there are limitations and results may be negatively skewed since most of the participants have not participated or had the opportunity to express their feeling and emotions. This study was conducted on all females and is not a good representation of the population since it excluded male participants.
The dynamic of abuse within the family by family members poses the greatest risks for children and their development. Children depend on their families for food, shelter and clothing and one of the biggest limitations is the tendency for children to protect their abuser by justifying their abusers’ behaviors. Still very few children disclose abuse especially when it is in the home. The 15% of participants who said abuse occurred in the home is only based on reported cases. Many more cases do go unreported and this could negative skew this percentage.
Each of these studies may lead us to understand factors that have lasting adverse consequences that have affected our youths’ mood and behavioral symptoms as a result of sexual violence. Future studies should explore the mechanisms or underlying processes by which these experiences included wellbeing of children as they grow into adults. Studies should also explore other positive parental behaviors such as physical affection to better measure the influence of feeling loved and cared for by your parents. It has long been affirmed by various health organizations around the world that child sexual abuse is a global issue that is in the infancy stages of understanding the long-term impact as they grow into adulthood. We are now seeing testing and diagnosis being done on our younger population and a heighten focus on sexual violence is at the core focus on this type of research. The inherent issue we face is the ‘shame’ factor where youths do not want to disclose they are or were sexually abused. This stigma is slowly becoming a thing of the past. As more and more youths, or even adults, speak openly of their childhood experiences, the hope is that we might be able to offer the right help they will request to mitigate the negative impact of their abuse.
These studies are the first steps in a new direction that requires further and continuous exploration. The new direction to join the clinical and forensic contexts is the direction of future studies. Hearing the children’s stories and voices may enhances and enable society to better direct services and interventions in a way that responds to the children’s needs in a more sensitive and smoother manner (Katz & Barnetz, 2014).
Some sites that provide help in the US:
Collibee, C., Furman, W. (2014). Impact of Sexual Coercion on Romantic Experiences of Adolescents and Young Adults. Arch Sex behav, 43, 1431-1441.
Rahill, G.J., Joshi, M., Lescano, C., Holbert, D. (2015). Symptoms of PTSD in a sample of female victims of sexual violence in post-earthquake Haiti. Journal of Affective disorders, 73, 232-238.
Katz, C., Barnetz, Z. (2014). The behavior patterns of abused children as described in their testimonies. Child Abuse and Neglect, 38, 1033-1040.