It is with heaviness in my heart that I write on both the subject of child sexual abuse and sex trafficking. It is also with great hope for victims that I write on these subjects. As a licensed professional counselor who counseled children who have been severely abused as well as adult victims of child sexual abuse for 10+ years, I have seen the severe wound of abuse and the radical redemption of the lives of victims. Holding the tension between grief and hope will be necessary as we tackle these subjects.
Sexual abuse of a child includes touching offenses like fondling, making a child touch an adult’s sexual organs, and penetrating a child’s vagina or anus. Sexual abuse also includes non-touching offenses like engaging in indecent exposure, exposing children to pornography, deliberately exposing a child to the act of sexual intercourse, and masturbating in front of a child.
In order to understand the impact of sexual abuse on a child, it is important to know how we are created - our personhood. First, we are created to have a voice; second, we are created for relationship; third, we are created with power. Our full personhood is to hear and speak (voice), to know and be known (relationship), to love and be loved (power).
Chronic abuse in children is profound because it is takes away a child’s voice, relationship, and power. Abusers silence children by threatening to kill their loved ones if they speak about their abuse. Children also carry shame and guilt as abusers make them feel responsible for the abuse. Abusers isolate children so they can secretly violate and hurt them, taking away a child’s security and need to be loved. Lastly, abusers oppress children causing them to feel powerless to change their circumstances.
Since a child’s personhood is violated, most do not realize they are victims of abuse. This is the reason why victims of child sex abuse are at high risk of sex trafficking: the illegal business of recruiting and harboring a person, especially a minor, for sex.
If a child grows up in isolation with abusive authorities, this becomes their norm. They have not experienced any other type of relationship. Therefore, they may not believe a trafficker who is abusing and isolating them from the outside world is doing anything wrong.
Furthermore, victims suffer from shame, guilt, and low self-worth. This is sometimes the hardest to break through as they have lived a life feeling responsible for their abuse. It devastatingly keeps victims from placing appropriate responsibility on the abuser, allowing traffickers to get away from prosecution.
Lastly, shame keeps victims from seeking mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual freedom. Since their voice is silenced, security is destroyed, and power is removed, victims often live a life of abuse.
Words cannot express the atrocity of abusers who take advantage of the innocence and vulnerability of children who know nothing more than to trust…just to trust. I have seen children who have been safely removed from their abusers cry and long for their abusers. Through treatment, I have worked with adult victims of child sex abuse who learn to speak again, learn how to relate, and reclaim their power to be used for good in this very broken world.
In my years of counseling, I have learned one of the greatest impacts does not require training…a constant presence. Victims need someone who will listen to their story over and over again, love them unconditionally, and hope for them. I am grateful for those who are a voice to the voiceless, a presence to the unknown, and a fortress for the weak.
Edna Lee, MA, LPC-S
Reference: Langberg, Diane M., Ph.D. Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse. Florida: Xulon Press, 2003.