Child Abuse Issues
Child abuse occurs much more frequently than we would like to believe. There is a natural tendency to disregard complaints or report of abuse, because it is so disruptive for our society. Even in the writings of Sigmund Freud, there is evidence that he had difficulty accepting reports of incest from a young girl in his care, preferring instead to believe that she was confused and her reports stemmed from emotional conflict of some other nature.
However, to protect our children we must listen to them and they must look to us for protection. Of course abuse occurs. It occurs within families, in the schools, in the playgrounds and even in our churches. Is it rampant? No. But when it does occur, we must be able to offer a sensible response.
With this responsibility comes another very difficult task. We must protect the innocent in those cases where the reports of abuse are inaccurate. This is particularly difficult because it is a rare case where an adult is accused of abuse and readily admits to that abuse. It is more common for those guilty of child abuse to actively deny their guilt. Still, society must decide who is guilty and who is not.
Having performed well over two thousand evaluations of sexually abused children, I have seen some cases in which the reports of abuse were false, some in which the reported intentionally lied and some in which reports were made but not understood correctly by those who received the report. However, by any standard, the vast majority of reports of abuse by children do have a factual basis. Experts typically report false reports occuring in the range of 2% to 6% of all reports. Those of us in the field of child abuse must develop skills and ways to tell the difference. The future and quality of life for many people, depend on what we do in these cases.
One of the problems in this area is the poorly trained people going far beyond their ability to work in this field. While I applaud their intent, they can inflict much damage on how this issue is perceived by the public, and eventually on our ability to be effective in this area. Clear thinking, rather than emotional reactions, must be in the forefront of our efforts. Law enforcement and the courts are tools that should be used in our efforts, but we must understand the limitations and requirements of those tools. The attorney is the expert for determining what is necessary to go forward in the prosecution of individuals accused of abusive, in order to stop such behavior. However, the belief on the part of a case worker, is not evidence in and of itself. Often we become frustrated with the attorney when the evidence in the case, is simply lacking. Belief is not evidence.
I strongly believe that a comprehensive psychological evaluation in cases of abuse that go before the court, is a major tool. The psychologist looks for correlations between the reports of the child's experience, and underlying emotional emotional damage or effects that can be seen through various psychological tools. A correlation of this type gives credence to the child's statements or reports of the child's experience, and the psychologist can testify to that relationship, and may be able to testify about the child's statements and descriptions, without being prevented by hearsay rules.
Below are links to a few short papers on topics relevant to this issue.
Forensic Psychology: Child Abuse, Expert Witnesses.
An article addressing issues related to the expert witness in child abuse cases. Written from the reference point of the defense attorney, the issues are pertinent to both sides of this issue. The article calls for professional representation of all parties and warns against the acceptance of poorly based materials.
Treatment Considerations: Children and Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
A short article addressing the different experiences of children exposed to sexual abuse, and the range of perceptions of that experience. Therapeutic approaches should be tailored to the perceptions of the child rather than a static concept of one approach which may in some cases be harmful.
Secondary Child Abuse - The System as Perpetrator
An article addressing the experiences of the child victim of abuse, in dealing with well intended, but naive workers in the field. An experience too often encountered.
Child Sexual Abuse, Issues and Therapeutic Treatment Considerations
A PowerPoint slide presentation. This was a slide program that formed the outline of a presentation to workers in the field of child abuse. It may be a valuable guide for others, as it presents an outline of points covered in the presentation. If this presentation of slides raises questions in terms of content, please do not hesitate to contact us with those questions. JEH.