One’s childhood can be stolen through so many types of abuse, including sexual abuse. Sexual abuse can be defined as exposing children to inappropriate sexuality through what they see, hear, or experience. Childhood sexual abuse can happen through the overt actions of others or the failure to shield children from sexual content or behaviors.
Randy remembers his father always had what he called “girlie” magazines around when he was young. Far from keeping this material away from Randy, his father encouraged Randy to look, telling him that’s what he needed to do to be “a man.” Randy’s father had a way of making the time they spent looking at the magazines together special and grown-up. But some of what Randy saw made him afraid.
By the fifth grade, Randy said he’d seen every sex position possible. He would have trouble, sometimes, looking at a new teacher and wondering if she looked like any of the pictures he had seen. As an adult, he couldn’t seem to get that habit out of his head; just like he couldn’t seem to get those pictures out of his head or control his need to keep looking at those pictures.
Was Randy sexually molested? No. Was he physically touched in an inappropriate way? No. Was Randy sexually abused? Yes. Randy’s father passed his pornography addiction on to his son. As a young child, Randy was exposed to sexual content without any way to put what he was seeing or feeling into a healthy context. Randy was used sexually by his father, who gained gratification in sharing his own sexual addiction. Childhood, and its sexual innocence, was stolen from Randy.
While my experience is that sexual abuse is the least common of childhood abuse, my fear is that childhood sexual abuse may grow. In the past, childhood sexual abuse was more narrowly defined as physical acts. We’ve come to an understanding, however, that childhood sexual abuse can involve the emotional and intellectual sexual violation of children as well as the physical.
I have been concerned for years about the societal pattern of the early sexualization of children, especially girls. Children should not be seen as merely nascent adults. Childhood is a precious state of humanity, which needs to be acknowledged as special and protected from undue sexual pressure or influence.
Forcing children into sexual situations and exposing them to sex too early, I fear, is becoming more common. In our fast-paced, hurry-up world, I firmly believe children need to be allowed to de- velop their sexuality in an age-appropriate, healthy way. To preserve their innocence, children need to be shielded and protected by adults from the increasingly graphic and pervasive sexual content in our culture. To do less is to bring sexual harm to children and the adults they become. Sexualization is a form of childhood abuse and needs to become less common, not more.
Childhood should be a time of joy, discovery, possibilities, and promise. Abuse steals that childhood away. As I said before, chil- dren, by nature, should be protected and nurtured by those stronger and more powerful. Yet children who are abused find themselves in targeted, unprotected situations that put them at risk. Pretending the abuse, in whatever form or forms it occurred, wasn’t so bad or is just something to get over won’t bring about the healing so des- perately needed. The damage from abuse establishes a stronghold in a person’s life, continuing to create negative effects.
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