Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dissertation on Shame. Chapter 2.0 and 2.0 Defining sexual abuse

2.0 Sexual abuse

Defining sexual abuse is no easy task. This is because the definition will vary from culture to culture, from country to country, from courtroom to courtroom, and from individual to individual.  It is common to differ between judicial and psychological definitions of sexual abuse. The judicial definition of sexual abuse in Norway follows from the Norwegian Crime Law (2005). In chapter 19 about sexual crimes, one can find different acts which are found to be illegal. Sexual crime laws differ from one country to another so what is illegal in Norway can be legal in other countries. Some of the basic elements in many of the psychological definitions which are sett forth seem to be that the sexual act is of a kind that the child does not understand and is not old enough to give an informed consent to, and the act violates the child’s integrity. Other elements have to do with power or that the perpetrator misuses the child’s dependence in the relationship. The act is based on the perpetrators different needs and not the child’s, and that the activity violates with social taboos within the family or is illegal. I will in the following reflect closer on the difficulties in forming a consensus on how sexual abuse is to be defined and the importance of having in mind the array of definitions used and the effect this has in trying to determine the prevalence of sexual abuse.

2.1 Defining sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse can be understood as a diversity of different actions which can vary from exposure and peeping, photography, verbal communication, touching and intercourse. Where the boundaries go between normal activities that are accepted in a specific culture and what is illegal, are questions that must in my opinion be answered by the national judicial system which can be understood as a judicial definition of child sexual abuse. Another way of defining sexual abuse is through more psychological definitions. Fundamental elements that seem to be found in most psychological definitions of child sexual abuse are that the actions occur to satisfy the perpetrator on the expense of the needs to the vulnerable child. It is about actions which the child can not understand, are not mature for or can not give an informed consent. In cases where it seems that the child is an active part in the sexual actions, the child is still not responsible and the actions that child shows must be seen as learned activities which are not in accordance with ones age and development.

There are a large number of psychological definitions of the phenomenon labelled as sexual abuse of children. Grünfeld (1982) focuses on the child’s development process and human integrity in a governmental report on child abuse and neglect (NOU 1982: 26), while DeVine (1980) on the other hand focuses on the fact that the adult uses the child as a resource for the adults own satisfaction. Both of these perspectives assume a division between the adult and the child both psychologically and sexually, and the abuse consists of the child being drawn into the adult’s sexual world of symbols and actions.

Hildebrand (1983) uses a definition where the child is seen as a sexual object. The perpetrator does not have to be an adult in her opinion, but is in a position where one has resources or properties that gives a certain amount of power over the child. The perpetrator does not even have to have sexually defined motivation for the abuse. The motivation for abusing the child through sexual actions can be the need for power, recognition, or proximity.

The different definitions of sexual abuse vary, according to Mrazek (1981) between four perspectives:
a)      normal sexual activity,
b)      what is considered immoral,
c)      what is included in criminal law,
d)     and psychopathological aspects.

This makes the path difficult of finding one clear definition of what child sexual abuse is. The vast amount of definitions to be found seem to depend on professional background, moral and political standpoints, cultural element, and so forth. Defining sexual child abuse can often be experienced as a dilemma for many institutions working with child sexual abuse programs. In this study it has been of importance to define sexual abuse in a manner which permits a clear distinction between sexually abusive acts from non-sexually abusive acts. Krivacska (1990) has tried to take several of the mentioned perspectives into consideration: “Child sexual abuse occurs when a child and at least one other significantly older individual engage in sexual contact or exposure in a sexual context” (1990: 417). This definition puts forth three factors which all must be present for child sexual abuse to occur: age-discrepancy, sexual contact or exposure and a sexual context.

The problem with most psychological definitions of child sexual abuse seems to be in my opinion that they do not specify what exactly is meant by the adult sexual acts. This is clearer in the judicial definitions, but also these vary from one country to another.  Acts happen in a context and must carry a special message in order to be conceived as being sexual. In Norway these different acts and contexts are specified in the Crime Law (Straffeloven) chapter 19. Here one finds mentioned acts such as how the genital are touched, intercourse, and masturbation as examples of the concrete actions that may take place. The gravity of the abuse is defined from how clearly sexual the acts are. The law differs between three different forms for contact: sexual behavior, sexual action, and sexual intercourse. What is included as the action of sexual abuse should be relatively clear by using these three paragraphs

  1. Sexual behavior (seksuell atferd):
Sexual behavior is the mildest form for sexual offensive which includes indecent forms of behavior in either words of activities but does not include any physical contact. Examples that are given are; exposing oneself indecently, indecent speech, showing indecent pictures or film, to children under the age of 16. This includes indecent behavior over the telephone, internet or other electronic communication (Criminal Law §201).
  1. Sexual action (seksuell handling):
Sexual actions is a more severe form for sexual abuse and includes actions towards someone that has not given their consent to being pawed, having their sexual organs touched, or doing the same towards children under the age of 16 (Criminal Law §200).
  1. Sexual intercourse (seksuell omgang):
Sexual intercourse is the most severe form for sexual abuse and includes sexual contact with children under the age of 16 for example; intercourse (vaginal, anal or oral), intercourse resembling conduct, masturbation, or licking/sucking of genitals (Criminal Law §§192-199 and § 206). Rape is also included here and is described as having sexual contact with others by using violence or threatening behavior or in the same way making someone have sexual contact with someone else. Having sexual contact with someone that is unconscious, or of other reasons is unable to defend oneself, is also considered rape (Criminal Law §192). 

The Incest Center in Vestfold defines child sexual abuse as:
Child sexual abuse is physical or psychological exploitation of the sexual integrity of children committed by one or more persons whom the child is dependent of or is in a relation of trust with (interview with the leader of the Incest Centre 06th of October 2008. My translation.)

This definition gives a relatively clear picture in my opinion of child sexual abuse having to do with physical or psychological exploitation of the sexual integrity of children, but does not define the child’s age or which acts are to be included as sexual abuse. The definition also seems to imply that if this exploitation is committed by someone the child is not in a dependent or trusting relation to, then the act is not sexual abuse and thereby disregards rape and other forms for sexual abusive acts committed by strangers as sexual abuse. I have asked 19 Incest Centres in Norway how they define sexual abuse (Pettersen, forthcoming article) and several seem to use the same definition as the Incest Centre in Vestfold, but the definitions also vary a great deal (appendix 23); from using the judicial definition in the Norwegian Crime Law chapter 19 to letting the users of the Incest Centre define for themselves what sexual abuse is. In my opinion having a clear conception of which actions can be defined as being sexually abusive is important in working with victims of sexual abuse and their relatives and therefore it is my opinion that the judicial definition of sexual abuse from the Crime Law chapter 19 should be used as the prime definition of sexual abuse in the social work carried out in Norwegian Incest Centres, because it gives the clearest picture of which acts sexual abuse includes. The Centres should also in my opinion have sufficient expert knowledge of what can be considered as normal sexual activity amongst children (the child’s normal sexual development), moral aspect of sexual abuse which prevail in different cultures (such as what is considered as indecent or taboo), and psychopathological aspects of sexual abuse (such as personality disorders, psychiatric problems, paedophilia and other paraphilia[1]).

[1] John Money (1980) defines paraphilia as a compulsory reaction to and necessary depencence of an unnormal personal or socially unacceptable stimulation which is either experienced as real or fantasy in order to achieve an optimal sexual excitement and reinforcement of orgasm.

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