The effects of sexual abuse of minors echoes throughout their lives

2016-08-16 06:00

THE sleepy hollow has been rocked by a sexual abuse scandal that has left city residents shaken to the very core.

When news broke of police arresting a guidance counsellor employed by a prominent Pietermaritzburg school, for allegedly raping and sexually abusing young primary school boys in his school chambers, a dark and mournful cloud started forming over the city.

Most parents at the school were left infuriated, but others remain in denial.

Paedophilia is a touchy subject, affecting the accused, his or her victims as well as their parents and families.

Parents now have to delve into their children’s psyches, taking on the difficult task of establishing if they too were victims.

As the case progresses, one cannot help but wonder what drives an individual to commit such heinous crimes on innocent children.

Paedophilia is a categorised psychological disorder in which an individual experiences recurrent, intense sexual arousal by a child or children before they have reached puberty. Psychologists have found that most individuals who act on these urges, which are sometimes described as fantasies, were molested as children and thus repeat their abuser’s behaviour with their own victims.

This role reversal often gives the paedophile a sense of power and control that they never had as an abuse victim.

Picturing a paedophile, one may imagine a dingy man in a black trench coat, lurking in the shadows of a dark alley. But this is not the case and paedophiles are not only male. Paedophiles are mostly trusted, well-respected individuals who are known to the child and the child’s parents.

They are often affectionate and adoring to their victims — a tactic used to gain the trust of the child and the parent, preventing red flags being raised when the victim is left alone with his or her abuser.

That is also why so many parents are left in denial when confronted with the truth.

Victims are seldom randomly chosen. Paedophiles, like most of us, have sexual preferences. Take, for example, the guidance counsellor’s case. The cases opened against him show a specific pattern. The victims are either white or light-skinned boys between four and nine years old.

So how does the abuse start? In most cases, it is a chess game of the mind.

Paedophiles attempt to gain information about their victim, using this to build better relations with the child and acquire their trust.

Thereafter, the molester works on gaining the child’s affections, further trying to build a dependency. It is only then that the actual abuse begins.

The abuse is mostly initiated by minimal physical contact and mild nudity, before slowly building up to rape and sexual molestation.

Psychologists have found that once children become victims, they begin to feel responsible for their abuser’s actions and sometimes blame themselves for what has happened.

The shame and confusion children feel from having an adult touch them in their “special places” generally leads to total silence.

The repercussions of sexual molestation last a lifetime.

Victims of sexual abuse face possible depression, anxiety and eating and personality disorders in the future as they are unable to cope with what has happened to them.

Feelings of shame and personal responsibility can culminate in self-destructive tendencies and can lead to multiple suicide attempts as the victims reach an age of awareness when they begin to understand exactly what happened to them.

In some cases, victims feel a level of resentment towards their parents and caregivers who were part of their childhood at the time of abuse, subconsciously blaming them for not knowing about or stopping the abuse.

It is not only the child who falls victim to the molester. Families bear the burden each day, with many marriages and relationships falling apart under the pressure. An incident like this will change a parent completely, with some suffering complete mental breakdowns after blaming themselves for not noticing changes in their child’s behaviour.

If the cases opened against the guidance counsellor stand true, the victims and their families face a long and difficult journey towards recovery.

For me, I would have to say this is one of the most devastating cases to hit Pietermaritzburg in decades.

If he is found guilty, the actions of the guidance counsellor will serve as a long-standing reminder that the safety of our children cannot be taken for granted, no matter where they are or who they are with.

• Amil Umraw is a reporter at The Witness.

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