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Most sexual child abuse is not intercourse

by Name Undisclosed
(California, USA)

I am tired of reading posts about sexual abuse that refer to sex between adult and child as if that is the only form of sexual abuse, or that advise parents to use the terms penis or vagina in talking with a child about inappropriate touch, as if teaching the child to say No to any act with an adult involving a sex organ will be enough to keep the child safe from sexual abuse. These things ignore a major fact: most sexual abuse is not intercourse, and often it does not involve any sex organ. Most sexual abuse is far more covert. It often occurs in public or in family gatherings.


I was abused by my father. It was never intercourse. He never used his penis. It was usually not violent. It often happened when other members of the family were present during normal family activities. He was so sneaky about it that none of my family members noticed. I saw him molest other girls or women in the same sneaky ways, in family gatherings. I have read that these more covert types of sexual abuse are actually the most common, yet I rarely see them mentioned in articles about sexual abuse. My father's abuse of me was terribly, terribly painful for me emotionally, and I am still working on recovery, decades later.

Please remember, out there, that to talk about sexual abuse and only mention the most extreme forms is to deny the majority of people who were sexually abused, since for most of us that was not our experience.

And please don't imagine that reporting sexual abuse to Child Protective Services will automatically solve the problem. I felt great hope that finally my father's abuse of minor girls would be stopped, when my therapist told me that she was now legally obligated to make a report to CPS regarding a young relative about whom I had voiced deep concerns. I later discovered to my sorrow that family denial, and the child's need for love, are far more powerful than an under-funded government agency trying to stop child abuse. If the adults in the family deny or minimize the problem of an abuser in the family, which I discovered is usually the case in incestuous families, the children will probably not face that problem either. Children long to be loved by their whole extended family. They need love so badly, and will endure inappropriate touch, even terribly violent abuse, or rationalize it away, or bury the memory of it, rather than risk losing their family's love.

I had to give up, finally, on stopping my father's continuing abuse of a beloved young family member, and just focus on healing myself the best that I could.

I wish that CPS would develop a better method for interviewing minors. At present, the child is told by his/her classroom teacher that she/he needs to go to the principal's office, and there the child finds a police officer waiting to talk to them. That experience was terribly embarrassing and upsetting for two young relatives whom I tried very hard to protect. Afterwards they were both angry at ME, not at the abuser. My whole family was angry at me, which I had expected. But I hadn't expected the victims to be angry at me too. So, don't imagine that CPS can easily solve a problem of sexual abuse within a family.

The truth is that as a child I made a similar choice to the one that my young relatives made: I chose to endure the abuse rather than risk losing the love of my family - I feared that if I spoke up and "caused" the family to break up, my whole family would hate me. It has taken many years, many hours of therapy, and many books on abuse, for me to begin to understand these things.

Darlene's comments to this Child Abuse Commentary "Most sexual child abuse is not intercourse" can be found at Comments below this submission. Depending on system activity, there are sometimes delays in comments going live on my site; but rest assured, they do eventually appear. So if you don't yet see them, I hope you will return later to read what I, and possibly others, have written. I thank you for your patience and understanding.

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