1. What do we mean by sexual abuse?
A. Duress or contact
Sexual abuse is any duress (verbal, visual or psychological) or any physical contact by which a person uses a child, an adolescent or an adult to achieve sexual stimulation, their own or that of a third person.
Physical contact is certainly more serious than verbal duress. But you must know that any abuse always provokes a trauma and is considered a violation of a sacred nature and of the person’s integrity.
- Designated verbal duress: a direct sexual solicitation; the use of sexual terms; subtle seduction; insinuation. All of this vis-à-vis a person who doesn’t want to hear it.
- Visual duress concerns: the use of pornographic materiel; staring at certain parts of the body; the act of undressing, showing oneself naked, or to perform a sexual act in front of someone. Once again, without the spectator wanting to see.
- Designated psychological duress: the violation of the boundary between relational and sexual (an excessive interest for the sexuality of one’s child) or between physical and sexual (repeated enemas; a too strong interest in the physical development of an adolescent).
- Physical contact may be:
- fairly serious (kiss, touching the body through clothes, whether or not force is used, with or without psychological or emotional pressure),
- serious (touching or manual penetration; simulation of the sexual act, genital contact, all of this with or without physical violence), or
- very serious (genital, anal or oral penetration, obtained in any manner, with or without force).
B. The strategy of the abuser
Abuse is not a random act by the person who commits it. Being a deviate, the abuser premeditates and organizes the relationship while waiting for the moment where his cruel fantasies seem to be feasible. Obviously, the victim ignores all of this.
In general, this perverse strategy is made up of four phases:
- The development of intimacy and of a relationship which seems privileged and confidential. This phase, varying in length (from several hours to several years), targets gaining the trust of the future victim who remains unaware.
- A verbal interaction or a physical contact apparently « appropriate » for the person who will be abused (secrets of a sexual nature, caressing hair, amicable hugs). The person isn’t afraid, and rightly so: in 29% of cases, the future abuser is a member of the family, in 60% of cases; it is a friend or an acquaintance. Only 11% of abuse cases are committed by a stranger.
- Sexual interaction or sexual contact. Strictly speaking, this is the phase of abuse. Here, the victim finds herself in the same situation as a rabbit crossing the road at night and caught in the headlights of a car: petrified, rooted, frozen, incapable of reacting, he allows himself to be run over by the car. The abuser is fully aware of what he is doing to his victim.
- The continuation of the abuse and obtaining the victim’s silence by using shame, guilt, threats or privilèges. This silence is rarely broken. The abuse remains an absolute secret for a very long time.
Three survivors of the Dionne sisters, the famous Canadian quintuplets, waited until their 60’s to finally reveal in their biography that they had been sexually abused by their father.
By maintaining silence, the victim becomes, despite herself, an ally of her abuser, because the one thing she dreads is to be denounced. The fact of becoming an ally, even involuntarily, reinforces her self-contempt and guilt.
This will be one of the tasks of the psychologist, to explain to the victim that a sexually abused person is never guilty or responsible. The victim couldn’t guess that the first two phases were a strategy of the abuser.
The psychologist should also tell the victim that a person who is under the domination of an abuser can only end the situation by denouncing it and revealing what she has suffered. However, speaking about it is very difficult for the victim for many reasons.