Content Warning for graphic discussion of CSA
Over and over, I hear people excuse offenders with, “Well, there was no sexual intercourse”. They act as if abuse of a child can therefore be blown off as not a big deal–not really abuse.
I just want to ask those who talk like that–what DO you think child sexual abuse really means? Do you actually let your mind process the shock, the horror, the pain, the blood, and the damages to the body, mind and soul that there can be in a child victim, even without penis-in-vagina sex? Does that shock you? Hang on because this is going to be one very frank writing. I’m not going to mince words or talk vaguely. It’s going to be blunt, and full of reality.
First of all, child sexual abuse is a crime, even without penis-in-vagina sex. That you need to understand. And there is a good reason for that. It’s wrong and very damaging for adults to have sexual contact with children. It is a BIG DEAL for adults to have sexual contact of any kind with children–a big, ugly, awful deal. Sexual abuse of kids can create life-long harm to children. Yes, life-long–clear till death.
“But therapy!” you might think. Yes, even with therapy! Even with really, really good therapy. Even with life-long therapy. Some elements of harm and damage can still (and frequently do) remain.
“But God…” you might also think. Right. Even for those who receive enormous amounts of comfort and healing through a connected relationship with God, there still can be life-long harm in a variety of ways. A relationship with God is NOT a guarantee of full earthly healing, at all–neither physically nor emotionally/spiritually.
Even if the perpetrator never causes actual physical harm or pain to the victim, there is still emotional and mental harm. Harm from the lies, the threats, the secrecy, the power and control.
And what if you have a male child being victimized by another male? Let’s say they are raped anally. That counts as harm, even if it’s not penis-in-vagina sex. It can result in great pain, permanent bodily damage, and more. And guess what? Female survivors have often been raped anally as well, frequently also with damage.
There is the whole issue of using objects to rape (and yes, this is the legal term) children. Fingers and other objects are frequently inserted into body cavities. Often this is a preferred method of abusers simply because it’s not going to necessarily leave any DNA evidence like sexual intercourse would. But it still causes harm. Even if it doesn’t cause bodily pain and harm (and it often does), it still causes harm to the survivor. But frequently it causes scarring, long term pain, and more.
Fondling can and often does cause pain because abusers are often messing around with prepubescent bodies in ways they weren’t designed to be tampered with. (So the next time you are tempted to think, “But he ONLY fondled her!” stop and think about this.) The victim may be voiceless and powerless and unable to advocate for her or himself, and even if they try, the abuser may not care. Even IF they “care” and change tactics to cause less pain to the victim, fondling creates emotional and mental harm as the survivors frequently are confused, ashamed, and more.
Let’s say that an abuser grabs and gropes a victim’s breasts or buttocks–no physical pain, no disrobing. What harm REALLY was done? Stop and think–there’s the potential for confusion, shame, conflicted feelings and fear. “If he did this to me, what will he do next?!” These are valid emotions, and very understandable. However, it is not healthy for people to have to live with these concerns. When the assaults happen again and again with secrecy and fear and threats being used to keep the survivor silent, the harm multiplies. Children’s bodies begin to suffer as stress hormones flood their brains and bodies.
Most children–even if molested from their earliest memories–realize on some intuitive level that something is wrong. As they get older, the awareness grows and so does the shame and fear. Abuse causes disruption to their lives in ways that sometimes are outwardly visible for those who have eyes to see and understand. For instance, grades may plummet in school, sleep may become difficult, and the child may wet the bed or have nightmares.
It is a luxury afforded to those who are clueless–whether genuinely through ignorance or willfulness–to assume that if sexual intercourse did not occur, child sexual abuse is not a big deal. It is a way to blunt the reality of child sexual abuse. And it’s time we rip the blinders off and think at least for a few minutes what it is like to be a child who is preyed upon. The fear. The terror. The confusion. The sick feelings in the stomach. The needing to go wipe blood or semen off of yourself when maybe you don’t even understand what semen is! Or maybe you do, and you are terrified you will get pregnant and be shamed by your family/church.
Children can not consent to sex. Children do not have the knowledge or the power differential to be able to give free, informed consent to sex, or to reject sex if they do not want it, and to enforce that “no”.
Therefore, it is wrong to involve children in sexual contact. Even if it wasn’t illegal, those who profess to be Christians should clearly understand it to be immoral. However, this seems far too often to be a case of those in the government being wiser than those in the church as a whole.
Sexual abuse of children, even without sexual intercourse, causes great harm. And those who try to minimize it, only increase the harm to ALL survivors who see and hear their attitudes.
If you truly don’t understand why and how sexual abuse causes great harm, educate yourself. Read some of the books written by survivors which are on A Better Way’s resource list. Read other survivor stories as well. (We could never begin to list all of them.)
Let your heart actually hear the cries and tears of the children who have been saddled with life long harm. You can learn and do better. You really can.