It is often reported that children react to sexual and physical abuse at home in unpredictable ways, making it hard to join the dots and reach a conclusion. Now, new research tries to explain children’s behaviour in response to abuse and could aid in intervention and the right treatment.
Abused children suffer from emotional and behavioural problems Carmit Katz of Tel Aviv University’s Bob Shapell School of Social Work found that when parents are physically abusive, children tend to accommodate it but when the abuse is sexual, they tend to fight or flee it unless it is severe.
The children responded to the abuse in two general ways. In physical abuse cases, they accepted and tried to minimise the severity of the abuse. While in the case of sexual abuse, children tended to fight back but here, when the alleged sexual abuse was severe, they acted like physical abuse victims, again accommodating the abuser, said the research.
“The cases of physical abuse involved parents while we had few cases of alleged parental sexual abuse,” said Katz. “It may be that children feel they have no choice but to endure abuse by their parents, who they depend on for love and support,” he added.
Older children were more likely to fight than younger ones. But surprisingly, the frequency of the abuse, familiarity with the abuser, and the child’s gender did not significantly affect how the children responded, said the study. Just because children do not fight or flee their parents does not mean they are not being abused.
Children need their parents to survive, and in some cases, parents love, care for, and support their children when they are not abusing them. Under these impossible circumstances, children often feel their best option is accommodation, said the researchers.
“The findings help make sense of the testimonies of children in abuse cases. This could help prosecute abusers and provide better intervention and treatment to abused children,” said Katz. Very often, abused children suffer from emotional and behavioural problems, which can later develop into sexual dysfunction, anxiety, promiscuity, vulnerability to repeated victimisation, depression and substance abuse.
The findings of the study were published in the latest edition of the journal Child Abuse and Neglect.