When we are speaking about dynamics, we need to remember that the term dynamics implies change and interaction. Family dynamics refers to characteristics or generalities related to a family system and the family system as a whole is dynamic. A definition of family dynamics would be “the ways in which members of a family interact with each other and in relation to the group as a whole.” So when we are speaking about the dynamics of a sexually abusive or perpetrator family we are talking about the characteristics or factors in the environment or family interactions that could be a sign of risk indicating the presence of sexual abuse.
So in looking at the slide, which family do you believe is sexually abusive? Does one of the family systems encourage the development of a sexual perpetrator or sexual misconduct? As you look closely you will see an African American family, an average middle class Caucasian family, a single parent family with either a mother or father; a Gay/Lesbian family or could it be the blended family?Over time, researchers have attempted to explain or develop the characteristics of the sexually abusive family or a family that has a child with sexual behavior misconduct.” However, this has never been successful for the simple reason that there really isn’t one “type” of family. Any “normal” looking family can have abusive behaviors. At times, these behaviors might be well hidden…but we can determine possible risk factors that may indicate abusive behaviors. For the purposes of this training, I will initially define what sexually abusive behavior is and then discuss the family dynamics of a sexually abusive family. The characteristics of the family with an adolescent with sexual behavior misconduct will be described. Similarities of the two systems will also be reviewed. Listen closely, you maybe surprised at what you learn…..
To clarify what sexual abuse is there needs to be a definition. Sexual abuse is defined as nonconsensual sexual contact of an exploitive nature between a perpetrator and victim younger than age 14. Exploitation involves a difference in the power between the perpetrator and victim, by way of size, age and or the nature of the relationship. In layman’s terms, sexual abuse is when there is no consent given due to the inability to understand the consequences of the sexual act. So sexual abuse could include activities by a parent or caregiver of a child through fondling a child’s genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and exploitation through prostitution of the production of pornographic materials. Sexual abuse could also occur when the mental capacity of the victim and perpetrator are not equal due to developmental delay or use of mind altering substances (alcohol or drugs); or the relationship of the individuals involved is not equal due to age or perception of authority.
Research has discovered that those individuals who are closest to the victim and usually known by the child are in fact the perpetrators. In this slide we see that 81.2% of perpetrators that sexually abused children were biological parents. 6.1% were relatives other than the parents which would include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings. 4.4% were found to be partners or unmarried companions of the biologic parent living with the child. The individuals in the “Unknown” relationship category, making up 3.8% were clergy, scout masters, coaches or other individuals of this type. Finally we see that the unknown or “strangers” to the child only made up 2.8% of the perpetrators identified. The understanding of “Stranger Danger” is no longer valid. But why is this information important? Well it allows us to understand that what we are dealing with are complicated family dynamics which can be confusing to those offering help and support for the children who are victimized. The only thing that can be of help is understanding characteristics that create the family dysfunction.
What we know about a sexually abusive family relates to the family composition and structure. Characteristics of the families of abused children are: Frequently nuclear or have two biologic parents living together. The family is isolated socially from the communityOften you will find that the father is domineering and there is an emotionally or physically absent mother in the home. There are usually a large number of children within the home,and the family as a whole lacks boundaries or the understanding of roles. In many cases you will find that the child that is sexually abused is parentified or has adult mannerisms and takes on those adult roles within the home.
What we know about the dynamics of the family with an adolescent with sexual misconduct in some ways is similar to the sexually abusive family, however there are some subtle differences. Over the past two decades, research has focused on the characteristics of the adolescent with sexual misconduct to determine the factors that predispose an adolescent to act out sexually (Finkelhor, Orman & Chaffin, 2009; Ryals, 2004). To accomplish this task, researchers had to look at the environments that the adolescent was raised in. What was found is that most often there is a single parent in the home, usually the biologic mother.The mother became pregnant at a young age.Parent or parents in the family have a history of substance abuse, incarceration or psychiatric illness. Biologic father often has a criminal record and,There is the presence of alcohol and drug use in the home.
The family dynamic similarities that are shared are between the sexually abusive family and the family with an adolescent with sexual misconduct is:The past history of childhood sexual abuse or other forms of trauma experienced by the parents,Presence of substance abuse in the home,Presence of domestic violence in the home.
Factors that are thought to influence an adolescent to behave in sexually abusive ways have included:Prior sexual abusePrior Physical abuse and neglect; Individual alcohol and drug use,Adverse childhood experiences and traumatic events.The adolescent has low social competence; problems at school; and often has previous placements in foster or residential treatment
What is Sexual Abuse?• Sexual Abuse is defined as nonconsensual sexual contact of an exploitive nature between a perpetrator and victim younger than age 14.• Exploitation involves a difference in the power between the perpetrator and victim, by way of size, age and/or the nature of the relationship
Perpetrator Relationship to the VictimChild Maltreatment (2010) Retrieved on February 10 fromhttp://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm10/cm10.pdf#page=87
Dynamics in a Sexually Abusive Family• A nuclear family (with a domineering father, and emotionally or physically absent mother)• Family is socially isolated• There is a large number of young children.• There is a lack of understanding of roles or boundaries within the family structure.• Child is parentified.
Dynamics of a Family with sexual misconduct• Most often there is a single parent in the home, frequently this is the mother.• The mother became a mother at a young age.• Parents have a history of substance abuse, incarcerations, or psychiatric illness.• Biologic father has a criminal record.
Family Dynamic Similarities• There is often a past history of childhood sexual abuse or other forms of trauma experienced by the parents.• Presence of substance abuse in the home• Presence of domestic violence within the home.
Factors influencing an adolescentto behave in sexually abusive ways • Prior sexual abuse • Prior Physical abuse and neglect; • Individual alcohol and drug use, • Adverse childhood experiences and traumatic events, • The adolescent has low social competence; problems at school; and often has previous placements in foster or residential treatment
Thoughts• Although there are characteristics and similarities of families, be cautious in assuming that families with these characteristics are sexually abusive families.• Making assumptions regarding the relationship between family characteristics and sexual abuse requires more than just an understanding of the associations between structural family characteristics and does not substitute for the knowledge required of practitioners making an assessment of an individual family.
References• Child Maltreatment (2010) Retrieved on February 10 from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm10/cm10.pdf#page=87• Egan-Sage, E. & Carpenter, J. (1999). Family characteristics of children in cases of alleged abuse and neglect. Child Abuse Review, 8, 301-313.• Finkelhor, D., Ormon, R., & Chaffin, M. (2009). Juveniles who commit sex offenses against minors. Juvenile Justice Bulletin: Crimes Against Children Series. Retrieved March 3, 2011 from http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/227763.pdf.• N. A. (2011). Family Structure and Children’s Living Arrangements. Forum on Child and Family Statistics. Retrieved on January 30, 2012 from www.childstates.gov/americaschildren/famsoc1.asp.• Prescott, D.S. & Longo, R.E. (2006). Current perspectives: Working with young people who sexually abuse. In R.E. Longo & D.S. Prescott (Ed.), Current Perspectives: Working with sexually abusive aggressive youth & youth with sexual behavior problems (pp 45-62). Holyoake, MA: NEARI Press.• Reinemann, D.H.S; Stark, K.D. & Swearer, S.M. (2003). Family factors that differentiate sexually abused and nonabused adolescent psychiatric inpatients. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18,471-489.• Rich, P. (2011). Understanding, Assessing and Rehabilitating Juvenile Sexual Offenders (2nd Ed), Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.• Ryals Jr., J. S. (2004). Restorative justice: New horizons in juvenile offender counseling. Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling, 25(1), 18-25. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.• Sedlak, A.J. & Bruce, C. (2010). Youth’s characteristics and backgrounds: Findings from the survey of youth in residential placement. Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Retrieved August 13, 2011 from http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1.offdp/227730.pdf.• Van Wijk, A., Loeber, R., Vermeiren, R., Pardini, D., Bullens, R., & Doreleijers, T. (2006). Violent juvenile sex offenders compared with violent juvenile nonsex offenders: Explorative findings from the Pittsburgh Youth Study, Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research & Treatment, 17(3), 333-352.
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