Social reactions to child sexual abuse : a child-centred perspective on helpful and harmful experiences in the aftermath of disclosure.
Penfold, Wendy Leigh.
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Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a problem of increasing intensity both internationally and within the context of South Africa. While various studies have investigated the post-rape experiences of CSA survivors, few have studied these experiences from a child-centred perspective. The current study thus seeks to explore the personal views of children and their ways of seeing the world in relation to their helpful and harmful experiences in the aftermath of disclosure. The sample was taken from an NGO, located on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal, which deals specifically with issues affecting abused children. The sample consisted of 20 child rape survivors, between the ages of 5 and 17. Qualitative interviews were conducted in isiZulu by a trained Counselling Psychologist, who served the role of both interviewer and counsellor. Interview transcripts were translated into English and analyzed thematically. Data were organized within an ecosystemic framework in an attempt to conceptualize experiences at various systemic levels. Results indicate varying helpful and harmful experiences with regard to familial, community, institutional, and broader macrosytemic levels of influence. Harmful experiences at the institutional level appeared to have to do with the lack of information shared with the children as to the nature of the proceedings, and what was expected of them, rather than with the post-rape medical examination. Reactions of significant others, in particular the primary caregiver, were found to have a significant impact upon the child’s own feelings towards the sexual abuse. Fear of revictimization, disbelief regarding the minimum punishment afforded to the perpetrator, and feelings of being tricked, deceived, and let down by the perpetrator, were other common themes within the data.