Sexual exploitation of children: Issues in treatment
Social Work and Criminal Justice: Victims of Violent Crime Analysis
This report explores many factors of sexual abuse, specifically sexual exploitation of children. Ethical and policy issues that may affect practice with this population as well as the nature of the violent crimes are some of the factors explored in this report. The sexual exploitation of children is widespread and exists worldwide. Many of these children have long-term effects from sexual abuse that follow them into adulthood. In order to provide the adequate and appropriate treatment to sexually abused and exploited children, one must understand the magnitude of this heinous epidemic that is steadily increasing.
The role of a generalist social worker who works with victims of violent crimes is of extreme importance. This is significantly true for social workers working with children who are victims of sexual exploitation. When generally recognized standards do not exist with respect to an emerging area of practice, social workers should exercise careful judgment and take responsible steps to ensure the competence of their work and to protect clients from harm (Reamer, 2010). A generalist social work base provides an existing foundation on which direct intervention, policy formation, advocacy, and networking may be implemented (Herrmann, 1987). Social workers confront child sexual exploitation as school social workers, at runaway shelters, at counseling agencies, and within the court system. The history of the profession provides the precedent for social work’s involvement in ending child sexual exploitation.
Sexual abuse is any sexual activity with a child where consent is not or cannot be given. This includes sexual contact that is accomplished by force or by threat of force, regardless of the age of the participants, and all sexual contact between an adult and a child, regardless of whether there is deception or the child understands the sexual nature of the activity (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2013). The sexual exploitation of children includes sex trafficking, child pornography, and child prostitution. Exploited children carry the effects of sexual abuse for many years in an agonizing struggle with sexual dysfunction, depression, insomnia, suicide attempts, and self-mutilation.
The population mostly affected by child exploitation is usually children from infancy to adolescence. These children often live in poverty or live in low-income environments. Often, these children lack parental guidance or have parents who are involved in substance abuse. This population is usually the target of sexual abuse. Because of the anxiety most people harbor about sexuality in general, children have little information about sex. They have limited life experience upon which to base judgments. Thus, children can be easily misled or tricked (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2013). Those who sexually abuse children are referred to as pedophiles. Many pedophiles report a history of sexual victimization as adolescents. Occasionally, many children find themselves blackmailed into adulthood by their exploiters. Not all victims become victimizers. All, however, may experience guilt, confusion, shame, and anger as a result of exploitation (Herrmann, 1987).
Risk Factors of Child Sexual Abuse
Risk factors associated with sexual abuse and the exploitation of children includes the facts that suggest that girls are more likely to be victimized than boys. However, boys are equally as vulnerable as girls. The average age for the abused is between ages 4 and 6 years for boys and ages 11 and 14 years for girls. Children who have disabilities are at greater risk for sexual abuse. These children are more vulnerable and less likely to defend themselves (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2013).
Nature of Violent Crime
The nature of this particular crime can be heinous. This includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, and power of manipulation. Often, children are profiled and sought for their openness to trust others. The children are misled and manipulated into thinking the perpetrator will provide conditions that are better than their current situation. Children are often beat and drugged then sold into human trafficking. These children are forced in prostitution and forced to participate in horrible sexual acts. This includes intercourse, fondling, pornographic photography, and other unthinkable acts.
Angel is a 14 year old African-American girl living in an inner-city neighborhood. Angel has four siblings and both parents are incarcerated for substance abuse. Because of the absence of her parents, Angel and her siblings are cared for by their elderly grandmother. The family does not have much money and often goes without basic needs such as food and clothes. Angel dropped out of school due to the constant judgement and bullying from other students. Without anywhere to go, Angel would often walk the streets to pass away the time.
While hanging out in the neighborhood, Angel was approached by an older man who mentioned he had taken an interest in her. He complimented Angel on her looks and told her that she should not be walking the streets, but pampered instead. Daily, the man would complement Angel and showered her with gifts. She had never been shown this kind of love before and felt she was in love. She was invited to the man’s home for dinner. Although the man was much older, Angel was eager to receive his charm. She agreed to dinner at his home.
On the following evening, Angel met the older man around the corner from her family’s home. She was instantly swept off of her feet. The man arrived in a shiny, red convertible sports car with a bouquet of roses in hand. When she arrived to the man’s home, she was greeted with more flowers, candles, and wine. Although she had never had wine before, Angel felt a sense of maturity and drank the wine. During the dinner, the man told Angel that he was aware of her conditions at home. He promised her that he would make all of her sorrows go away if she allowed him to take care of her. He promised to provide all of her needs and that she will never have to go without any of her basics needs anymore. He promised to shower her with gifts and to show her the world. Angel felt all of her prayers had been answered and that she had met her knight in shining armor. Although the room began to spin and she felt slightly ill, Angel agreed to spend the night with the man. He insists that she should not go home in her condition.
The next morning Angel awoke feeling very ill and confused. She could not remember where she was. Angel’s clothes had been removed and she was chained to a bed at her wrist and ankles. She is in a lot of pain and begins to cry out for help. Angel is aware that her body has been violated and wonders who could do this to her. Although she has been crying for hours, no one answers her cries for help. Eventually, a man she does not recognize enters the room and begins to yell and curse at her. He tells her that no one is going to help her and threatens to hit her if she does not stop crying. Although she tries to control her sobbing, Angel continues to cry. The man kept his promise and began to violently beat her. The violent beating left Angel unconscious and she never saw her knight in shining armour again.
On the following afternoon, again, Angel awoke dazed and confused. She noticed that she was chained to a radiator and had been moved to another location. She was later approached by two men who informed her that she now works for them. She was promised shelter and protection in return for following their orders. Daily, Angel found herself in different locations servicing men for money. Often, Angel would be transported from state to state and advertised on the internet. Although Angel wants to escape the life she was forced to live, she often finds herself drugged, beaten, and far from home. She has no resources and is not allowed to make calls or befriend anyone. Angel feels trapped. She often contemplates suicide and feels that taking her life is the only way out of her lifestyle.
Although Angel’s family attempted to find her, they had no luck. She was reported missing to the police, but dismissed as a delinquent runaway. Months began to pass and Angel became another statistic. Angel is now a part of the child sex trafficking ring. Daily, she is forced into prostitution and forced into a life she should not have to live. This commercial exploitation is the result of the lack of importance given to human rights around the world, the disregard of children’s needs, and the vast amount of money involved (Herrmann, 1987).
There are several ethical issues that may affect practice with this population. Although social workers are mandated to report sexual abuse of children, ethical and legal considerations for treatment of sexually exploited children remains an issue. Before treatment begins with the victim, is it appropriate for a practitioner to directly inquire and/or process information with a victim about an alleged offense in a pending criminal matter? To what degree can such inquiry, recounting, or processing of the events in question alter the child’s recollection of what took place (Branaman & Gottlieb, 2013)? Social workers must consider ethical issues of the effects of questioning, retelling, and suggestion on perceived personal experience. These processes operate in all therapeutic settings, but when they arise in the context of treating a child witness, they may influence, if not dramatically alter, a child’s memory (Branaman & Gottlieb, 2013). Also, social workers should be cautious when considering introducing a new treatment approach to these children. New approaches to the profession usually generate controversy among social workers because many unknown issues may arise. Social workers should attempt to locate empirical literature documenting the effectiveness of new approaches. Most social workers will conclude that using a controversial new treatment approach is too risky, ethically and clinically (Reamer, 2010).
Often, policy issues may affect practice with this population. Child sex abuse issues are handled by state and local authorities, and not by the federal government. This is because of the relationships between the states which have broad authority within their jurisdictions. Unfortunately, the federal government has constitutional limitations on its authority. Because of this matter, the Department of Justice generally has no authority over child sex abuse issues. However, if a child is sexually abused or sexually exploited on federal land, the offender may be prosecuted under federal law in addition to state law. Another policy issue is the statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases. Every state has a standard suspension of the statute of limitation for legal actions while a person is a minor. Most states have adopted additional extensions for cases involving sexual abuse of children. In the state of Mississippi, victims must file their claim within 3 years of the sexual abuse and/or within 3 years of the victims release from incarceration.
Assessment and Evidenced-based Practices
Treatment and assessment of child victims of sexual exploitation has several objectives. According to Zastrow & Kisrt-Ashman (2013), the first objective is to provide a safe environment where the survivor feels comfortable enough to talk. The survivor must learn to identity, express, and share feeling, even when they are negative and frightening. A second treatment goal is to have the survivor acknowledge that the abuse was no fault of theirs. The third objective involves teaching the child new ways to express their feelings. A fourth treatment goal is to address and special treatment needs of the child. These needs may include medical treatment or behavioral modification programs. The fifth goal is to enhance family communication, support, and understanding of the abuse.
On a micro-level of intervention, practitioners have been known to use several evidence-based treatment modalities when treating sexually abused children. Often, the psychodynamic theory and treatment is used. Psychodynamic theories emphasize the importance of stages of psychosocial development and the unconscious mental processes of human behavior. According to Walsh (2010), in ego psychology, problems or challenges may result from conflicts within the person or between the person and external world. Also, crisis theory and intervention is used. A crisis is defined as the perception or experience of an event as an intolerable difficulty. Crisis intervention represents a strengths approach because it underscores the possibility of client growth, even in horrible situations. The social worker must build upon clients’ strengths in order to help them adapt to, and grow from, the experience (Walsh, 2010).
On the mezzo-level of assessment and intervention, structural family theory (SFT) and intervention is often used. This theory attempts to bring structure back to the family. The focus of the theory is family structure. Family structure is a concept that refers to the invisible and often unspoken rules that organize how family members interact. In this intervention, the social worker is highly directive and directly leads the family’s process of problem resolution. During the intervention of SFT, role plays and role reversals are often employed by practitioners. The role plays are enactments of possible family situations that aim to adjust family interactions. The goal of role reversal is to sensitize family members to the feelings of other members in the family. Also, the Family Emotional Systems Theory is used. The theory provides a comprehensive conceptual framework for understanding how emotional ties within families of origin influence the lives of individuals in ways they often fail to appreciate and may tend to minimize (Walsh, 2010). The theory offers broad intervention strategies with which the social worker can utilize techniques in accordance with a family’s particular concerns.
On a macro-level of assessment and intervention, the ideal way to treat sexual abuse of children is to prevent the events from happening. Information and education are significant factors of prevention. In the community, parents need both education about how to raise children and knowledge that in the event they are in crisis resources are available to help. Special programs could be readily available in the community to help parents with these issues ((Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2013). These programs would be beneficial to the community on many levels.
There are diversity issues that affect this population. Minorities from different backgrounds are at higher risk of child sexual exploitation. Many children from low-educational backgrounds are also at higher risk for exploitation. Most of the children that are misled into sexual exploitation are from impoverished areas of the world. In some cases, racial disparity has become an issue in the matter of child sex trafficking.
Often, cultural difference must be taken into account when working with sexually abused children. In some countries, touching of a child’s genitals is accepting. In the Philippines, it is culturally accepting to touch a child’s private area and not seen as deviant behavior. In the Korean culture, touching a child’s genital area is also an acceptable behavior. This behavior is considered an expression of adoration and pride for a male child who is to carry on the family name and tradition. In the Vietnamese culture, this behavior is thought of as an expression fondness, not a crime.
The cultural differences of the world suggest that some cultures do not view the sexual abuse of a child in the same context as others. Although most societies view these behaviors as deviant and unacceptable, others view these behaviors as normal and accepting. These accepting views can be related to family pride or superstitions. It is of the most importance for practitioners and other health professionals to be aware of the cultural difference in order to provide adequate and effective treatment to children in need. This knowledge will help to ensure that social justice is granted to those who need it the most, sexually abused and exploited children.
Branaman, T. & Gottlieb, M. (2013). Ethical and Legal Consideration for Treatment of Alleged Victims: When Does It Become Witness Tampering? Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 44(5). 299-306.
Herrmann, K. (1987). Children Sexually Exploited for Profit: A Plea for a New Social Work Priority. National Association of Social Workers, Inc., 523-525.
Reamer, Frederic. (2010). Ethical Standards in Social Work: A Review of the NASW Code of Ethics. (2nd ed.) Baltimore, MD: Port City Press.
Walsh, J. (2010). Theories for direct social work practice. (2nd ed.) Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Zastrow, C. & Kirst-Ashman, K. (2013). Understanding Human Behavior and the Social Environment. (9th ed.) Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.