Childhood Sexual Abuse

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Childhood Sexual Abuse: Recollection or Repression?

Over the last several decades there has been a heightened overall knowledge, acceptance and awareness of sexual violence. Including child sexual abuse, domestic violence, rape, incest, sexual battery, and sexual harassment. During the last 30 years or so there has been an increase in the awareness of this societal crisis and more of a community acceptance for those wishing to speak out about sexual abuse. Therefore this has created an increase in the report of childhood sexual abuse. Most cases occurring decades before the abuse was ever reported.

Child Abuse Prevention

Most cases occurring decades before the abuse was ever reported. Health-care professionals, teachers, and others created the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974 to mandate the reporting of suspected child abuse. This was influential in the quest to protect children from abuse of all kinds and to secure better legal rights for the numerous victims of child sexual abuse. Numerous publications over the years such as books, articles, reports and studies have emerged on the subject due to the growing popularity and national attention and debate. Recently there has been an amplified presence in charges that are false as well as many unjust convictions because of those accused unjustly. Stories of such accusations and convictions raise many questions in researchers, professionals and the public alike. Who is lying and who is telling the truth? Are memories of childhood abuse repressed or not? Is there any scientific rationalization for the repression and successive recovery of childhood memories? If memories can be recovered, how precise are they?

American Psychological Association

This very topic and questions proposed have become a very large topic of debate and study both for and against the position. Many psychologists, therapists and patients alike are searching for the "right" and "correct" answer to this question. One that will provide closure and understanding to this very interesting and controversial subject. After allot of debate on this very notorious subject matter the American Psychological Association (APA) decided to research and study the concept of recovered memory and establish a safe and effective method for treating clients with repressed memory. The APA has come forward with acknowledgement and proof that it's possible for sexual abuse in childhood to be repressed until later recovered through a variety of methods and reasoning. However it is just as possible for memories to be fabricated through those same methods. A large majority of childhood sexual abuse reports come from adults and children who come forward with sometimes years of memory repressions in regards to the abuse they suffered as children. Frequently they are coerced into maintaining the undisclosed by the abuser. But even without threats of reprisal by the perpetrator, victims may be too ashamed of the experience to acknowledge it in public and may even blame themselves for the incident.

Analysis of sexual abuse

Childhood sexual abuse is a well-documented occurrence worldwide. Current studies suggest that 10 to 25 percent of girls World Wide experience some form of sexual abuse by the age 14, however this crime is not restricted to just girls as many boys, too, are sexually abused. (Yapko 1994) In the cases where victims never forget or repress the memory of the attack or when a young adult or child spontaneously reports abuse at the time of its occurrence, there is no mystery and little debate if the crime actually occurred. The present controversy on the issue of childhood sexual abuse and repression does not focus on those who remember the abuse but rather those who seem to repress it until years and decades later. In the majority of case involving memory repression of child abuse there are no witnesses and no material verification, meaning that in court it is often a matter of the declaration of the self-proclaimed victim against that of the accused. Some professionals believe that most recovered memories of sexual abuse are false memories "implanted" by overeager therapists and professions looking for answers and reasoning into the minds of suggestible clients just as eager to find an underlying reason for persistent psychological matters. Repressed recollections of childhood abuse are recovered by an assortment of methods. Sometimes they surface when the apparent danger ceases to exist, for example, upon the death of the doer. Life changes, such as the commencement of a sexual relationship, marriage, or childbearing may also trigger the reemergence of memories.


Recollections may also be recovered by researching, hearing about or reading about childhood sexual abuse or possibly even while undergoing psychotherapy-even for personal problems that on the face of it have no connection whatsoever with sexual abuse. Scientists try to understand and explain empirical evidence by using theoretical constructs, that is, ideas devised to integrate systematically a group of related observations or phenomena in a useful way. Constructs should not be confused with empirical evidence. Constructs should not be considered actual things, events, processes, or experiences. Rather, constructs are conceptual tools. They are conceptual tools that focus our attention on certain things, events, processes, and experiences - and help us try to make sense of them. But every construct directs our attention away from certain phenomena too, and can make it harder for us to notice and understand some empirical evidence. Therefore, when we are dealing with complex phenomena which we do not fully understand - like memories of child abuse - we must not get too attached to any one construct - whether it's forgetting, amnesia, repression or dissociation. Otherwise we'll surely overlook important data, and fool ourselves into thinking we understand when we don't.


Just as important, before drawing firm conclusions about a controversial issue - like recovered memories - we should be familiar with the various constructs used to describe and explain the empirical evidence - including constructs used by those who have studied it the most. Otherwise we leave ourselves highly vulnerable to being confused and misled. In closing, it is essential to stress that even though a few of the allegations have turned out to be untrue and created falsely they are usually completely accurate when reported by young adults or children. It has been estimated that only about 2 to 8 percent of complaints are false. (Yapko 1994) With regards to these numbers approximately 10 percent of females and 5 percent of males were and are victims of sexual abuse as children. (Yapko 1994) This resulting in an approximate 14,000,000 adults in the US who have or may have been abused at some point in their lives. However this study also shows that a repression occurs in approximately 10 percent of those cases thus resulting in 1,400,000 adults with some extent of repression with many more worldwide. (Yapko 1994) Almost three quarters of women who experienced repression of sexual abuse was able to obtain corroborating evidence for substantiate the recalled abuse, for example, confirmation by other family members or an admission of guilt by the perpetrator.