Pandemic helps create more chances for sexual abuse
Sandra Schiele, Counsel House
I have been in the social work/behavioral health field since 1988. A lot has changed in terms of sexual abuse awareness and resources.
Sexual abuse occurs in both children and adults. It occurs in marriages, cohabitation and dating relationships. It occurs in long-term care facilities, hospitals, daycares, camping trips, churches, schools, supportive living homes, our own homes, etc. It crosses all socio-economic classes.
Perpetrators first identify a victim. This is often someone they feel can be manipulated. Victims are often vulnerable, have limited support and may be nonverbal. The grooming process starts by developing a friendly relationship with the victim. The perpetrator often tries to isolate the victim from those who could intervene. Secrets are shared and kept as the perpetrator tests the victim.
The grooming process continues with a slow introduction to sexual materials, innuendos and behaviors. Threats are sometimes used to maintain the victim’s silence. The perpetrator says things like “No one will believe you.” “I’ll hurt your loved one or pet.” “They’ll take you, and you’ll never get to see so and so again.” Sometimes the victim is given gifts and even drugged.
In marriages/intimate partnerships, the perpetrator often tells the victim that it isn’t sexual abuse; rather, it’s part of their sexual relationship.
The bottom line is that if it’s a minor or a vulnerable adult who isn’t able to give consent or if it’s someone who does say “no,” then pursuing sexual interactions equates to sexual abuse. There are no shades of gray.
Pressuring someone into saying “yes” even though they can consent is still sexual abuse. It takes advantage, manipulates and emotionally coerces the victim into doing something that she/he truly doesn’t wish to do but is too scared to say “no.”
The pandemic presents an environment where there is more access to victimization. Perpetrators are left alone and are around child victims more so than when children are in school. These children are isolated and don’t have as easy access to reporting as they aren’t around as many safe adults. Fewer staff are working in child and adult facilities as some staff is out due to the virus. This gives employees more access to those children and vulnerable adults in assisted-living environments.
Stressors of the pandemic and riots combined with additional opportunities/access and more isolation/fewer eyes all contribute to the escalation of sexual abuse.
Abuse, of any type, is still a choice and not the fault of the victim.
To report suspected abuse, call the Indiana Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-800-5556 or the Indiana Adult Abuse Hotline at 1-800-992-6978. Both victims and perpetrators can seek help and bring the suffering to an end.
Victims and perpetrators should not attend counseling together until much further into the process of healing. There are therapeutic groups and individual therapists available.
If we can be of assistance to you or a loved one, please contact us at 812-738-3277 or via email at [email protected].
Editor’s note: Sandra Schiele is a licensed behavioral health specialist who practices at Counsel House in Corydon.