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Sexual abuse of children in institutions: why and how it happens

The issue of violence in the country remains extremely relevant. There is a constant danger for every child on the street, at school, in the family, in extracurricular activities. This is a danger not only of physical, but also of psychological, economic and sexual violence. And that makes it really scary.

On the one hand, we see news on TV every day about child misfortune, and on the other hand, we understand that in the country the system of protection of children’s rights is built on a residual and superficial principle. There is no central body capable of analysis, able to show real statistics on the situation of children in Ukraine, including cases and causation of violence against children, and on their basis to improve legislation, anticipate and prevent them repeated manifestations.

Today we would like to talk about violence against children who are in various forms of alternative care, that is, outside the biological family. Let us remind the well-known but not often mentioned fact that a child living in an institutional institution often experiences sexual violence from the age of 6-8. This is true. Everyone who has a professional attitude to child protection knows this.

The child at this age does not understand that the vast majority of older children are abused, and perceives it as an “act of love” for her. Since she did not experience other manifestations of love and care in the biological family, where her parents neglected the performance of their duties, she treats rape, coercion to lewd acts as the norm, and gets used to them. Uncertainty of fate, the constant threat of being left alone with their difficulties and troubles, frequent moving from one institution to another, and then from institution to family education, and possibly back to the institution (if the future family does not cope with the problems and challenges regarding the child and refuse his further upbringing), do not give him confidence in himself and in his future.

Frequent changes of place of residence, environment, children’s team, failure at school (because the child is unable to concentrate on learning, he needs to survive) also do not add confidence and do not relieve psychological stress. And there is a need to relieve stress. Such a child begins to look for “love” and opportunities to receive both psychological and physical pleasure. The child does not know any other models than the “usual” sexual violence against younger children who are nearby. The circle closes. A child victim can grow into an aggressor child as he or she grows up.

How does the state react to this? Any. Statistics are hidden, facts are silenced, potential adoptive parents do not even have an idea about such manifestations, because no one tells them about it and does not teach them how to act. There is no information at all about the impact of violence on a child’s development, the principles of interaction with a child who has experienced violence and neglect, and the peculiarities of interaction with the child’s immediate environment. But the need, insane and urgent, is there! Another issue is that the child does not shout about her because he does not understand that something is wrong with her and her future.

Foster parents, faced with these manifestations, try to find their own way out. However, if adults openly share their troubles with specialists of children’s services and centers of social services for families, children and youth in order to find specialists and ways to get the child out of such dependence, understanding the algorithms of their own behavior – are threatened with improper upbringing in the family and accusations of non-parental responsibility for the child, which led to sexual violence.

We must admit that currently in Ukraine, with very few exceptions, there are virtually no specialized specialists (psychologists, psychotherapists, trauma educators, psychiatrists, etc.) who are familiar with the methods of working with this category of children and are not afraid to correct their behavior. Psychologists from shelters and Centers for Social and Psychological Rehabilitation of Children do not want to improve their professional level and learn to help a child, because it is a difficult, very painstaking and responsible job. As a result, child victims are quickly transferred to another institution or family without undue warning that they have been sexually abused (and no one works with such a child or worries about the need for rehabilitation). And children – aggressors are “buried” either in specialized psychiatric hospitals or in prisons, where their sexual behavior and psychological dependence on such manifestations of “love” only worsen.

At present, we, adults, must understand that in the field of protection of children’s rights there should be no forbidden topics, we need to learn to work with this category of children and with adults who are in their immediate environment. There is an urgent need to honestly and openly emphasize the existence of this problem, to collect and analyze the experience that already exists in the world, to teach algorithms for the work of specialized specialists, to “grow” professional psychologists. Only in this way will we be able to secure children and give them a chance to become those adults who can be responsible husbands and wives, parents, worthy and most realized citizens.


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