A Typical Victim
During this article I refer to victims of sexual abuse mostly as 'she' and offenders mostly as 'he'. The reason is that the majority of complainants I deal with were female and the majority of offenders were male. It is, of course, also the case that many boys are victims of sexual abuse and female adults also abuse children.
Throughout my career I spoke to hundreds and hundreds of victims of sexual abuse. I have seen a lot of similarities developing in these victims; the most obvious being that they all appear to be lacking in self-esteem. They are often people who can not look you in the eye, who keep their heads down, especially when dealing with a male police officer. To me, this was very surprising if they had been abused by a male of similar age or appearance to me.
Sharing a Secret – How Sexual Abuse Comes to Notice
If we look at how victims come to be at the police station, it is usually because it has been taken out of their control by some other adult. This often takes place because the child has said to a friend at school something like, "My father has been having sex with me, promise you will not tell anyone. Often the friend will promise not to tell anyone, but then one day the friend is alone with her mother. She has been thinking about a lot about her friend's situation. She feels she should do something about it and mentions the problem to her mother. Her mother may then contact the victim's mother or welfare or community services or may even come directly to the police. They say things like, "I do not want to get involved but a friend of my daughter told her that her father is abusing her.
I believe the reason why the victims tell a friend is because deep down they do not want to or can not keep it to themselves any longer. They want the abuse to stop. Disclosing the abuse but asking for confidentiality is a really difficult position to put a friend in. To tell them something earth-shattering and then expect them not to pass it on is a lot to ask. A large number of victims are attributable to talk to police initially, so trying to interview and get evidence from them is often difficult. They just want you to go away leave them alone. They may feel unprepared or overwhelmed by the prospect of going to court to give evidence. It is a really sensitive and complicated area to work in.
I believe that for the police who do work in this area it is important to try and develop an understanding of the feelings of the victims and how they found them in an abusive situation. Investigators need to put aside any frustration that they feel when a victim does not want to talk to them and instead learn to patiently persist with gathering evidence. There is no case without the evidence of the victim. If he or she is scared off on day one, then serious harm will have been done to any future prosecution should the matter go to court. There are, however, a number of victims who are very willing to assist with a prosecution and who really want to see some retribution against the offender.
These people are very supportive of whatever the police or social workers want to do. I have always made it very clear to all victims and their support networks that the decision to suspect is their. I would never force anyone to have the matter go to court when they did not want to. When it comes to the crunch it is those people who have to stand in the witness box and give evidence, not the investigator. I encourage anyone working in this area to adopt that approach. If done correctly it should mean you will have co-operative, supportive complainants (and other witnesses), which will also help them to move on from the episode once it is finalized.
Similarities – a Typical Victim
I have found that there are many similarities between the types of children who become victims of sexual abuse. It is my experience that the bulk of female victims suffers abuse up until the time they begin to menstruate. From then on there is always the risk to the offender that the victim may fall pregnant to him, thus unmasking his crimes. As teenagers, the girls are old enough to understand more fully what is right and what is wrong. Children will often have things happen to them and they try to rationalize it as best a child can. To deal with it they will say to themselves, "Well it's happening but an adult's doing it to me so it must be alright", especially when that adult is a trusted friend or family member. As the years go by they start picking up bits and pieces from friends, reading books or seeing something on television which suggests to them that, "Hey, this is wrong, it should not be happening to me. every kid after all. "