What seems normal may be child abuse, therapists warn Therapists warn against subtle forms of sex abuse

April 07, 1993|By Cox News Service

What might be considered normal in some families may actually be sexual abuse, according to two therapists who counsel sexually abused boys and offenders.

Although many forms of sexual abuse are obvious, some are not, said co-therapists Carolyn Wilcox and Don Wright at the "Partnership For the Future: Investing in Families" conference held recently at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

Ms. Wilcox, a clinical therapist, said that research indicates that it is not a good idea to kiss an adolescent on the mouth or hug chest to chest because it can confuse him or her if it causes sexual arousal at this stage of development.

Having space is important at that age. If children are developing physically or are uncomfortable with sexuality, it can be confusing for them to feel stimulation for an authority figure, she said.

"A lot of people consider it normal, but a lot of sexual abuse goes on under these circumstances," she said.

"Even if a family considers it normal," she added, "it can still be sexually abusive.

"Many families have accepted some forms of sexual abuse as a '' normal part of their family's histories. Even incest and other more subtle forms of sexual abuse, such as watching pornographic movies with children, have been accepted."

Mr. Wright, who is also a nurse, says touching any part of a child's body or participating in activities that he or she might consider uncomfortable should be avoided.

"Watching sexually explicit movies, making disrespectful comments or staring at a child's sexual parts should not be done," he said.

Mothers and fathers with school-age children should also be warned that it is considered sex abuse to walk around naked or in see-through clothing in front of them, he said.

Mr. Wright also urged parents to avoid sleeping in the same bed with a child while in the nude or taking a bath with a child after age 2 or 3. This can give off the wrong information about sex and put the child in the position to judge his or her parents sexually, he said.

"Many children who have been sexually molested said they didn't have boundaries in the homes," Mr. Wright said. "They had no concept of privacy while dressing, bathing or using the bathroom."

Ms. Wilcox said that although many of these practices were considered acceptable in the past, they are no longer tolerated because of the changes in society.

In past generations, there were clearer relationship boundaries in the family, she said. Today, many families are forced to leave children with multiple caretakers who have not bonded with them, creating risks of sexual abuse.

"Society has changed and the messages aren't as clear for children," she says. "They get mixed messages from television, music, videos and magazines."

These forms of sexual abuse should also be avoided, they say:

* Verbal abuse, dirty jokes and sexual name-calling in front of children and adolescents.

* Having sex while children are in listening distance.

* Bathing children together after they become aware of themselves sexually. Mr. Wright says they might fondle each other after noticing their differences in anatomy.

* Watching inappropriate sex scenes in movies/videos with children and adolescents in the room.

* Making lewd comments about a person's anatomy in a child's presence.

* Making comments about a child's developing anatomy.

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