Symptomology of Domestic Violence on Children

Symptomology of Domestic Violence on Children

Ongoing parental conflict and violence in childhood were significant predictors of serious personal crimes in adulthood, including assault, rape, murder, and kidnapping.

 

0-1 Years

  • Withdrawn
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Hyperactive
  • Failure to thrive
  • Eating disorders
  • Physical injuries

 

2-5 Years

 

6-9 Years

  • Suicidal ideation/attempts
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Fire setting
  • Running away
  • Depression
  • Low self esteem
  • Poor social skills

 

10-12 Years

 

13-17 Years

  • Poor impulse control
  • Confrontational
  • Engage in pecking order battering with mothers or siblings
  • Align with abuser to avoid being a victim
  • Dating violence

 

As they grow, children form assumptions about the world in which they live. Is their world consistent and predictable or chaotic and unsafe?

Domestic violence creates inordinate stresses in a child’s life.

 

Every child responds differently to witnessing or directly experiencing domestic violence. This is dependent on their temperament, usual coping mechanisms, developmental stage, and support systems. Some children may respond with internalized symptoms such as regression and social isolation. Others may develop externalized negative behaviors that include nightmares, hyperactivity, aggression, and delinquency.

 

  • Studies suggest that between 3.3 – 10 million children witness domestic violence a year.
  • Children in homes with domestic violence are 15 times more likely to experience child abuse.
  • 50-70% of children exposed to domestic violence suffer from PTSD – more than Vietnam Veterans
  • Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to exhibit behavioral and physical health problems including depression, anxiety, and violence toward peers. They are also more likely to attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, run away from home, engage in teenage prostitution, and commit sexual assault crimes.
  • Children in homes with domestic violence may “indirectly” receive injuries. They may be hurt when household items are thrown or weapons are used. Infants may be injured if being held by the mother when the batterer strikes out.
  • As children grow into teenagers, they exhibit higher levels of delinquency and violent behavior than those in non-violent homes.
  • Because of the shame of shelter living, moving, changing schools, fitting in with peers, and making new friends, teens face unique challenges. This can result in never learning to form trusting, lasting relationships, or ending up in violent relationships themselves.

Sexually Abused Child Trauma Response by Age Group

Sexually Abused Child Trauma Response by Age Group

It can often be very difficult to recognize whether or not a child is being abused, both for parents and for professionals.

Children respond to sexual assault in many different ways according to their age, gender, personality and family circumstances. Their behavior will always reflect how they feel as children tend to communicate through their behavior. Children frequently find it extremely hard to talk about what is happening to them, especially when they’ve been told to keep it a secret or have been subjected to coercion, bribery or threats. Children very rarely lie about sexual abuse. They may underplay the effects of the abuse or change the identity of the perpetrator in an attempt to protect the family, but they have not been found to lie about the occurrence of the abuse itself.

Generally speaking there are two main behavioral indicators of trauma following sexual abuse. Regression to an earlier developmental stage or loss of developmental tasks previously achieved and failure to learn or distortion of new developmental tasks.

Signs of Trauma Responses in Preschoolers (age 2-5)

  • They may become anxious and clingy, not wanting to separate from their parents at day care or the baby-sitter’s house.
  • They may seem to take a backward step in development (regression), sucking their thumbs, wetting their beds, refusing to go to sleep, or waking at night when they passed those stages long ago.
  • They may become aggressive in their play with other children, with their parents, or with their own toys.
  • They may play the same game over and over, like piling blocks and knocking them down, dropping toys behind furniture and retrieving them, or crashing the same two cars over and over again.
  • They may express ‘magical’ ideas about what happened to them which alters their behavior (ex: “Bad things happen when I get too happy”).
  • Though they say they are having fun in an activity they may look sullen, angry, or intense in a way that to an adult it doesn’t look like they are having fun.

Signs of Trauma Responses in School Age Children (age 5-13)

  • They may revert to developmentally earlier coping mechanisms, such as an ego-centered view (i.e. thinking that someone died because they had bad thoughts about the person).
  • They may compensate for feeling helpless during the crisis of the abuse by blaming themselves for what happened. Thinking that thtey caused the event gives children a sense of power and control while helplessness painfully reminds them of being young and totally dependent.
  • Their lack of control over the abuse may make them feel that their future is unsure, which can lead some children to act recklessly.
  • They may experience a significant change in school performance. It’s not uncommon for children to have great difficulty concentrating and performing in school following trauma. On the other hand, they may become intensely focused on schoolwork to the exclusion of other activities in an effort to cope.
  • They may test out rules about bedtime, homework, or chores. School age children believe in rules. When something bad happens, even if they obeyed the rules, they become oppositional and testy.
  • They may have interruptions in their friendships.
  • They may experience sleep disturbances, nightmares, and difficulty falling asleep.
  • They may engage in reckless play. Where the preschool child will crash their truck a hundred times, the school age child might physically engage in dangerous games as a way of exhibiting a sense of control that was lost during the abuse.

 

Signs of Trauma Responses in Teenagers (age 13-18)

  • They often feel that no one can understand what they are going through and there is a marked shift in relationships with parents and peers.
  • They may get involved in risky behaviors, such as experimenting with drugs, sexual activity, or refusing to go to school as a way of handling anxiety and countering feelings of helplessness. They feel their future is limited and may believe they are damaged for good by the abuse so planning for the future is pointless.
  • They develop a negative self image because they were not able to avoid or alter what happened to them.
  • They are likely to engage in revenge fantasies against the person or people responsible for the abuse and then feel guilty about their vengeful feelings.
  • They may experience a shift (either an intensification or withdrawal) in the normal developmental tasks of their age, such as dating, friendships, or sense of autonomy. They may isolate themselves, be depressed and at risk of suicide.

 

Some More Specific Behaviors Of Children Following Sexual Assault.

Wetting/soiling

Many young children lose bladder/bowel control following sexual assault. It can be frustrating for parents and cause extra work. It can be humiliating and embarrassing for children. It is easy for adults and children to focus on the consequences of wetting and soiling e.g. changing sheets/clothes, washing, rather than the reasons why it happens.

All children bed wet from time to time when they are sick, stressed or anxious. Children who have been sexually assaulted will often bed wet every night and sometimes more than once a night. Bedwetting can be linked to feelings and may be a result of nightmares. Extreme fear can cause loss of bladder control and may serve the purpose of waking a child from a terrifying dream.

Bedwetting can also result from feelings of helplessness when children feel a loss of ownership and power over their body when it has been used by someone more powerful than they are. Bedwetting can be a reflection of children regressing in many ways, following sexual assault, when they lose a number of skills they previously had. Children may regress to a younger state to try and get their needs met. Bedwetting and soiling may also occur because a child separates from their genital/urinary/anal areas. They may lose the ability to respond to their body cues and therefore become less able to regulate their toilet habits. Sometimes children may be scared to actually go to the toilet. They may have experienced sexual assault in a bathroom or their fears may focus on the toilet itself.

 

Nightmares

All children have bad dreams from time to time but children who have experienced sexual assault often have nightmares every night sometimes more than once. They may have recurring dreams which are all the more frightening because they know what is coming. Nightmares can make children terrified of the dark and bed time.

Their dreams are likely to reflect their fears and their sense of lack of control. Looking at the content of their dreams can help them to talk about what has happened.

 

Persistent Pains

Lots of children develop aches and pains that have no physical cause. These will often have a connection to an aspect of the assault. Sometimes if a child has experienced physical pain during the assault, their body can retain the memory of this pain. Children may also think that something is broken inside of them. Repeated pain can also be a way for children to gain the extra love and attention they need at the time. Sometimes emotions manifest themselves physically for children because they do not have the ability to put it in to words.

 

Clinginess

A clingy child can test the patience of a saint! This behavior which is so common after sexual assault is a communication of a real need to be reassured of being lovable and of being secure. Children are attempting to rebuild a sense of safety and trust through their relationships with close adults. They are trying to restore a sense of good touch by demanding affection and cuddles. In essence, they are trying to heal their wounds. Constant physical and verbal demands can be difficult for parents but can be modified by identifying what the child needs and putting limits on when and how they are met. Clinginess can also reflect fears which can be reduced by talking about them.

 

Aggression

Aggression in children after sexual assault tends to be related to fear and anger. It can be a direct communication that states “I am never going to be hurt again”. Anger is a healthy response and a necessary part of the recovery process from any trauma. It needs to be expressed in a safe and constructive way with firm limits against hurting yourself or others. To do this, anger needs to be acknowledged and recognized by the child and the adult. A child needs opportunities to discharge their anger. If this, for whatever reason, does not happen then anger is likely to come out through aggression. This causes the child more problems as their aggression prevents other people seeing or understanding the child’s needs.

Aggression also stems from fear and a need to protect themselves from further hurt.

Being aggressive can also cause a child to punish themselves and confirm their low self esteem because they have no friends and are always in trouble.

 

Sexualized Behavior

When children are sexually assaulted their sense of what is right and wrong becomes distorted. What they had previously learned about bodies and sexual activity becomes invalid. If a child was shown how to light a fire, for example, it is likely that the child will attempt to repeat what they saw. If children have learned that they get attention by being sexual with one person they may well repeat the behavior with another person. If children have experienced sexual feelings, which are common in children who have been sexually assaulted, they are likely to try and recreate those reactions. They may begin to sexually act out with other children to try and make sense of what has happened to them. Their curiosity about sexual matters may have been activated years before they develop the intellectual ability to understand. Children may want to sexually act out on other children to make them feel less vulnerable in the same way they may be aggressive. The trouble they may get into as a result of this behavior then confirms their view of themselves as dirty and bad.

Sexual acting out by children needs to be distinct from what is natural curiosity. Sexual acting out usually involves a difference in power between the children and may involve coercion/force or blackmail and a repetition of an adult sexual activity.

Normal sexual activity between children is about exploration not gratification (Martinson 1991 in Hunter 1996). Up to the age of 5, children are interested in touching their private parts and looking and touching the private parts of others if they have the opportunity. From 6 to 10 children have learned that sexual activity should be hidden and will masturbate secretly. They may create situations with their peers that involve looking and possibly touching. (Attempted or actual penetration and activities using force are not normal). They are likely to be curious about adult bodies. Early adolescents will masturbate and begin to develop relationships that involve a range of touching.

Sexual acting out in children who have been assaulted will involve either the child repeating what has been done to them on other children or getting other children to do to them what the offender did. It can also involve children approaching adults in a sexual way. It does not mean that the child automatically becomes an offender but it is an indication that professional help is needed.

 

Triggers & Recovery

Everyone who has suffered a trauma will react when they are reminded of it. The things that remind us can be called ‘triggers’ and they cause similar feelings to those experienced during the trauma. Very often these ‘triggers’ are not known to the adult because they relate to an aspect of the assault the parent may not know about. Some examples include the smell of beer or smoke; the feel of a beard; the color of a car; someone resembling the offender; a song or a game. Some are obvious, others are not. Often children can be triggered by unrelated things going wrong because that triggers their feelings of helplessness.

When children are triggered then their behavior tends to reflect the fact that they are experiencing similar feelings to the ones they felt during the assaults. Parents should be encouraged to discuss with the child what sort of things trigger them, so they are all aware of situations when it may occur.

The behaviors that children exhibit after sexual assault do tend to pass in time as children regain a sense of safety and self control. When the feelings that drive the behavior are explored, they become less powerful and the behavior becomes more manageable. Establishing a link between the feeling and the behavior is important as it gives you an understanding of what is happening.

Children can and do recover from sexual assault. The long term effects of sexual assault are often caused by secrecy, fear and denial of feelings. The more open and honest you can be about what happened the easier it is for children to be the same and the quicker the recovery.

From: http://www.secasa.com.au/index.php/family/13/44

Psychological Effects of Child Sexual Assault

 

Child sexual assault can have a number of effects both physical and psychological that last both in the short term and the long term. Outline below are some common effects which can occur as a result of childhood sexual assault.

 

Psychological Effects:

  • Fear. The offender may swear the child to secrecy and say something bad will happen if they tell. Coercion, bribery, or threats usually accompany sexual abuse. Overwhelmingly, the child is afraid to tell be cause of what the consequences might be, such as punishment, blame, not being believed, and ultimate rejection or abandonment.
  • Helplessness/Powerlessness. Children in this situation often feel that they have no control over their own lives or even over their own bodies. They feel that they have no choices available to them.
  • Guilt and Shame. The child knows something is wrong, but blames him or herself, not others. The offender will often encourage the child to feel that the abuse is his or her fault and as a consequence, is a “bad” person.
  • Responsibility. The offender coerces the child to feel responsible for concealing the abuse. The child then believes they are responsible for preserving the secret in order to keep their family together and to maintain appearances at all costs. The burden of this responsibility interferes with all normal childhood development and experiences.
  • Isolation. Incest victims feel different from other children. They must usually be secretive. This further isolates them from non-offending parents and brothers and sisters. This isolation often leads to the child being labeled as “different,” “a problem,” or in some way different from their siblings.
  • Betrayal. Children feel betrayed because they are dependent upon adults for nurturing and protection and the offender is someone who they should be able to love and trust. They may also feel betrayed by a non-offending parent who they believe has failed to protect them.
  • Anger. Children most often direct their feelings of anger in several ways.

1.      They may direct it outward at perceived “little things.”

2.      They may direct it inward, affirming their feelings of low self worth/value.

3.      Almost never direct their anger towards the abuser while still in a relationship with them. Anger is most often dealt with as an adult.

  • Sadness. Children may feel grief due to a sense of loss, especially if the perpetrator was loved and trusted by the child.
  • Flashbacks. These can be like nightmares which happen while the child is awake. They are a re-experience of the sexual assault as it occurred at that time. As an adult, a survivor may experience the same type of omnipotent fear that they experienced as a child. Flashbacks can be triggered by many things. By a smell, a mannerism, a phrase, a place, or a wealth of other environmental factors that may have significance.

 

From: http://www.secasa.com.au/index.php/survivors/5/145

 

 

Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Assault

There are many reactions that survivors of rape and sexual assault can have. But for adult survivors of childhood abuse there are reactions that may either be different or stronger than for other survivors. These include:

Setting Limits/Boundaries
  • Because your personal boundaries were invaded when you were young by someone you trusted and depended on, you may have trouble understanding that you have the right to control what happens to you.
Memories/Flashbacks
  • Like many survivors, you may experience flashbacks.
Anger
  • This is often the most difficult emotion for an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse to get in touch with.
  • As a child your anger was powerless and had little to no effect on the actions of your abuser. For this reason you may not feel confident that your anger will be useful or helpful.
Grieving/Mourning
  • Being abused as a child means the loss of many things- childhood experiences, trust, innocence, normal relationship with family members
    • You must be allowed to name those losses, grieve, and then bury them.
Guilt, Shame, and Blame
  • You may carry a lot of guilt because you may have experienced pleasure or because you did not try to stop the abuse.
  • There may have been silence surrounding the abuse that led to feelings of shame.
  • It is important for you to understand that it was the adult who abused his/her position of authority and should be held accountable, not you.
Trust
  • Learning to trust again may be very difficult for you.
  • You may go from one extreme to the other, not trusting at all to trusting too much.
Coping Skills
  • You have undoubtedly developed skills in order to cope with the trauma.
    • Some of these are healthy (possibly separating yourself from family members, seeking out counseling, etc.)
    • Some are not (drinking or drug abuse, promiscuous sexual activity, etc.)
Self-esteem/Isolation
  • Low self-esteem is a result of all of the negative messages you received and internalized from your abusers.
  • Because entering into an intimate relationship involves trust, respect, love, and the ability to share, you may flee from intimacy or hold on too tightly for fear of losing the relationship.
Sexuality
  • Your first initiation into sex may have been nonconsensual.
  • You may experience the return of body memories while engaging in a sexual activity with another person. Such memories may interfere in your ability to engage in sexual relationships which may leave you feeling frightened, frustrated, or ashamed.

http://www.rainn.org/get-information/effects-of-sexual-assault/adult-survivors-of-childhood-sexual-abuse

 

Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

 

Child sexual abuse is the exploitation of a child for the gratification or profit of an adult. Sexual abuse can range from exhibitionism and fondling to intercourse or use of a child in the production of pornographic materials. Sexual abuse also may result in physical injury or be accompanied by other signs of abuse or neglect. Sexual abuse generally is perpetrated by someone known to the child and frequently continues over a prolonged period of time. Often it does not involve sexual intercourse or physical force. The incidence is estimated at 100,000 to 250,000 cases per year; however this type of abuse is difficult to detect and confirm.

 

 

PHYSICAL SIGNS

 

Any of the following physical signs may indicate abuse:

  • Difficulty in walking or sitting
  • Thickening and/or hyperpigmentation of the labial skin (especially when it resolves during out-of-home placement)
  • Horizontal diameter of vaginal opening that exceeds 4mm in prepubescent girls
  • Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
  • Bruises or bleeding of the genitalia, perineum, or perianal area
  • Vaginal discharge and/or pruritus
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections
  • Gonococcal infection – Pharynx, Urethra, Rectum, Vagina
  • Syphilis
  • Genital herpes
  • Trichomonas
  • Chlamydial infection when resent beyond first six months of life (may be present at birth up to 6 months)
  • Lymphogranuloma venereum
  • Nonspecific vaginitis
  • Candidiasis
  • Pregnancy
  • Sperm or acid phosphatase on body or clothes; sperm in the urine of a female child
  • Lax rectal tone

 

BEHAVIORAL SIGNS

 

Children may display a wide range of psychological reactions to sexual abuse. Reactions depend on the age of the child, emotional maturity, nature of the incident, duration of sexual abuse, and the child’s relationship to the offender. The child may:

  • Confide in a relative, friend, or teacher; the disclosure may either be overt or subtle and indirect
  • Become withdrawn and daydream excessively
  • Evidence poor peer relationships
  • Experience poor self-esteem
  • Seem frightened or phobic, especially of adults
  • Experience distortion of body image
  • Express general feelings of shame or guilt
  • Exhibit a sudden deterioration in academic performance
  • Show pseudomature personality development
  • Attempt suicide
  • Exhibit a positive relationship toward the offender
  • Display regressive behavior
  • Display enuresis (wetting self) and/or encopresis (soiling self)
  • Engage in excessive masturbation
  • Engage in highly sexualized play
  • Become sexually promiscuous
  • Have a sexually abused sibling.

Anti-Oppression Theory

(from CALCASA‘s Support for Survivors training manual)

SEXUAL ASSAULT and DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS A TACTIC OR TOOL OF OPPRESSION.

Sign for

Sign for "Colored" waiting room, Georgia, 1943. Image via Wikipedia

Most frequently, sexual assault is used by men to dominate women and by adults to dominate children. Sexual assault has also been used as a weapon of oppression against people of color, people with disabilities, and lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people and gay men. Because sexual assault is a weapon of oppression, we must understand oppression if we hope to end sexual violence. This chapter examines oppression, explains how different forms of Oppression work together, and explores the ways that oppression may stand in the. way of efforts to end sexual violence.
Oppression and What Keeps it Going
Oppression is the systematic and pervasive mistreatment of individuals on the basis of their membership in a disadvantaged group. Institutional and interpersonal imbalances in power contribute to this mistreatment. Oppression involves the systematic use of power to marginalize, exploit, silence, discriminate against, invalidate, deny, dismiss, and/or not recognize the complete humanness of those are members of a disadvantaged group.

In the United States, there are systems of oppression based so race, class, gender (and gender identity) sexual orientation, religion, ability, age, body size, and citizenship. Privilege is given to those who are white, male, middle-class or “well off” economically, heterosexual and not transgender, Protestant, able-bodied and of able mind, middle-aged, thin, and a U.S. citizen. This means that some groups of people are oppressed, and some are not. For example, men, as a group, are not oppressed. Men do not face systematic and pervasive mistreatment because they are male. An individual man may face oppression based on another identity characteristic such as race or disability. We all have multiple identities, because we all have a gender, race, class, sexual orientation, and so on. This means we can be privileged because of one identity while at the same time facing oppression because of another.

Stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination support oppression and keep it going. Stereotypes are generalizations about groups of people. They do not take into account the differences within groups. Like stereotypes, prejudice is based on incomplete or inaccurate information. Prejudice is a preference or bias toward or against a group. Both stereotypes and prejudice have negative or detrimental effects. They assert that groups of individuals are all the same (that is, “Those people are….,” “That group can’t….,” “They all act…”). They fail to recognize uniqueness, which is an important part of every person’s humanity. It is true that prejudice and stereotypes are only attitudes, but these destructive attitudes, opinions, feelings, and ideas shape our actions and contribute to discrimination.

Discrimination is active; it is preferential or biased treatment based on stereotypes, prejudice, and/or historical practices. It results in unequal access and/or representation. Oppressive systems and ideologies — such as racism and white supremacy, sexism and male supremacy, and classism and capitalism — are maintained through discrimination. Institutionalized oppression involves enforcing discrimination in such a way that the status quo is maintained (for example, when all the secretaries are women and all the supervisors are men) and inequality is made to seem legitimate (for example, when it is said that the workplace is structured this way because women who apply for supervisory  positions lack the skills to hold these jobs but do possess the skills to be secretaries).

When oppression is enforced through everyday interaction between individuals, this is interpersonal oppression. Interpersonal oppression may take place in a variety of ways. For example, a shop clerk might follow Black customers, expecting them to steal and making them uncomfortable. Interpersonal oppression may occur among friends and relatives as well as among strangers. For example, family members may psychologically and/or physically abuse elder or disabled relatives. Interpersonal oppression is often supported by institutional oppression. For example, if a lesbian teen is harassed by her classmates because she is a lesbian, this is interpersonal oppression. If school authorities allow or condone the harassment, that is institutional oppression.

Discrimination can take many forms, including unfair hiring practices, white flight (from cities to suburbs) and residential segregation, the educational “tracking” of students (college track, not college track), and even violence. In fact, many people refer to violence (and the threat of violence) as a weapon of oppression because it protects oppression.

In doing anti-rape and anti-domestic violence work, it is important to have a clear understanding of oppression and how it functions in the United States. Oppression, a political term often used in the anti-violence movement and other progressive U.S. social movements, must maintain its sharpness, its clarity; otherwise,  it will be stretched to meaninglessness (that is, everyone calling them selves oppressed, regardless of their actual positions of privilege).

Oppression is an abuse of power by a dominant group. Other interactions among people may be hurtful or unfair but not oppression. As a social movement, our goal is to challenge abuses of power—more precisely sexual assault and domestic violence, a specific power abuse—and we require language that can articulate why abuses of power occur.

Making the Connections

Audre Lorde writes, “There is no hierarchy of oppression.” What does this Black lesbian feminist, poet-activist mean? Ultimately she is saying that she will not choose between her identities or favor one identity over another. Any movement that fails to recognize her multiple identities or that asks her to recognize only her Blackness or her gender or her lesbian identity is a movement in which she refuses to participate. In fact, Lorde argues that such a movement holds the seeds of its own failure and destruction.

If we look deeply, we will see that violence – in the form of sexual assault, battering, lynching, genocide, and other hate crimes – is a tactic of all forms of oppression. Thus, violence is one area where all forms of oppression intersect. And, in fact, acts of bias violence, or hate violence often involve more than one form of oppression. For example, lynching – most obviously an expression of racism – often included bizarre sexual mutilation of the victim. It seems clear that the white male perpetrators of such violence where expressing not only their racist ideology of white supremacy, but also their sexist fantasy of masculinity.

By the same token, rape – most obviously an expression of sexism – also involves other forms of oppression. When women, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are threatened with rape when they show affection toward other women, we see homophobia (and transphobia) acting in concert with sexism. This all-too-common occurrence is a manifestation of these forms of oppression interacting with and bolstering each other. Suzanne Pharr, who co-chaired the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and its Lesbian Task Force, calls homophobia a weapon of sexism and connects homophobia and heterosexism to sexual and domestic violence perpetrated against women:

How many of us have heard battered women’s stories about their abusers calling them lesbians or calling the battered women’s shelter a lesbian place? The abuser is not so much labeling a her a lesbian as he is warning her that she is choosing to be outside society’s protection (of male institutions), and she therefore should choose to be with him, with what is “right.” He recognizes the power in woman-bonding and fears loss of her servitude and loyalty: the potential loss of his control. The concern is not affectional/sexual identity; the concern is disloyalty. The labeling is a threat. . . . Our concern with homophobia, then, is not just that it damages lesbians, but that it damages all women. We recognize homophobia as a means of controlling women, and we recognize the connection between control and violence.2

The intersection of oppressions also affects how acts of bias violence are perceived. The feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw notes that rape is “racialized.”3 In the United States, rape has been historically racialized in the image of the white female victim and the Black male rapist, and our social problem of rape has grown to be racialized in the rapist as a man of color. This does two things. First, women of color are absolutely invisible in this equation. Women of color come to be seen as “unrapeable.” Second, white men are protected by this mythology. They are let off the hook; they are not seen as perpetrating rape. But we know that 90% of sexual assaults occur between individuals of the same race and socioeconomic class.4 We also know that in 84% of all rapes, the survivor knows their rapist.5 Such a racialized image of rape obscures these facts as well as the everyday attacks that white women experience at the hands of white men. Therefore, this racist mythology harms, not only women and men of color, but also white women. Here, racism and sexism work together to hurt everyone but white men. Donna Landerman clearly articulates why it is of utmost importance that the anti-violence movement be anti-racist:

From both an ideological and practical point of view, it is essential for the anti-rape movement to investigate racism and incorporate an anti-racist perspective, because racism in major ways both causes and defines rape. If we are to successfully aid women who have been raped, prevent rape, and eventually eliminate rape, it is necessary to understand and attack rape in all its forms and at all its roots. Racism and cultural and class oppression are some of those roots of rape, and lead rape to take different forms in the lives of women of various races, cultures, and classes. 6

Angela Davis insightfully links rape to the capitalist class structure. She asserts that:

those men who wield power in the economic and political realm are encouraged by the class structure of capitalism to become agents of sexual exploitation. Their authority (within this capitalist structure) guards them against punishment in all circles except one: they may not violate a woman of their own standing… With this single exception, the man of authority can rape as he will, for he is only exercising his authority. 7

The highly publicized William Kennedy Smith rape case, which involved a rich and influential man for a well-known political family and a less-affluent woman, shows that there is validity to what Angela Davis argues. But it may be inaccurate to say absolutely that economically privileged men cannot rape women of their economic class with impunity. Nonetheless, the power of Davis’s analysis is her awareness that capitalism is connected to violence against women.

Capitalism is based on competition rather than cooperation and therefore promotes conflict. In addition, capitalism has exploitation of one group of people by another “built in,” because profits can be achieved only by the exploitation of workers and/or consumers. Capitalism treats workers like objects to be used just as many perpetrators of violence treat women and children like sexual objects to be used or consumed. Modern capitalism, in its advertising, also treats women like sexual objects to be used to sell products. Capitalism teaches those who are or who aspire to be of the owning class to dominate, exploit, and use workers. These are the same dynamics that the anti-rape and anti-domestic violence movement has identified as contributing to sexual and domestic violence. And arguably it is capitalism that encourages us to believe that poor and working-class men are more likely to perpetrate sexual violence than economically privileged men. Classism works to the benefit of those at the top of the hierarchy, protecting them from being held accountable for the sexual violence they perpetrate against women of their economic class and against those women who have less economic privilege.

All of this demonstrates that considering sexism and male supremacy as the only important forms of oppression involved in sexual assault and domestic violence is not only inaccurate by self-defeating. This is, in part, because we cannot neatly separate sexism from homophobia and transphobia or sexism from racism or from classism.  Over time, forms of oppression have become intertwined. Movements that fail to take this into account cannot fully succeed and may cause more harm. I think Kimberlé Crenshaw, writing about the anti-rape movement, says it best: “This movement inadvertently participates in exclusionary politics because some of us fail to comprehend the anti-violence movement as an anti-oppression movement.”8

Thinking about all of the different forms of oppression and how they work together can feel overwhelming and depressing. With so many forces against us, how can we hope to make a difference? Although the task is challenging, it is not impossible. From the anti-lynching movement in the United States to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, history is filled with examples of women leading and contributing to successful collective efforts at social change. Working with and learning about other activists can be educational, inspirational, and transforming.

Oppression and the Anti-Violence Movement

Because oppression is, by nature, pervasive, it is not surprising that social change organizations – including the anti-rape and anti-domestic violence movement – are sometimes hampered by oppression. Obviously, those in power seek to hold on to their power, so the oppressive forces against which social change organizations struggle often strike back. “Backlash” is an example of that. Less obviously, but still importantly, social change organizations sometimes have internal problems rooted in one form of oppression or another.

As social change agents of the anti-violence movement, we recognize the prevalence of oppression in our communities, whether it be sexism, racism, hatred of immigrants, heterosexism and transphobia, Antisemitism, anti-Islamic sentiment, or some combination of these or other forms of oppression. And we recognize the existence of a backlash, a reactionary response to our social change work. This backlash stems from the unwillingness of institutions and individuals to give up power and privilege.

Often it is easier for us to see oppression “out there,” beyond our social movement or our agencies. But oppression is insidious and does find its way into our organizations. For example, a white-dominated organization might neglect the needs of survivors of color, or a primarily heterosexual agency might ask its lesbian staff members to “act straight.” Like many other institutions, anti-rape and anti-domestic violence agencies may be inaccessible to people with disabilities or unfair in their treatment of workers.

One example of resistance to institutional  and interpersonal oppression within social change organizations is the work of the Ann Arbor Coalition for Community Unity. This Michigan-based  coalition formed in 1994 in the wake of a poorly handled serial rapist investigation and committed itself to simultaneously addressing sexism and racism. During its work, it issued a statement to feminist agencies in the Ann Arbor area that stressed the importance of addressing abuses of power within women’s agencies. Here is an excerpt from a letter written by the women of the coalition:

Audre Lorde told us that when we, as women, fall back on the same tactics that the patriarchy uses to control us, tactics of sexism, racism, silencing, and dismissal, we become self-defeating as a movement. Instead of working to end the conditions that create and perpetuate violence against women, we enable them. Every time we silence other women’s criticism of our work, or punish dissent, we commit an act of violence. Violence, after all, is the abusive or unjust exercise of power. And when we perpetuate this kind of emotional and spiritual violence against women within our movement, we condition women to accept the physical and sexual violence we are fighting daily.9

We have to meet all forms of oppression in our communities and in our movement head on in order to progress and to ultimately end rape and domestic violence. This means that we cannot write enough about how racism, classism, heterosexism and transphobia and other forms of oppression reinforce sexism. This means that we cannot educate enough about how violence is rooted in oppression. And this means we must act!

Notes: (the books cited are older, yes, but are classics)

1. Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Trumanberg, NY: The Crossing Press, 1984), 20.

2. Suzanne Pharr, Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism (Little Rock, AR: Chardon Press, 1988).

3. Kimberlé Crenshaw, “The Marginalization of Sexual Violence Against Black Women,” National Coalition Against Sexual Assault Journal 2, no. 1 (spring 1994): 1-6, 15.

4. Angela Davis, Women Race, and Class (New York: Random House, 1981).

5. Mary Koss, “Date Rape: The Story of an Epidemic and Those Who Deny It,” Ms Magazine (October 1985).

6. Donna Landerman, “Breaking the Racism Barrier: White Anti-Racism Work,” in Reweaving the Web of Life: Feminism and Nonviolence, ed Pam McAllister (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1982).

7. Angela Davis, “Rape, Racism and the Capitalist Setting,” Black Scholar 9, no. 2 (1978): 24-30.

8. Crenshaw, “Marginalization of Sexual Violence Against Black Women,” 6.

9. Ann Arbor Coalition for Community Unity; Open Letter to Women’s Community-based Organizations in the Ann Arbor Area, 1996.

Being an Ally by Susan Mooney

Being an Ally (from CALCASA‘s “Support for Survivors” training manual; altered to fit the YWCA)

The most effective advocates are those who can assist survivors in understanding their individual experience in the larger social context of oppression. Women who were able to see a connection between society’s reactions to their experiences of victimization and the status of women in general founded the anti-rape and anti-domestic violence movement. This chapter assumes that you have previously explored the connections between the multiple forms of violence against women and sexism and the connections between sexism and other forms of oppression: racism, heterosexism and transphobia, ableism, classism. The focus here is on how you as an individual can use your awareness of oppression to be an effective counselor and a powerful agent for social change in your community.

We first explore what an ally is and then how being an ally relates to your work as a sexual assault counselor. Included are tips and challenges for the long journey that awaits you.

What is an Ally?

“Epiphinal moments, in many ways, occur only when one is primed for them.”1 A good ally is ever on the prowl for an epiphinal moment, ever mindful of our status in the world and ever watchful for opportunities to use our privileged status to effect social change and interrupt oppressive behaviors and actions. The process of learning how to provide support to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, intervene when you witness injustice, and contribute to creating a world that does not tolerate sexual violence is the process of developing skills as an ally.

Allies are persons who seek opportunities to use their knowledge, personal commitment, access to resources (financial and otherwise), and willingness to overcome fear to promote the well-being of a marginalized group or an individual within that group, of which the ally is not a member. It takes courage to act for the benefit of others, particularly if the act requires acknowledging your own status or giving up privilege.
Each of us is a complex person with many facets to our identity; we both need allies and can be an ally to others. For example, a heterosexual woman of color can benefit from the actions and commitment of her white allies; at the same time she can be a powerful ally to lesbians, gays, bisexual people, and transgender people. How and when to be an ally can be confusing and complex, but remember that the more you practice, the more you understand, and the better your skills become. Each of us has within us the ability to act as an ally to others, and your participation in the volunteer training can be a huge step toward increasing your ability to act as an ally.

Being an effective ally to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence requires that you are an ally in every area of their lives. Survivors do not experience sexual assault or domestic violence in isolation from the accumulated total of their life experience. Being a good advocate means you have to understand that a woman experiences of racism, homophobia and transphobia, classism, sizeism, and ableism, combined with sexism, all inform the experience of sexual assault and the process of healing from the experience of victimization. Your commitment to understanding the totality of a woman’s life will make you a more effective advocate. Your dedication to changing the social conditions within which sexual assault and domestic violence exists is an essential component of being a an advocate.

How does being an Ally Relate to your Work as an Advocate?

The more you practice and develop your skills as an ally working to end oppression, the more effective a advocate you will become. Try to think in terms of the ripple effect:
When you drop a stone in a bucket of water, many ripples are produced; they travel out, hit the side of the bucket, start traveling back to the center, and begin crossing and affecting one another’s paths. Eventually the water settles down, but the arrangement of the water in the bucket is forever changed. The ripple effect of your work as an ally is much the same: every act affects the complex social conditions that allow sexual assault to occur and the conditions that influence a survivor’s healing process.
Now let’s apply that image to an example (see below): a heterosexual woman who answers the hot line at the rape crisis center is also involved in PFLAG:

IMPACT OF PFLAG CAMPAIGN RIPPLE EFFECT
In the process of preparing for the PFLAG campaign, the advocate becomes more aware of the emotional and social impact homophobia has on lesbians, gays, bisexual people, and transgender people. The advocate receives a hotline call from a lesbian survivor of same-sex violence. The counselor’s ability to assist the survivor as she sorts through the effect of internalized homophobia on her reaction to her assault is enhanced by increased awareness.
PFLAG campaign includes presentation to law enforcement on hate crimes against lesbians, gays, bisexual people, and transgender people, during which a couple of officers show that they are very sensitive to the issue. The advocate’s ability to assist the survivor in realistically assessing the potential outcome of reporting the assault to the police is enhanced. The counselor has increased access to officers who are more likely to respond to the survivor’s experience sensitively.
The law enforcement officers who are sensitive to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues notice that the majority of officers in attendance are not educated on these issues. Working with the rape crisis center to assist the lesbian survivor makes the officers aware that their department’s response to incidents of same-sex violence can be improved, and they work as allies with the rape crisis center to get more training included in courses at the police academy.
The advocate passes out leaflets at the local mall as part of the campaign and talks to dozens of people, one of whom she tells about her work at the rape crisis center, A lesbian survivor of child sexual assault calls the hotline; she is willing to make the call because her friend tells her about her conversation with the advocate at the mall so she thinks the rape crisis center will be a safe place for her.
The advocate mentions to the crisis line coordinator that she is involved in the campaign, and the rape crisis center ends up endorsing PFLAG’s campaign. A number of lesbians in the community notice this relationship and call the rape crisis center to inquire about volunteering.

Sexual Assault: Coping Mechanisms

Survivors of sexual assault, childhood sexual assault, and domestic violence often will incorporate any number of coping mechanisms to deal with the pain, anger, sadness, and confusion. Coping mechanisms serve to protect the individual from the overwhelming emotions, which naturally occur after being hurt in this way. Here is a list of some of these coping mechanisms:

  • Minimizing
  • Rationalizing
  • Denying
  • Forgetting
  • Splitting
  • Dissociation (leaving the body)
  • Chaos
  • Spacing out
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Humor
  • Busyness
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Addiction
  • Isolation
  • Eating disorders
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Gambling
  • Avoiding intimacy
  • Sexual compulsion or avoidance

(Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence) Survival Strategies of Children and Teenagers

Survival Strategies of Children & Teenagers

from http://www.lfcc.on.ca/HCT_SWASM_18.html

When faced with a difficult situation, children “cope” by coming to an understanding (possibly distorted) about what is happening and dealing with the flood of hurtful emotions. Their strategies can involve feelings (emotional), thoughts (cognitive), or actions (behavioural).

Some strategies are helpful

  • examples are seeking peers or supportive adults to talk about the feelings
  • young children cannot easily engage in healthy strategies and need adults to buffer them from the harmful consequences of family adversities such as violence

Some strategies are helpful but costly

  • strategies may be helpful during a crisis but not healthy in the long run, such as emotional numbing, self-injury, substance use, having a baby to escape the family, or being an emotional caretaker for a parent
  • these strategies can be a response to a variety of family adversities, including violence and maltreatment
  • an objectively helpful strategy may not “work” while some objectively unhealthy strategies did do
  • they help a child get through a time of stress or crisis, such as when there is violence in the home
  • however, if used after the crisis is over, or in other circumstances, these strategies may create problems
  • the longer a strategy is used, or the more effective it is in shielding a youth from overwhelming emotions and hurt, the harder it may be to extinguish

Once the family is safe, gradually extinguishing strategies with negative effects and replacing them with healthier strategies may be the key to helping children who have lived with family adversities such as violence.


These are some coping strategies commonly observed in children and teenagers who have lived with violence and maltreatment. Remember that coping styles vary with age.

Mental Blocking or Disconnecting Emotionally

  • numbing emotions or blocking thoughts
  • tuning out the noise, learning not to hear it, being oblivious
  • concentrating hard to believe they are somewhere else
  • drinking alcohol or using drugs

Making it Better Through Fantasy

  • planning revenge on abuser, fantasizing about killing him
  • fantasizing about a happier life, living with a different family
  • fantasizing about life after a divorce or after the abuser leaves
  • fantasizing about abuser being “hit by a bus”
  • hoping to be rescued, by super heroes or police or “Prince Charming”

Physical Avoidance

  • going into another room, leaving the house during a violent episode
  • finding excuses to avoid going home
  • running away from home

Looking for Love (and Acceptance) in all the Wrong Places

  • falling in with bad friends
  • having sex for the intimacy and closeness
  • trying to have a baby as a teenager or getting pregnant as a teen to have someone to love you

Taking Charge Through Caretaking

  • protecting brothers and sisters from danger
  • nurturing brothers and Sisters like a surrogate mother / taking the “parent” role
  • nurturing his or her mother

Reaching out for Help

  • telling a teacher, neighbour, or friend’s mother
  • calling the police
  • talking to siblings, friends, or supportive adults

Crying out for Help

  • suicidal gestures
  • self-injury
  • lashing out in anger / being aggressive with others / getting into fights

Re-Directing Emotions into Positive Activities

  • sports, running, fitness
  • writing, journalling, drawing, acting, being creative
  • excelling academically

Trying to Predict, Explain, Prevent or Control the Behaviour of an Abuser

  • thinking “Mommy has been bad” or “I have been bad” or “Daddy is under stress at work”
  • thinking “I can stop the violence by changing my behaviour” or “I can predict the violence”
  • trying to be the perfect child
  • lying to cover up bad things (e.g., a bad grade) to avoid criticism and worse

Handout for Women

How my Child or Teen Copes (pdf link to off-site page)

Help women use this sheet to identify coping strategies of each of her children (this exercise will not be helpful for babies, toddlers, or most pre-schoolers). Distinguish between those used in response to violence in the past and those still used today. The group can brainstorm specific ways to encourage healthy strategies.

Want to know more?

Alison Cunningham & Linda Baker (2004). What About Me! Seeking to Understand the Child’s View of Violence in the Family. London ON: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System.