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Changes for victims of child sexual abuse

Changes for victims of child sexual abuse While state and federal statutes are sufficient for identifying victims (assuming proper implementation), they are insufficient for providing ongoing protection. Instead, the rights of the accused have precedence over the rights of the victims. As a result, far too many children are needlessly removed from their homes, thus introducing iatrogenic (system-induced) trauma by the system designed to protect the children. To move towards a resolution of this very difficult problem, it is recommended that state and federal laws be enacted that protect the rights of children, as follows. • All children and adolescents have the right not to be sexually abused. • All children and adolescents have the right to be protected by society from all known offenders who physically perpetrate sexual abuse. • All sexually abused children and adolescents have the right to remain in their own homes with their nonoffending guardians after abuse disclosure (i.e., with those who did not physically perpetrate the sexual abuse) unless the guardians are charged with perpetrating another type of child maltreatment unrelated to the sexual abuse. The first right ensures that society is responsible for developing prevention programs that effectively and substantially reduce the prevalence of child sexual abuse. Thus, the sexual abuse of any child is recognized as a failure of society to protect that child. The second right—that children and adolescents have the right to be protected from know sexual offenders—has two important components. The most important component is that it establishes that children have the right to be protected from all known offenders. Because the word offender has been interpreted to include mothers living with perpetrators, however, a second component was added that defined offenders as only those individuals who physically perpetrate sexual abuse, removing the temptation to use mothers as scapegoats. The final right also recognizes that children have the right to remain in their homes with their nonoffending guardians after abuse disclosure, assuming the guardian is not perpetrating another type of maltreatment not associated with the sexual abuse. Defining this maltreatment as unrelated to the sexual abuse again removes the tendency to charge mothers with emotional neglect for purportedly not protecting the child from the sexual abuse. The proposed rights of children are simple—the rights to be protected and to remain in their homes with their nonoffending guardians after disclosure. Given the hostile environment towards nonoffending guardians, however, caveats have to be added to these basic rights so that there is no misinterpretation. By establishing these as the rights of children, a tension between the legal system’s mandate to protect the rights of the accused and the child welfare system’s mandate to protect the rights of children will be created. Moving beyond this tension will require creative solutions in working with both nonoffending guardians and alleged offenders.

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