LN – Sexual abuse: why you always have to believe boys


This week the news of
a 12-year-old girl who, after suffering sexual abuse by an uncle for years, managed to expose him in front of security cameras. The girl had been manifesting for a long time the symptoms of the horror she lived and had even put it into words in different areas.
However, her parents dismissed her story and, until she evidenced her abuser, did not take measures to protect her.

In that context, the specialists emphasize that the prognosis of boys and girls who are victims of sexual abuse changes completely if they find an adult who believes them, who is emotionally available to help them and who acts to protect them.

“This is documented throughout the biography and we also see it in the clinic. When the family environment is favorable and acts quickly, the traumatic act of sexual abuse does not become the most important thing that happened in life,” says Silvia Ongini, child and adolescent psychiatrist of the Pediatric Department of the Hospital de Clínicas.

Along these lines, Cristina Bösenberg, psychologist and coordinator of the Commission on Violence and Child Sexual Abuse of the College of Psychologists of San Isidro, says that
The key is whether a child could speak and be heard, or if he was systematically dismissed in his attempts to ask for help and get out of that situation. “That makes a huge difference. The child who is assisted, elaborates this as other traumatic situations. There is a possible job and can overcome it,” says the psychologist.

Answers that make a difference

For Ongini, because of the impact it has on the subjectivity and on the developing psyche of children,
sexual abuse could be equated with torture. “That traumatic situation sustained over time will cause neurobiological, subjective and related damage that will be expressed in all aspects of your life,” he says.

Sexual abuse is a violence comparable to torture because it is sustained over time and rooted in the link of power asymmetry

Silvia Ongini, child and youth psychiatrist

The role of the protective adult is fundamental, since it will depend on their attitude towards the boy or girl that they can tell what happens to them or shut up forever. Being angry, distraught or using phrases like “why did you let him do that to you?”, “Why didn’t you leave or say no?”, Contribute to the silence. Instead, others like
“You were very brave to tell me,” “nothing that happened is your fault,” “we are going to help you so that this never happens again,” are answers that make a difference.

“The opposite reaction is not to listen, to disbelieve, to pretend that he did not tell me anything or to disregard it. The impact of not believing the victim in the background re-victimizes and crystallizes it in that position, confirms the place of power of the abuser At the same time we confirm that he deserves it, that he is to blame for what happened to him, “Ongini emphasizes.

In addition, Ongini adds that not believing the boys is one of the main obstacles to help them, because he will sustain the abuse and because the abuser also relies on the certainty that they will not believe him.

Why is it hard to believe boys?

Eva Giberti, a psychoanalyst and renowned specialist in the subject, believes that although today there is a greater social awareness about the problem of sexual abuse against children and adolescents, it is still “microscopic next to what would be necessary”.

Reflect that still fathers and mothers are surprised when a situation of intrafamily abuse appears. “It is hard for them to realize that this is horrifying, however, is possible. Admitting that the man with whom you live is responsible for the abuse is one of the most bitter and complex situations, which determine that there is an area of ​​silence and distraction , and that they ignore symptoms that however are warning that something strange happens to the boy or the girl, “Giberti details.

Admitting that the man with whom you live is responsible for the abuse is one of the most bitter and complex situations, which determine that there is an area of ​​silence and distraction

Eva Giberti, psychoanalyst

Bösenberg adds that due to the nature of the problem of incest and abuse, it is one of the most difficult topics to be heard in the children themselves.
“There are many social and individual defense mechanisms that initially try to deny the situation, not to believe it at all or to dismiss certain things. But it is a reality that crosses all social sectors and occurs more frequently towards the inside homes, “he says.

Due to the nature of the problem of incest and abuse, it is one of the most difficult topics for children to hear.

Cristina Bösenberg, psychologist

Specialists agree that the belief that children lie is one of the most entrenched myths. “Those of us who have been in this for many years, we listen to the children and see in the drawings that they do things they could never have imagined except because they suffered them, we know well that they do not fantasize,” Giberti points out.

Ongini adds that not believing them comes from another concept of childhood, where is the imaginary inscription that the child lies and that he is not a subject who can choose or have rights. “Denial and denial of adults is a mechanism that many parents have, who prefer not to believe. Children do not lie more than adults, from the age of three they can clearly differentiate fantasy from reality and truth from lies. In addition, No child can fantasize about contents that imply adult sexuality. It is not only necessary to believe them but to affirm that it is not their fault and to open the channels so that they receive the corresponding support, ”says the psychiatrist.

Denial and denial of adults is a mechanism that many parents have, who prefer not to believe. To say that boys lie is one of the most entrenched myths

Silvia Ongini, child and youth psychiatrist

“This is a secret between you and me”

A key stage of sexual abuse is the constitution of secrecy by the abuser. “If you speak they won’t believe you,” “the family is going to destroy themselves,” “he killed your mother,” “you wanted him, you looked for him,” are some of the phrases they use.

“Sexual abuse implies a link that is established on a previous one of trust or knowledge, for which the victim is doubly unprotected: there is an asymmetry of power and no defense possibilities,” Ongini describes.

The psychiatrist argues that the plot of sexual abuse puts the boy or the girl in a place where they may even later find it difficult to recognize themselves as victims. “Psychoanalyst Leonard Shengold talks about ‘murder of the soul’ to refer to the traumatic consequences of sexual abuse in children. He describes it as a combination of torture, depravity and brainwashing,” says Ongini.

For specialists, it is essential that adults have “eyes and ears attentive enough” to detect the symptoms that the children are presenting. Giberti points out that the behavior changes of children who are being abused are “pathognomonic”, that is, they immediately direct attention to the alert.

On the other hand, he says you have to be very attentive when a child says he doesn’t want to go to a neighbor or grandfather’s house, for example, because it “bothers him.” “The boy does not know how to say ‘he abuses me’. In front of that expression it is essential to be alert because it is the synonym that the creature finds to say that they do something he does not like, that is shocking in relation to his body,” he says Giberti

Some of the symptoms described by specialists are:

  • Guys who always let themselves be bathed or played in the bathroom, suddenly refuse and say: “I don’t want to undress or bathe,” or they don’t want their bodies touched.
  • Have nightmares.
  • Isolation or self-absorption behaviors, such as staying in a corner without playing.
  • Sex games with dolls.
  • That they use improper words from the language of a child their age.
  • They show signs of irritation on the external parts of the genitals or in the perianal area.
  • Emotional manifestations such as crying over seemingly unimportant issues, anguish, excessive anger, fears that were not before (as if separating from the figure that the child feels protective), fears he did not have.
  • Regressions regarding habits already acquired, such as sphincter control.
  • Drawings that call attention to their content.

According to psychiatrist Irene Intevi, only 20% of the boys who start talking about the subject or trying to unveil it, are believed. The boys try to seek help, but this will depend on whether they find some receptivity on the other side for what they are trying to reveal and a security context.

Specialists agree that the role of Comprehensive Sex Education (ESI) is key. “Whatever their age, you have to explain to the boys ‘your body is yours’, ‘you don’t have to let the dick or the vulva touch you.’ You have to stop using words like the ‘chucha’ and speak with a correct language, “reflects Giberti.

Ongini, who will present the book in the next few days
The super power of sex education In co-authorship with Silvina Valente and Denise Tempone, she concludes:
“One of the most basic things in sex education is that we respect the stages of children, that we do not force them, for example, to kiss a family member when they do not want to, that their ‘no’ be heard and help them, their time, to hear their own ‘no’. “



Publicado en el diario La Nación