“At first it was only at night, but then, since we lived together, it started to happen during the day as well. Maybe she took advantage of the fact that I was doing homework and would go into my room, or when we were in the car she would sit next to me. You have little room to sneak away when you’re in a car. He masturbated trying to touch me. I once woke up with him by my side and his hand on my chest. He sent me photos of his penis, on some occasion he recorded me being naked when I was taking a shower; even he put porn on me, ”says Andrea (name changed) about her stepbrother. Her nightmare began when she was just nine years old and lasted until she was fourteen.
His is not an isolated case. Diana Díaz, director of the Help Lines of the ANAR Foundation – telephone help lines for minors for all kinds of problems – recognizes with concern that more than 80% of cases of sexual abuse of children and adolescents are caused by a person close to the victim and 58.8% They are direct relatives. For its part, a Save the Children report reduce the percentage to 50%. For the professional, the data is still alarming. According to a ANAR study, in recent years the trend has quadrupled, with a growth rate of 300.4%. In 2021, the foundation’s helplines dealt with 1,297 cases of child sexual abuse.
Andrea affirms that the most notable consequences came later, at 16, and that they still remain today. “Something very difficult is that all this has happened in your past, but it flies over your present. I have nightmares about what happened, I still relive it. When I leave the house, in uncontrolled environments like bars or parties, I get very anxious because I see the danger. I am alert all the time, ”she acknowledges. The experience has also caused her to have very low self-esteem. “As if that were not enough, when I am with a boy in bed, sometimes I relive moments, flashes come to me and I think that the hand that is touching me is not the hand of my partner, but that person. I panic,” she narrates.
“How is it possible that those who had to take care of me did not realize something that was causing me so much pain and suffering? I was thinking about it recently because, on the one hand, I blame those who had to take care of me for not taking enough care of me, ”admits Andrea, who has reflected a lot on a past that she cannot forget. “Thinking about it as an adult, I realized that it was very difficult to perceive what was happening to me: I did not present any symptoms because I was completely dissociated during the five years that it lasted. My brain protected me and I was only aware of what was happening at the moment it was happening,” she says.
Dissociation is a state that the brain adopts to protect the victim, but the most common is that the boy or girl, when experiencing a traumatic situation, leaves behind some kind of clue. Diana Díaz draws attention to the importance of recognizing the signs of risk. Many minors, below a certain age, do not identify that they are experiencing a situation of sexual abuse, so the adults around them -whether through school, health centers or their own parents- must be alert.
“Sexualized behaviors inappropriate for their age, strange drawings, a drop in school performance or aggressive behavior are possible indicators that it may be happening to a minor,” says the director. Possible somatizations -pain, discomfort- and, in general, changes in behavior or mood: irritation, melancholy, etc., are also added to her indications.
Blanca Marín Romero, a psychologist specializing in child sexual abuse, recalls that minors themselves can also sexually abuse other children. “In these cases, the child may have had previous experiences that have later led him to engage in abusive behavior towards other peers, even without knowing that this is wrong. That is, that child may have been a victim of sexual abuse in turn, ”she highlights. The psychologist explains that, if this is not the case, it is understood that she is facing a child or adolescent with a need for affective-sexual education: “It means that a sexuality has emerged in him that he does not know how to channel or manage.”
Affective-sexual education is vital for the proper development of minors
Andrea was going to school when she began to be a victim of abuse by her father’s partner’s son. The assailant was also a minor. “He told me that he had chosen me because he liked me, that the girls in his class liked that and that it was something normal,” she says. Specialists point out the importance of education to ‘prevent’ these cases. “When we talk about affective-sexual education, we are not talking about teaching children to have sex, but about teaching them to manage their emotions, to respect their own bodies, to identify what types of behavior and caresses are acceptable and which are not, to learn to relate to the other, in short”, explains Blanca Marín. To educate children from an early age there are educational materials that adults can rely on, such as ‘Kiko’s rule‘, a very simple manual produced by the Council of Europe to learn what is acceptable and what is not.
Despite the above, prevention in minors has a double reading. Considering that a boy or a girl can stop the abuse from happening is a mistake, since most of the time they will not be able to avoid it. How long will it take an adult to convince the child to do what we want? The psychologist recalls that “it is a relationship of inequality in which, being a family member, the victim trusts the aggressor. Children do not usually question the adult’s criteria, because they understand that adults are the ones who set the rules and who teach them. “Being a safe person, whom you can trust, you think that he is not going to hurt you. Because how can a person who loves you hurt you? But yes, a person who loves you can hurt you, ”says Andrea, who is still tormented by the thought of what she could have done to avoid the traumatic experience.
“Tell him, he won’t believe you”
When minors are young, it is easy to persuade them through approach strategies, whether based on gifts, verbalizing compliments – such as “you are my favorite” – and, especially, through secrets. “To a minor, the aggressor could say: ‘this is an issue that is going to remain between us, because we can’t talk about it. It’s our game.’ We must make our children understand that if a secret makes them feel uncomfortable, strange and/or bad, they should not keep it”, explains Diana Díaz. The director of the ANAR lines warns of the relevance of establishing a loving and close relationship with the children: “thus, the child will go to his father or mother before anything that is happening to him”.
Andrea, from the first time it happened, was clear that she didn’t like it, but she also felt alone and trapped: “He invalidated me when I told him I was going to tell my dad and he told me to go ahead, that I would tell him. He told me that my father was not going to believe me because they were going to believe him, who was older. He told me that they were going to think I was a liar.” For this reason, Marín emphasizes the importance of creating a space of great trust with children: “When they tell you things, even if you know it is not true, do not tell them that they are liars. Because it is a weapon that they can use against them.”
“One day I woke up and saw a shadow at my bedroom door, masturbating. I always put things that made noise on the door, to wake me up if I entered, but that night I forgot. At that moment I said: ‘up to here’, because I wanted to commit suicide”. This is how Andrea recounts the turning point in which she decided to tell the adults. Her father did not know how to react and Andrea prefers not to reveal what she answered.
Then it was time to talk about it with the aggressor’s mother. “They separated us both and they sent me to the house on the beach, with my grandmother. They told me not to tell anyone about it. They made me feel like I was to blame and responsible. They warned me that if she reported him, she would screw up her life,” she laments.
Diana Díaz recommends that, when the time comes, adults accept the information as calmly as possible: “If you react aggressively, furiously or sadly, the little ones will retract and they will not tell us anything else.” He explains that once the data is available, contact with the aggressor must be cut off -always isolating him, never the minor-, report -so that no more people are abused- and seek professional help, since the victim You should go for a psychological evaluation.
“Something essential is to save all the other minors in the aggressor’s environment, since many times he does not act with a single victim,” highlights the director. The psychologist Blanca Marín regrets that most of the time these guidelines are not followed: “Since the aggressor is the economic pillar of the family or a very close person, the parents raise protective barriers around their family nucleus and deny the words of the minor”.