Fri Sep 22 08:04:58 SAST 2017

An assault on body and soul

By Zenoyise Madikwa | 2011-11-15 06:22:25.0

HEALING from childhood sexual abuse is one of the most difficult things any human being can experience.

Sexual abuse is not only an unwanted assault on the body, but on the soul as well.

Vusi Shabalala, a clinical psychologist, says victims of abuse frequently make bad choices in relationships.

He says this cycle must be recognised in order to move to a healthy one. He says many victims are fearful of disclosing abuse because of to perceptions, stereotypes and labels.

"Sexual abuse is not only abuse, it is also sexual. Your abusers becomes your sexual mentors. They teach you to perform, to lie, to devalue or degrade yourself and to connect abnormal sexual experiences with the normal longings for intimacy and touch," he says.

Why do people sexually abuse children?

He says it is not clear why people molest children, but recent research has found that an overwhelming majority of child molesters were molested themselves.

Shabalala says some abuse might be an attempt to relive one's own abuse, with the power roles reversed. Another reason might be that these people have learnt that abuse is a way of feeling in control.

He says fundamentally, in all cases of abuse, it certainly is about power and control.

"Some paedophiles don't relate well to people of their own age group, but much better to children and as a result they choose children to abuse," says Shabalala. "They often project attributes or qualities onto the children they abuse. These attributes are false and are just in the abuser's mind.

"A perpetrator might create false beliefs about a child's wishes, desires and likes or try to bring the child up to their peer level (imagining a sexual attraction or relationship with them)."

According to the SA National Council for Child Welfare the most commonly reported perpetrators are fathers and stepfathers. Brothers, sisters, mothers, baby-sitters and uncles are also among the most common abusers.

Shabalala says some of the things that might trigger memories of child abuse are stuff such as childbirth, pap smears or the way your partner touches you sexually and colours, types of furniture or vehicles and sounds or smells that bring back memories associated with the abuse.

He says the abused often immerse themselves in work as a coping mechanism.

"Being a workaholic or staying compulsively busy is viewed as productive and is applauded by society, so some people turn to this coping tool to avoid emotional pain," he says.

"Usually a deep-seated feeling of inadequacy is the cause of workaholism. The workaholic often feels afraid of failure or feels the need to 'prove' him-herself, despite the fact that that person is usually extremely capable and intelligent."

Shabalala says usually the victims of paedophiles obtain almost all their emotional and psychological gratification from work.

"They usually think about work every minute of the day, even when they are ill. Being restless or bored when not working is also a problem and so is believing they are the only one's competent to do the job.

Dr Zintle Mbuqe, a general practitioner, says being a workaholic is detrimental to health.

"Workaholics are often prone to dehydration, gastric problems and mouth ulcers because they rarely stop work to eat or drink. They might also suffer from frequent headaches and various stress-related conditions," Mbuqe says.