A resource for victims, perpetrators and the constellation of those involved when there has been sexual abuse
by Caprice Haverty, Ph.D. and Anna Weisberg, Ph.D.
At A Step Forward, Inc. (ASF) we address and treat all aspects of sexual abuse, from the victim to the perpetrator, and from the family to the wider community. Where appropriate, we provide therapy for those families who are separated due to the sexual assault and who wish to reunify. We also specialize in the treatment of other forms of family trauma such as physical abuse and domestic violence.
Child and Adult Sexual Assault Survivors
With respect to the survivors, we treat children and adults who have been sexually molested/assaulted, as well as adults who have been molested as children. The work begins with a careful assessment of each person’s unique situation, so we can determine how healing can best occur. Treatment can help the person assess what the meaning of the abuse was and help identify the psychological coping strategies that were used to manage the abusive experience—some of these coping strategies may be undermining the survivor’s current health and well being.
Sometimes, children show troubling, sexualized behaviors that lead to questions about whether they have been abused. Most children who have been sexually abused do not tell anyone, or sometimes they wait years to disclose (even in close knit families with protective parents). The reasons for this are complex and so are the child’s feelings. Common feelings for an abused child include confusion, shame, and self-blame, especially when the child knows the offender (90% of child abuse cases) or abuse has occurred within the family (30% of cases). Even if they are not threatened to secrecy, children often fear the consequences of telling—for themselves and for the perpetrator, whom they may care for.
Many molested children do not go on to molest others. However, abuse that is untreated and kept secret can sometimes lead to abuse of others. At ASF, we assess the nature of such sexualized behaviors and treat the child according to severity and need. We work closely with the non-offending parents of abused children to include them as an important part of a team that is committed to family healing.
Treatment of adult and child survivors can help to avert troubling symptoms, which may be negatively impacting self-worth, intimacy, development, emotion regulation, and the ability to experience joy and pleasure. Treatment may include individual, group, or family therapy while using EMDR, Trauma focused CBT, and non-directive psychodynamic approaches. With children, we also provide play therapy options, including sand tray, art, and drama therapy.
In general, when working with children, we strive to empower them to become stronger, more emotionally intelligent, and better skilled at protecting themselves from further abuse. We help them put the trauma behind them, so they can move on to the business of playing, loving, and learning, unencumbered by memories and emotional confusion. These goals apply to adult survivors as well, and we also help adults to feel safe in the world while rediscovering themselves and re-learning how to trust and love.
Relative to the perpetrators, we compassionately treat a wide range of men and adolescents with sexual behavioral problems, including those with a primary sexual interest in children. We also treat men and boys who are not necessarily driven by sexual interest in children, but for whom an opportunity to molest or sexually assault may coalesce with other treatable issues such as drug abuse or depression. In addition, we treat sexual addictions and/or compulsions such as problems with multiple partners or adult and/or child pornography, voyeurism, and exhibitionism.
A respect-based treatment approach may also include family and community treatment or “intervention,” which can contribute to the best possible outcome. In contrast, fear-based movements targeted at “sex offenders” only isolate and shame them and encourage more danger. We are all safer when, as a community, we do not exclude those who cause sexual harm.
In fact, isolation and shame encourage hiding and secrecy, but hiding and secrecy contribute to sexual offending behavior. By isolating and shaming, we send implicit and explicit messages to boys and men who might desire help, but who do not ask, for fear that life will get far worse, not better. Treatment needs to be sought freely by those at risk or those who have already engaged in sexually problematic behavior, and their treatment needs to be an integral part of their lives and ours.
An intake evaluation with such a man or a boy includes both testing and clinical interview and takes 1-3 sessions. First, we examine his level of risk and ability to self-manage, and then we design an individualized treatment plan. Treatment typically consists of weekly individual and/or group sessions and is informed by the evidence-based principles of Risk-Needs-Responsivity, Good Lives, and Relapse Prevention. Using these models, we address skill building, distorted thinking, emotional regulation, relational deficits, and relapse prevention.
As a certified program, our 35 years of assessment, study, and clinical work has shown that men and boys with sexual behavioral problems can recover and reduce their risk with support, and in fact, many men do more than that. They often re-enter their families as more responsible and compassionate people, who are capable of transparency and love. Moreover, we have found that they seek an insurance plan that promises a better future than past—a plan that keeps them relapse free because they have discovered the harm they caused and the consequences to the quality of their lives and the lives of others.
In keeping with this need, near the end of treatment, we offer the men an optional lifetime support group. CORR (Community of Ongoing Resource and Resolution) is a monthly, free, drop-in group where men continue to work on self-management skills and relational and intimacy deficits, while supporting each other in sustaining careers, relationships, and their freedom. A commitment to CORR helps them hold each other accountable to no new offenses and to more positively engage with their communities.
If You Are At Risk or Know Someone Who Is:
The majority of men and boys who are at risk or who have already committed a sexual offense genuinely want help. If you believe you are at risk for engaging in sexual behavior that is upsetting or concerning to you or others—reach out to us. There is no legal danger in discussing the desire to have sex with a minor; your privacy is of the utmost importance.
If you have, however, molested a child or you believe you know someone who is doing so or is engaging in other sexual behaviors that are concerning, reach out as well. Talk with that person and tell him there is a place to get help—even if he rebuffs you, keep pushing. Reassure him that at ASF we are equipped to help him deal with and possibly minimize the legal consequences should such information have already been or need to be reported.
Confronting the issue, along with your own emotional reaction, is useful. Your natural expression of anger, disgust, disappointment, and sadness—followed by an attempt to hold him accountable to addressing harm and becoming safe—means something to someone who is causing sexual harm or who is at risk. It helps him feel that there is hope for him, that people care enough to hang in there and demand a better outcome. Surprisingly, such men and boys join with that hope.
After some initial defensiveness, most males respond vulnerably and responsibly to confrontation, honesty and support. This has the net effect of helping them deeply commit to treatment, to those in their support groups, to their families, and to their communities. It also helps them remain relapse free.
Non-Offending Parents and Family Reunification
In cases of child sexual abuse within the family, there is typically a non-offending parent or caretaker—the other adult who, in most sexual abuse cases, didn’t know it was happening. This parent needs his or her own sources of support and education. Abused children (and their siblings) have a much better chance of becoming healthy if their non-offending parent or caregiver does their own therapeutic work to understand and to process the abuse. They can discover how to help their family members remain safe.
Reunification between family members where abuse has occurred is sometimes desired. When all family members wish to work toward safe re-engagement for visitation or living together again, we can help. Our standards are strict in that everyone needs to do their own healing and become safe and communicative. This process is empowering and gratifying and many families do successfully reunify.
To learn more about our mission and goals of if you need services such as the ones we offer, please visit our website at astepforwardinc.com or call us at Tel:925-685-9670. We are located in Contra Costa, Alameda and Stanislaus Counties.