Child Sexual Abuse In Latinx Families

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In 2008 Latinx children represented 20.7% of physical abuse, 20.2% of sexual abuse,22.7% of neglected, and 33.8% of psychological maltreatment victims (U.S Health Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). S is defined as forced or persuades sexual activity with a minor. This includes noncontact abuse, sexual molestation, and rape(American Psychological, 2012). It is estimated that approximately 135,000 children are sexually abused each year (Sedlack et al, 2010). As referenced, the most frequently associated disorder with child sexual abuse is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (McLean et al, 2014).

It is expected that by 2035 one-third of all youth in the United States will be Latinx(National Council of La Raza, 2010). Research has demonstrated that those who survived child sexual abuse are more vulnerable to becoming depressed and suicidal during adolescence relative to adulthood (Brown, Cohen, Johnson, & Smailes, 1999). The well-being of the survivor is critical after this traumatic experience and it is something that requires more awareness. The distress of child sexual abuse is a systemic trauma that affects the family and can come in various ways. With an increase in Latinx children, it is critical to bring more awareness to the distress of Latinx families and children face when encountering a child sexual abuse experience and how professionals can better assist Latinx families.

Ecological System Theory

The theory used to analyze child sexual abuse and family distress among Latino families in the US is the ecological system theory. The ecological system theory argues that to understand a person or family one must look at the different interacting systems around the person(Brofenbrenner, 1977). The ecological system theory is composed of different systems that all interconnect and have an effect on the person. The five systems are microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem. The microsystem looks at close relationships such as parents, friends, and peers. Followed by the microsystem which is how the interactions between those relationships affect the person. The exosystem includes the forces that indirectly affect the person. The macrosystem consists of looking at culture. The outer system looks at the chronology of time. Understanding the ecological system theory can lead to a better understanding of the systemic trauma that Latinx families face when experiencing child sexual abuse distress.

Sexuality & Latinx Families

When analyzing Latinx families it is important to first look at the macrosystem. Holzman(1995) describes that shame is not the focus on the harm of others but the defect in the person.

Shame is feeling exposed and the need to hide. Irrational shame is being exposed as a fundamentally and irremediably defective human being. Shame is both internal and external. It is felt and dealt with within the person and can be seen as a rejection from society if someone experiences shame. For Latinx families, shame is not just a way of controlling but also a feeling of embarrassment, excessive conformity, numbness, envy, tendency to cover up instead of acknowledging the error or wrongdoing, and lying (Falicov, 1998).

In most of Latin America, one of the worst names you can call a person is sin verguenza, meaning “without shame”.For Latinx families living in the US, shame can often dress in the feeling of being ashamed of their immigration status, linguistic skills, and/or living conditions (Fontes, 2007). For Latinx families, it is possible that sitting in a waiting room of an agency for the purpose of child abuse investigation can be seen as embarrassing and shameful for many families. Questitalking about body parts can be shameful for many victims because sex is a taboo topic. Because the feeling of shame is valued and sex is taboo it is challenging for children to process and disclose sexual abuse. Fontes (2007), claims that for many Latinx victims learning and believing that it was not their fault plays an important part in recovering. Properly assigning responsibility and blame to the offender, the victim can release some of their shame.

Machismo is a common term among Latinx families that has two sides to it. Positive characteristics of machismo include protection for the family, hard work, responsibility, honor and dignity, and lack of emotion (Arciniega, Anderson, Tovar-Blank & Tracey, 2008). In contrast, traditional machismo has difficulty being aware of their own emotions and the emotions of others. This emotional process can be associated with some impulsive and antisocial behaviors(Arciniega et al., 2008). Pride, machismo, and responsibility are all important values and beliefs to the Latino culture. The idea of machismo believes that a man is responsible for his wife and kids. He is in charge of protecting his family. If a man whose child has been victimized of child abuse that can put the man to be seen as a failure equating to not being man enough (Fontes,2007). Men can often respond to these incidents to suicide or physical attacking of the sexual offender in order to recover their feelings of dignity and self-worth. Children can be afraid of how the parents, specifically the father, will respond. This can lead the child to shut down or pretend as if everything is okay in order to help their father (Fontes, 2007).

Parents reported that as a youth, sexuality-related discussions tended to occur when they were early adolescents (ages 11-12) (Kenny & Wurtle, 2013). Most of the communication was found to be between the child and the mother. Mothers seemed to be more effective as sexual educators than their fathers. Latino families will leave the sexual discussion up to the mother as the mother is culturally responsible for the child. This can bring inaccurate information as the cultural norm encourages women to remain silent about sexual matters. Parents often times will believe that their children are too young to discuss child abuse or may not have the correct knowledge to do so (Kenny & Wurtle, 2013)

Impact of Child Sexual Abuse

Impact on the child: After the effects of child sexual abuse on victims affect the Chrono system as it includes short-term and long-term effects. These effects vary from individuals from no visible effects to debilitating psychological and behavioral effects (Putman, 2003). The effects of child sexual abuse differ from static to dynamic stress levels, ultimately affecting the family system(Barker-Collo & Read 2003). Those who experienced child sexual abuse within a family member are at a higher risk of experiencing higher levels of secrecy, coercion, and distortions of relationships, which are inherent in intrafamilial abuse (O’Leary et al., 2010).

Family context creates an impact on the aftereffect of child sexual abuse. When families hold higher resilience families tend to have higher levels of family cohesion, adaptability, and low levels of conflict (Patterson, 2002). When looking at disclosure about the abuse the disclosure is typically delayed and only 33% of victims disclose at all during childhood (London, Bruck, Ceci, & Schuman, 2005). Following the disclosure, the children are in most need of support from their caregiver, which may be difficult because of the personal impact of the disclosure. The response to the disclosure plays an important role in the outcome of the child who has experienced the abuse (O’Leary et al., 2010). These responses can include belief or disbelief, affective response, an behavioral response. Examples include removing the perpetrator from the home in order to stop the perpetrator from having access to the child.

When no action is taken against the perpetrator the child is more likely to experience negative outcomes ( O’Leary et al., 2010). More positive outcomes are related when caregivers have supportive responses such as beliefs, acknowledgment, and action taken against the perpetrator. For some caregivers who hold a relationship with the perpetrator, it can be challenging for caregivers to hold the belief. Initial reactions may include shock, shame, and/or self-blame (Bolen & Lamb, 2004). For Latinx families, this can be challenging keeping in mind their strong value of shame

Impact of Parents: In analyzing the impact of child sexual abuse on the parent there are eight major categories that emerge: family context, abuse characteristics, emotional impact, cognition, support systems, impact on daily life, coping, and family dynamics (Kilroy, Egan, Maliszewska& Sarma, 2014). When experiencing the disclosure of child sexual abuse there was already familiar context factors that were contributing to the distress of the family. These stressors included marital difficulties such as violence, emotional abuse, unfaithfulness, substance abuse, marital breakdown, impending divorce, and stalking/intimidation (Kilroy et al., 2014). Other stressors included the child taken into state care for a period of time and/or relying financially on the perpetrator. The microsystem plays an important role as it helps define hoe families will react to the experience.

Characteristics of abuse such as context, details, and impact on the child have been central factors in contributing to the parentals distress (Kilroy et al., 2014). One of the biggest distress that parents felt in the abuse context was the proximity of the perpetrator (Kilroy et al., 2014).

The proximity of the perpetrator to the family often lead parents to issues of initial disbelief, practical difficulty in leaving the perpetrator, ongoing contact with the perpetrator’s family, and frustration. Disclosure on child sexual abuse has a strong impact on the microsystem as parent and child come into conflict with the perpetrator. In learning about the details in the child’s abuse parents can often feel powerless and distress at witnessing their children worsen (Kilroy et al.,2014). These problems often came accompanied by excessive crying, self-harming, suicide attempts, anxiety, social withdrawal, school dropout, deterioration in hygiene and self-care, substance abuse, refusal to eat, significant weight change, escalating temper, nightmares, sexual acts on another child, separation from a parent, and difficulty sleeping. Parents also experienced powerlessness in feeling unable to leave the perpetrator desire the abuse and emotional manipulation (Kilroy et al., 2014). For other parents, they felt powerlessness in connection to the legal process which was not producing any results.

Along with emotional impact came grieving (Kilroy et al., 2014). Parents also experience a sense of shock as their initial reaction to the disclosure (Kilroy et al., 2014). Some parents also develop a feeling of sympathy for their child and the experience they have lived through (Kilroyet al., 2014). Parents sympathized with the consequences and having their childhood taken away, insinuating the consequences will be something that follows them forever. Other emotional impacts on parents were anxiety, shame/guilt, and anger (Kilroy et al., 2014). Once again challenging the shame on Latinx families. For some parents, they experienced deep inner shame.

On the other hand most experienced guilt about certain actions, they took in relation to the abuse.

Parents find themselves feeling guilty by having brought the perpetrator into the child’s life.

One critical emotion that parents often feel is anger. Parents experience anger about a variety of issues and people (Kilroy et al., 2014). Parents experience anger towards family and friends for ignoring the abuse or not providing them or their child with enough support. Parents also develop anger towards services and school for not protecting their child, detecting the problem, or providing appropriate support (Kilroy et al., 2014).

The literature does not discuss how parents can help process this anger. Self-anger is also developed under issues such as doubting their child, not protesting enough about access arrangements, for not picking up on the signs, not creating an open atmosphere for their children to communicate the abuse, and for them monitoring their children closely after the disclosure in case of the child sexually acting out(Kilroy et al., 2014). Along with this came sadness/depression on the thought that their child had their innocence taken away and that the child had lost their confidence and felt like they were not loved or that parents could not understand what their child was trying to communicate to them(Kilroy et al., 2014).

Cognition impacts greatly affected parents in various ways. Of those was self-blame or question their past behavior in reference to the abuse (Kilroy et al., 2014). Parents also find themselves trying to rationalize how the abuse occurred such as why their child trusted the perpetrator and how the opportunity arose (Kilroy et al., 2014). For many parents, there is an out of thinking that comes with the process. They may spend too much thinking about the impact of the abuse on their child and themselves in the past, present, and into the future (Kilroy et al., 2014).

For fathers, this can be particularly difficult to process as they may describe it as a “male reaction” feeling that he should have protected his child as a father and had a desire to “fix things”(Kilroy et al., 2014). For Latinx families, specifically males, these emotions can be difficult to process as they may feel like their manhood is put to question. Fathers can encounter a battle with their machismo value and the feeling of not protecting enough.

Support System

The support system in the terms of child sexual abuse consists of family, friends, school, work, and governmental departments including social work, the police, courts, and the child sexual abuse unit (Kilroy et al., 2014). These systems are not always as supportive as families would want them to be. Parents experiencing child sexual abuse stressors can oftentimes encounter family members blaming, dismissing, or avoiding the issue. Other times friends have distanced themselves. Parents are not only struggling with the abuse with their children but also the loss of the relationships in their microsystem. Parents also find that government services have been perceived as unsupportive as they lack responsibility, resources, behaving non sympathetically, and unprofessional (Kilroy et al., 2014). Exploring this area on why it is that support systems react this way is critical to the families experiencing this distress. More specifically this is a huge flaw in the human service field as they are intended to support and strengthen families instead of pushing them away.

The overall distress of child sexual abuse on families creates an impact on daily life.

Families find themselves being affected by the emotional impact, child symptomatology, attendance at appointments, and child care difficulties (Kilroy et al., 2014). Other impacts families experienced was the relocation to different parts of the country, which include changes in schooling and moving away from the perpetrator who provided financial stability. External factors in the exosystem such as financial needs can indirectly affect the family. Parents can encounter being more cautious in general when meeting new people and can push away their partner away emotionally (Kilroy et al., 2014). For parents finding time for themselves as challenging as they find it difficult to find time for themselves due to their child’s dependency, fearfulness, or parents’ desire to not leave them alone (Kilroy et al., 2014). This is a huge impact on the different systems of the family. From micro relationships to not being able to fully participate work either physically or mentally.

Understanding Child Sexual AbuseChild sexual abuse brings different stressors to the family as reviewed in the literature.

Understanding child sexual abuse is understanding that it is not just abuse but also a sexual seduction as referred by Oprah Winfrey (Blake, 2019). Child sexual abuse is a grooming process described by Winfrey (Blake, 2019). It is an abuse that takes time and dedication into grooming the child making it more challenging to identify child sexual abuse. Winfrey argues that this is a social corruption as it is happening in families, churches, schools, and sports teams everywhere (Blake, 2019). In her claim, Winfrey argues that child sexual abuse is bigger than what it seems and it needs more awareness of it.

In her interview, Oprah Winfrey went on to discuss the lack of accuracy in defining abuse(Yahr, 2019). Winfrey discusses that in the disclosure of child sexual abuse it is challenging for children to disclose to their parents as they do not have the language to explain what happened(Yahr, 2019). Children have been seduced and entrapped that a child’s understanding of abuse is not clear to them. A critical argument that Winfrey brought to the table is that the emphasis should not be on the penetration but on the aftermath (Yahr, 2019). Winfrey claimed that the picture is much bigger and that it is about the pattern of distress that is happening in our culture and that we refuse to see (Yahr, 2019)

Discussion of Systemic Trauma and Prevention

In understanding child sexual abuse it is understanding that the child who experienced abuse can be conceptualized as a systemic trauma (Kilroy et al., 2014). This concept helps to explain the impact of mental health on parents and how that impact and well-being affects how they support their children. As explained in the above literature review the impact of child sexual abuse affects all of the systems. Child sexual abuse is an experience that affects relationships and affects the lifestyle and the chronology that follows. A critical role in research is the lack of cultural inclusivity.

Studies suggest that Latino children are more likely to experience childhood sexual abuse than those who are not Latinx (Dettlaff, Earner, & Phillips, 2009). In testing a personal safety program with Latinx preschoolers, it was revealed that there was no negative report in side effects nor did any parent express dissatisfaction with the program (Kenny, Wurtele, & Alonso,2012). One of the strengths of this program was the availability of the program is bilingual.

This is a huge advancement in the field of prevention because most of the prevention programs are not culturally competent. As a result, preschool children were able to enhance their reporting skills. Children were able to identify body parts with proper names instead of vulgar terms.


In reviewing child sexual abuse it becomes evident that it is a systemic trauma. It is an event that affect the family bringing different stressors. Repeated patterns such as an effect on relationships, shame/guilt, and lack of cultural inclusivity need more awareness in the experience of child sexual abuse. A major flaw in the literature was the lack of ethical and cultural diversity.

Implementing prevention programs that are not just open to different cultures but that understand and empathize with diverse cultures is critical in the field. Considerations on families of low income who struggle with accessing resources are important. Other considerations include families with no legal documentation and how they can access resources while not having documentation or financial aid to assist. It is clear that the research on child sexual abuse has a long way to go.

This literature review can bring different ideas to the pool of child sexual abuse research and how as professionals we can create better chances.

Cite this paper

Child Sexual Abuse In Latinx Families. (2020, Sep 17). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/child-sexual-abuse-in-latinx-families/

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