Access issues regarding abusers and victims
For Family & Friends, Female Survivors, Workers
This article is written for women and assumes a male offender, however SECASA acknowledges that both men and women can be survivors of sexual abuse and that offenders can be male and female.
In some instances, situations arise where an alleged perpetrator gains access to their child or adolescent victim. Another situation may involve being around an adult survivor of his childhood victimisation.
An abuser may gain considerable satisfaction from this situation. It reinforces his sense of power regarding his ability to outwit, deceive or simply manipulate a system that is unable or unwilling to act to protect victims. Contact with the victim may allow him to re-experience the abuse in retrospect. Victims may be visibly affected by this type of contact, and the sense of powerlessness experienced by the victim may re-establish the abuser's dominance and power over them.
For victim/survivors the experience of seeing the abuser in a situation in which they are unable to complain, remove themselves or enlist support is similar to a replay of the abuse situation.
For contact between a child or adult survivor of childhood abuse to have the minimum potential for damage, the victim/survivor must be in a position of control and strength. Minimum conditions advocated by most experts (Bentovim et al, Finkelhor, Morrison, Giaretto, among others) are as follows:
- There should be no contact unless the child wishes it.
- The abuser should have accepted full responsibility for the abuse, in the child's hearing.
- There must be no requirement for the child to "forgive" the abuser, stated or unstated, or requested by the abuser.
In concrete terms:
- Access should occur in a place where the child feels absolutely safe, and not in the child's own space;
- The child should not be required to please the abuser by playing with him, showing him affection, or in any other way (including seeking further contact). The abuser must not be allowed to request or encourage this;
- The child should be asked what activities s/he would choose during the access, and this should be what determines access activities;
- The child should be allowed to enter the access area first, should choose where the abuser is situated, where the supervisor sits and where the child sits;
- The child should choose if the door is open or closed;
- The child should determine the length of the access visit;
- There should be no physical contact between the child and the abuser;
- The abuser should not stand or sit over the child;
- No direct or indirect pressure should be put on the child by the abuser or supervisor to repeat access e.g. by referring to "next time". Access MUST BE the child's choice.
Remember that most abuse takes place with a transfer of guilt and responsibility onto the child. Abusers are adept at manipulating the child's feelings and may also have hurt or threatened the child enough to silence him/her.
Remember also that abused children have often learned to placate or please the abuser by acting playfully with him. Therefore, unless abused children have been free of contact with the abuser for a period of time, they may not show fearfulness or hostility towards him - it has never been safe for them to do so. Until they are certain that they will not be alone with the abuser again it would be foolish of them to be too overt about their feelings.
Remember that abused children may love their abusers, though not the abuse, and may be very happy to be in their company and safe.
HOWEVER, YOU CANNOT BE SURE THAT A CHILD IS OR FEELS SAFE WITH AN ABUSER BECAUSE THEY APPEAR HAPPY OR CONFIDENT IN SUPERVISED ACCESS.
It must be acknowledged, however, that the conditions detailed in this section currently represent an ideal rather than reality. With our present legal and court system the above conditions are not always met.