Psychiatric Annals

Child Abuse 

Personal Reflections: Child Abuse as a Psychosocial Issue

Howard P Rome, MD

Abstract

Child abuse as a psychosocial issue has emerged in recent times again Io confront society with its vexing problems. Among its earlier problematics, the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1628 enacted legislation on what it called "The Stubborn Child." Simply put, it gave parents the right to use Draconian measures, including the penalty of death, fur a "stubborn child" who had attained the age of "reason." Throughout succeeding centuries, children were treated as chattel. In the 18UOs their plight was writ large by Charles Dickens. Children were thus exploited until this practice was restrained by child labor laws. Because sex and sexuality were, for the most part, closeted until the last half of the 19UUs, sexual prédations against children were blanketed under the generic title of child abuse.

Dr. Carl Malmquist, the Guest Editor of this issue on Child Abuse, has chosen the following contributors.

"The Family and Its Role in the Abuse of Children" is by Richard |. "Gelles. PhD. Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Rhode Island.

"The Sexual Abuse of Children: Current Research Reviewed" was documented by David F:inkclhor, PhD. from the Family Violence Research Program at the University of New Hampshire.

" Psychodynamics of Exaggerated Accusations: Positive Feedback in Pani il y Systems" was summarized by Daniel C. Schuman, MD. Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Tu fis Medical School und Director of Psychiatry al the Norfolk Probate and Family Court at Dedham, Massacluisetls.

"Child Abuse Aspects of Child Pornography" was prepared by Ann W. Burgess. RN, DNSc. who is the van Ameringen Pro lessor of Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and Carol R. Hartman, RN. DNSc, who is Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Graduate Program in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing at Boston College.

"Psychological Damage Associated with Extreme Eroticism in Young Children" was prepared by Alayne Yates. MD. Chief of Child Psychiatry and Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in TLICSOU, Arizona.

"Evaluating Suspected Cases of Child Sexual Abuse" was contributed by Domeena C. Renshaw, MD. Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Sexual Dysfunction Clinic at Loyola University of Chicago.

Dr. Carl Malmquist's expertise in the burgeoning area of forensic psychiatry is authenticated by his position as Professor of Law, Professor of Social Psychiatry in the Department of Sociology, and Professor oí the Institute of Child Development, all al the University ol Minnesota.

When Sigmund Freud unwittingly violated the taboo and wrote his illuminating essays dealing with the sexuality of children, his paper, immediately after his presentation, was not only deemed preposterous, but also thereafter was relegated to the dark recesses of that closet that bears the seal: VERBOTEN!

Western civilization for centuries has looked with a blindeye toward sex and sexuality, modeling its moralclhicul codes of sexual behavior by adhering lo Saint Paul's injunction. The zealotry of the followers of bis dicta decried as sinful all aspects of sexuality outside of marriage.

Carefully hidden, buried in the innermost of the complex skeins of this historiography, are the vagaries of human sexuality. The fig leaf, which tantalizes while concealing, is the quintessence of society's ambivalence. The ostensible censorship is nevertheless a covert invitation. In this contexl, it leaves little doubt that anatomy has shaped our destiny in more ways (han one. The function of sexuality has been our hete noir. Ils eroticism has sexualized language wilh double entendre, [is symbolism has lilerally and figuratively penetrated not only our speech, but also our very mores. These are t he genetic antecedent that have become the…

Child abuse as a psychosocial issue has emerged in recent times again Io confront society with its vexing problems. Among its earlier problematics, the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1628 enacted legislation on what it called "The Stubborn Child." Simply put, it gave parents the right to use Draconian measures, including the penalty of death, fur a "stubborn child" who had attained the age of "reason." Throughout succeeding centuries, children were treated as chattel. In the 18UOs their plight was writ large by Charles Dickens. Children were thus exploited until this practice was restrained by child labor laws. Because sex and sexuality were, for the most part, closeted until the last half of the 19UUs, sexual prédations against children were blanketed under the generic title of child abuse.

Dr. Carl Malmquist, the Guest Editor of this issue on Child Abuse, has chosen the following contributors.

"The Family and Its Role in the Abuse of Children" is by Richard |. "Gelles. PhD. Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Rhode Island.

"The Sexual Abuse of Children: Current Research Reviewed" was documented by David F:inkclhor, PhD. from the Family Violence Research Program at the University of New Hampshire.

" Psychodynamics of Exaggerated Accusations: Positive Feedback in Pani il y Systems" was summarized by Daniel C. Schuman, MD. Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Tu fis Medical School und Director of Psychiatry al the Norfolk Probate and Family Court at Dedham, Massacluisetls.

"Child Abuse Aspects of Child Pornography" was prepared by Ann W. Burgess. RN, DNSc. who is the van Ameringen Pro lessor of Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and Carol R. Hartman, RN. DNSc, who is Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Graduate Program in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing at Boston College.

"Psychological Damage Associated with Extreme Eroticism in Young Children" was prepared by Alayne Yates. MD. Chief of Child Psychiatry and Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in TLICSOU, Arizona.

"Evaluating Suspected Cases of Child Sexual Abuse" was contributed by Domeena C. Renshaw, MD. Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Sexual Dysfunction Clinic at Loyola University of Chicago.

Dr. Carl Malmquist's expertise in the burgeoning area of forensic psychiatry is authenticated by his position as Professor of Law, Professor of Social Psychiatry in the Department of Sociology, and Professor oí the Institute of Child Development, all al the University ol Minnesota.

When Sigmund Freud unwittingly violated the taboo and wrote his illuminating essays dealing with the sexuality of children, his paper, immediately after his presentation, was not only deemed preposterous, but also thereafter was relegated to the dark recesses of that closet that bears the seal: VERBOTEN!

Western civilization for centuries has looked with a blindeye toward sex and sexuality, modeling its moralclhicul codes of sexual behavior by adhering lo Saint Paul's injunction. The zealotry of the followers of bis dicta decried as sinful all aspects of sexuality outside of marriage.

Carefully hidden, buried in the innermost of the complex skeins of this historiography, are the vagaries of human sexuality. The fig leaf, which tantalizes while concealing, is the quintessence of society's ambivalence. The ostensible censorship is nevertheless a covert invitation. In this contexl, it leaves little doubt that anatomy has shaped our destiny in more ways (han one. The function of sexuality has been our hete noir. Ils eroticism has sexualized language wilh double entendre, [is symbolism has lilerally and figuratively penetrated not only our speech, but also our very mores. These are t he genetic antecedent that have become the paraphilias. It seems that each era of Western culture creates its own boundaries defining the limits of its permissible ethico-moral constraints. To trespass on these social codes, in any of their particularities, subjects the violator to prevailing legal sanctions.

Before Freud naively pried open the heretofore barred doors of sex and sexuality, the experiential life of children was deemed wholly innocent of this knowledge. Typical of the limes, he was astonished by the "cold reception" given to his paper by the Vienna Neurological Society. Ernest Jones, in writing of the consequence of this surprise, quotes Freud as saying: "I did not at tirsi perceive the peculiar nature of what 1 had discovered. Without thinking. I sacrificed a l its inception my popularity as a physician, and the growth of a large consulting practice among nervous palienl.s. by enquiries relating io lhe sexual factors involved in the causation of their neuroses . . ." Another instance oí all-loo-human displacements: the messenger suffered the burden of the message.

It musi be said that, as with all change in social customs, (here is a convergence of many disparate elements which redefines acceptable behavior.

The great shifts brought about by post-World War 11 societal upheavals freed sexual expression from ils most puritanical constraints. The sexual abuse of children was exposed lo revea! its most sordid aspects. The child-asvictim nowadays is responsible for the drastic, angry rejoinder by which society expresses its intentions to punish the offender and thereby hopefully eradicate the offense. This is a "lock 'em up and throw a way t he key" if not a "draw and quarter them" solution.

In their portrayal of the extent and chronicity of this particular kind of abuse, our contributors note realistically lhe difficulty as well as the unrealtsm in accomplishing these intended objectives. Their frank approach to this social morbidity is refreshing in its candid portrayal of the many factors which play an actual as well as a potential role as all the ilriimuiists personne who are affected by this latest ill of the human condition to escape from Pandora's box.

10.3928/0048-5713-19870401-04

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