A teenager is seduced by a basketball coach, a priest is arrested for alleged sexual abuse of a minor, a girl distributes sexual material of other minors for money, a man recruits boys in a sports school and sexually abuses him in his apartment – these are just some of the recent news headlines about sexual abuse committed against children. Until recently, myths prevailed in the society: sexual crime – therefore rape, perpetrator – therefore a stranger, violence – therefore actions carried out by force. As you can see, the reality shows something completely different. In this article, we will outline the changes in the understanding of child sexual abuse.
In order to recognize the risks of sexual abuse, stop the perpetrator and provide the child with appropriate help, a common understanding of what constitutes sexual abuse is required. Specialists in the social field could look for answers in the Children’s Rights Protection Law (CRPL), because it defines various types of violations of children’s rights – including violence. Until now, the definition of sexual abuse in this law was formulated as follows: “sexual violence – involvement of a child in sexual activities, which the child does not understand or to which he cannot give informed consent”.
“Centrs Dardedze” has been working with the prevention of violence against children for more than 20 years and especially specializes in the prevention of sexual exploitation of children. Our experience in working with children, parents and specialists showed that such an explanation did not help specialists of various fields to recognize cases when a child needs special protection and help. Rather, it raised more and more questions. If a child appears to understand or agrees to sexual acts, are they permissible? How to distinguish a child’s conscious consent from unconscious? If the child went to the apartment, got into the car or went to the bedroom himself, does it not harm the child and everything is fine? No, it’s not. The previous explanation neither helps to understand the nature of the violations, nor does it help providing support to the affected children.
At the same time, sexual violence is also defined in the Criminal Law, which in Chapter XVI enumerates crimes against morality and sexual integrity involving a child and lists penalties. The term “sexual violence” is mentioned in Article 160, speaking specifically about “an act of a sexual nature in order to satisfy one’s sexual desire in physical contact with the victim’s body, if it is committed by taking advantage of the victim’s helpless state or against the victim’s will, using violence, threats or using trust, authority or other effects on the victim”. As you can see, there were contradictions in the laws – while the CRPA called any sexual crime “sexual violence”, the Criminal Law designates only those crimes where someone has physically touched the child. Such a discrepancy may have created a false impression that the crime is only related to physical contact, although the consequences of abuse committed without touching a child can also be very severe and long-lasting.
Understanding that the current explanation of the CRPL is, to put it mildly, unhelpful, several years ago we approached the responsible institutions with the initiative to improve the definition – to develop an “umbrella term” that would cover the entire spectrum of sexual crimes against children included in the Criminal Law (Articles 159-166), but also those cases when crimes cannot be proven or punished due to the age of the perpetrator, but the victim still needs protection and assistance. In our opinion, the definition should educate, cover all forms of sexual exploitation and also avoid legal contradictions – after all, every contradiction can be used to question cases.
After extensive discussions with the institutions involved, we formulated at a new definition, which now replaces “sexual violence” in Article 1 of the CRPL: “child sexual abuse – any act of a sexual nature with a child for the purpose of providing or obtaining sexual stimulation or sexual satisfaction or other benefit, carried out by an adult or another child who, due to his age or development, is in a position of responsibility, trust or power in relation to the victim with or without physical contact with the child’s body, including exposing the child to the sexuality of others or using information or communication technologies”.
What does this new definition help to understand? It is important for parents and professionals who work with children to realize that the abuser can be not only an adult, but also another child. A sexual crime can be committed both with and without physical contact with the child – including online. Sexual abuse also includes exposing a child to the sexuality of others – such as performing sexual acts in front of the child or showing pornographic materials to the child, and the purpose of sexual abuse can be not only sexual stimulation or satisfaction, but also obtaining other types of benefits.
We hope that the new explanation will help every parent, doctor, pedagogue, psychologist, social worker, orphan court specialist, police officer, judge and other specialists to better recognize the various forms of child sexual abuse. If you notice suspicious situations in children’s lives, please report it!