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Another Voice: Courts provide validation for victims of sex abuse

By William Canavan
and Stefan Perkowski

Sexual victimization of children and adolescents, while often hidden, causes serious psychological trauma to victims, whether there is physical trauma or not.

The psychological trauma will vary from victim to victim. Without adequate treatment and support the child or adolescent may not recover and may have lifelong consequences.

From a clinical perspective, the victim may have psychological diagnoses such as PTSD, chronic anxiety disorders, attachment disorders and chronic depression. It is significant that in response to the trauma, victims may repeatedly resort to misguided risky behaviors seeking some transient relief from the trauma. Examples are cigarette smoking, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, indiscriminate sexual activity and excessive eating.

It follows that it is important to maximize the chances for recovery from the psychological trauma caused by sexual victimization. Counseling is very beneficial. Support from family members will help many victims. In our experience, validation of what the victim said happened to her/him can be very therapeutic in advancing the victim’s recovery.

Criminal court as well as lawsuits in civil court can not only hold the abuser accountable but also provide an opportunity for the victims to find validation of their disclosure of the abuse. We encourage victims to pursue validation in the courts. This includes belated validation in court during the one-year look-back window under New York’s Child Victims Act.

Physical examination by a specially trained health care provider can identify the occasional finding caused by the abuse. More often, if the exam is normal, that can be very reassuring to the victim to hear that they are normal, that they are whole. Law enforcement, district attorneys and Child Protective Services can provide case investigation and access to the courts.

Child Advocacy Centers are especially good resources specifically designed to coordinate and expedite the work of the above-cited disciplines on behalf of the victim and help the victim become a survivor instead of remaining a victim of the sexual abuse. Erie, Niagara, Genesee and Chautauqua counties each have a Child Advocacy Center. Cattaraugus and Allegany counties share one in Olean. Genesee County’s center also serves Orleans, Wyoming and Livingston counties.

All of us as a community should understand criminal charges and civil lawsuits as opportunities to not only hold the perpetrators and accomplices accountable but also as an opportunity for the victims to find themselves validated in their complaints of abuse.

Dr. William Canavan is a pediatrician, Stefan Perkowski a therapist. Both have worked at the Child Advocacy Center of Buffalo.

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