Close Encounters: A Feminist Legal Theory Analysis of the State Treatment of Female Child Sexual Abuse Victims
9 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2017 Last revised: 8 Aug 2017
Date Written: June 5, 2017
This article explores the way in which the law currently deals with sexual violence against female children in the home – evaluating the ways in which the state has access to the private realm of the family and the ways in which civil and criminal legal systems deal with this type of trauma to girls across a spectrum of time. Research shows that the child protection system only captures a small percentage of sexual abuse right after it happens. However, research also shows that female child sex abuse survivors appear in statistically significant numbers among other groups – drug and alcohol abusers, status offenders, domestic violence victims, the sexually trafficked, and juvenile delinquents. The state often has close encounters with these young girls in various settings over the course of their lifetimes – public schools, juvenile delinquency centers, hospitals, jails, mental health institutions, courtrooms, and social service offices. Yet, very few of these systems initially screen for child sexual abuse among females with symptoms indicative of past significant trauma. In the Child Protective Services system, there is a high percentage of mothers who were sexually abused as children and whose children are placed in state foster care. The common denominator in these encounters with both the girl child and the adult woman is this: the perpetrator of the crime against her has suffered little or no consequence for his actions. She, on the other hand, has suffered many subsequent compound issues that negatively affect her life in profound ways.
In an effort to address the cycle of child abuse among families, this article asks a broad question: why hasn’t there been a coordinated approach in dealing with the treatment of girls who have been sexually assaulted in the home? Using feminist legal theory, this article argues that the state’s multiple encounters with the same female child victim over time are paternalistic and reinforce a sense of helplessness that often perpetuates this cycle of abuse within families. It analyzes the state response regarding information about past crime(s) perpetrated against girls and young women and how this response impacts their ability to heal, become empowered, parent and regain custody of their children. It concludes by offering a new coordinated state framework that can connect the dots between state systems and offer a universal process to address the issue of sexual violence against female children in the home.
Keywords: child sexual abuse, intergenerational abuse, feminist legal theory
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