Sexual abuse is a significant social problem, both in terms of its incidence and prevalence as well as in terms of its effects on victims. The consequences are numerous: depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, behavioural problems, substance abuse problems, re-victimization, etc. Despite the advances in the field, the scope of sexual abuse remains difficult to measure. Sexual abuse is rarely reported, so it remains invisible to the police and judicial systems. Surveys carried out with different population groups show that approximately 90% of sexual assaults are not reported to police authorities (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1999: 1). However, we know that women and children are the main victims of sexual violence. As for the aggressors, they are almost all men (98%). Recent studies around sexual abuse outline this social problem. For example, recent research shows that about one in five women and one in 10 men have been sexually abused before reaching major age (Tourigny and Baril, 2011). Recognizing that sexual abuse is a criminal act of power and domination, Québec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services defines it as follows:
« Sexual assault is an act that is sexual in nature, with or without physical contact, committed by an individual without the consent of the victim, or in some cases, through emotional manipulation or blackmail, especially when children are involved. It is an act that subjects another person to the perpetrator’s desires through an abuse of power and/or the use of force or coercion, accompanied by implicit or explicit threats. Sexual assault is an attack on a person’s basic rights, particularly their rights to physical and psychological integrity and to personal security »
Intimate Relationship Problems
Intimate relationship problems are the most frequent reason for consultations in psychotherapy. Close to 50% of marriages and 70% of blended families end in separation or divorce. These numbers do not include common-law unions. The increasing fragility of intimate commitment, despite persisting social models of long-term relationships, leads to continual clinical challenges. More and more, couples and clinicians are confronted with complex problems: ambivalence, abuse of psychoactive substances, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, different forms of violence, etc.
The impact of intimate relationship problems on children varies with regards to the problem, but they remain clear: anxiety, distress, insomnia, behavioural problems, relational difficulties, etc. These problems can hinder children’s development, and in some cases, be detrimental to their physical and psychological integrity.
Studying these problems and reducing their negative effects on children must be a priority for all stakeholders. In order to develop suitable intervention models, adapted to the realities of modern families, it is essential to better understand the diversity of intimate relationship problems and the impact they have on family members.
Connections Between Sexual Abuse and Intimate Relationship Problems
Up until now, research and development of intervention models around one or the other of CRIPCAS’ themes have taken place in relative isolation, where the exchange of knowledge is limited. Recent data points to the many connections between these two themes.
Indeed, among the repercussions of sexual abuse, one can identify serious consequences in terms of interpersonal relationships. Among others: the development of sexual and intimacy issues in couples, the use of coercive behaviour which hinders appropriate parental responsibilities, and the presence of physical and psychological violence in teenage romantic relationships. Being a victim of sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence significantly increases the risk of disturbed intimate relationships. Specifically, the fact of having been sexually abused in childhood significantly increases the risk of reliving a sexual assault within an intimate relationship (Daigneault, Hébert and McDuff, 2009). As well, parental communication problems, sexual difficulties, verbal or physical violence and attachment problems are risk factors for the sexual abuse of their children.