Child sexual abuse may include intercourse, prostitution, masturbation, fondling, anal or oral sex, and any other sexual conduct that proves harmful to emotional, mental or physical health of a child (Busby at al., 1993). Incest is normally considered a sub-group of childhood sexual abuse. Cyr et al. (2002), defines incest as direct abuse of power within families characterized by family members taking advantage of children or their own sexual and emotional gratification. Many cases of child sexual abuse go unreported which makes estimation of prevalence and incidence difficult. According to Busby at al. (1993), approximately 10 percent of children in the United States are sexually abused. In addition, more females than males fall victims of sexual abuse, meaning that the number of female adult sexual abuse survivors is always higher than that of men.
A large percentage of sexual abuse victims find it difficult to forget this experience and carry it through into adulthood, most often in agonizing privacy. The victim begins to feel lonely due to a conspiracy of silence by the family members. Family members avoid the victim and do not provide any support, making the victim to feel guilty and ashamed. The victim is therefore compelled to maintain the painful silence due to fear of breaking up the family. The nature of response received from the society resembles the one received from the family mainly because of the societal myths that surround the subject of incest (Cyr et al., 2002).
Many people believe that the victim is to blame for occurrence of incest. In addition, incest does not occur in respectable families and is only associated with individuals from lower socio-economic groups. Again, incest only occurs in families headed by irresponsible fathers or parents. Ideally, incest occurs across all classes of people and ethnic communities, and the perpetrators do not have any distinguishing characteristics (Busby et al., 1993). Long-term consequences of incest, and that are experienced by female adult incest survivors include, negative self-image, bitterness, depression, lack of trust for men, feelings of isolation, and sexual dysfunction. Victims of incest need to be assisted with these problems to make them lead normal lives like everyone else in the society. Successful treatment for female adult incest survivors should seek to help and encourage the survivors to express and survey reactions to present feelings concerning the incest incident. Group treatment has been very effective in helping female adult incest survivors to break out of the common agonizing privacy and to overcome the feeling of shame and guilt (Cyr et al., 2002).
According to Brown et al. (2013), sexual abuse victims are required to begin their treatment sessions by working with an individual therapist who initiates the group treatment experience. When compared to one-on-one therapy, group treatment has been found to have greater benefits to female adult incest survivors. For example, group treatment helps the incest survivor to drive away the feelings of disconnection and isolation. Even though the victim may reveal all the secrets surrounding the incidence in the group, the victim is always assured of confidentiality that is properly understood and observed by every group member (Brown et al., 2013).
The group context is highly effective in assisting the incest victim break the secrecy and overcome the shame and stigma. When the victim shares and reveals the experience in a group context, she gains the powers that facilitate entrance into successful adulthood life. Through group interactions, members are able to change their views about the offenders as they try to forget the negative experiences of the past trauma. Female adult incest survivors begin to develop positive attitudes about men and may even enter into adult relationships (Brown et al., 2013).
Even though the adult female survivor may look weak and discouraged, there might be some hidden strengths in her that may be difficult to test and that may be helpful in initiating help. The group serves as a very good ground for testing such hidden strengths in clients. Brown et al. (2013) points out that initial harsh treatment of a victim by an individual therapist may revoke passivity in the client. Such a client may have good social support but lacks internal locus of control thereby finding it difficult to manage her stressful situation. If the female adult incest survivor is provided with a good social support coupled with effective feedback, she will be assisted to effectively manage stress. Group treatment is effective at providing good social support that is coupled with effective feedback from group members, and is effective at preventing the development of passivity by the client. In addition, group treatment helps to reinforce internal locus of control in the incest victim (Brown et al., 2013).
The group context closely resembles the family setting at home, and this similarity stimulates the victim’s memories and feeing that may seem difficult to access when working with individual therapist. Another source of effectiveness of group treatment for female adult incest survivors is associated with the life of emotional deprivation that the victim has learnt to live since childhood. Cyr et al., (2002) states that effective support and peer relationship are very good at overcoming trauma and can help an incest survivor to recover from psychological damage caused by early deprivation.
Through support and active strategies offered by group members, the female adult incest survivor can forget the frightening and painful thoughts and processes (Cyr et al., 2002). Group treatment provides members with an opportunity to mirror their past experience and find their own ways of forgetting such experiences. Brown et al., (2013) support that group treatment can effectively facilitate recovery for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse because it provides an environment where members share and speak-out their feelings, thereby finding way to take actions for their personal lives as well as those of others.
Effectiveness of group treatment requires the participation of the group leader, group members, and the client. The group leader must actively prepare all members of the group for the treatment and this should be done right at the beginning of the treatment sessions. In addition, every member of the group must remain active as this is necessary for the group to be termed useful. Again, the client must feel safe and have a comprehensive understanding of what she needs to protect herself. It is the responsibility of every member of the group to demonstrate cultural competence as abuse victims are normally sensitive to humiliating statements from people around them (Brown et al., 2013). Examples of statements that all group members must avoid include, “You must forgive your father for sexually abusing you”, and “It was your fault.” When all factors are put into consideration, group treatment becomes more effective for female adult incest survivors than treatment offered by individual therapist.