Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a condition from which nearly 10% of
Americans suffer. It, unlike other afflictions, is associated with a wide
variety of circumstances. Many war veterans suffer from Posttraumatic Stress
Disorder. However, a new group of people are quickly emerging as common suffers
of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder-sexually abused children. Posttraumatic Stress
Disorder is a prevalent problem associated with children who are victims of
sexual assault.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is classified as an anxiety disorder under
the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders (DSM-III). The diagnoses for
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder was not formally diagnosed as part of DSM-III
until 1980. According to Famolaro, "the diagnoses of Posttraumatic Stress
Disorder requires: (a) experience of a significant traumatic events; (b) re-
experiencing of the trauma in one of several different thought, emotional, or
behavioral forms; (d) persistent symptoms of increased arousal, Particularly
when exposedto stimuli concretely or symbolically reminiscent of the trauma; (e)
symptoms lasting at least one month. (Famolaro, Maternal and Child
Posttraumatic... 28)".
Children are now becoming realized as significant sufferers of
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is particularly
bad for children under the age of 11, because they lack many of the skills
needed to protect themselves. Furthermore, this vulnerability is enhanced when
the child is exposed to any maltreatment. According to recent studies,
"Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a common sequella of severe or chronic
maltreatment of children, particularly among sexually maltreated children (
Famularo, Symptom Differences... 28)". Posttraumatic Stress Disorder can be
caused if the child is exposed to just one traumatic episode (rape, witnessing a
violent crime, physical abuse); However, the child will become more susceptible
to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder if the maltreatment continues. Moreover, a
child is most likely to suffer from symptoms associated with Posttraumatic
Stress Disorder when sexual assault is involved(28).
Because children have not yet developed cognitively emotionally and are
very immature, they are likely candidates to develop symptoms related to
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. As a child matures he/she becomes better
equipped to deal with and prevent contributing factors to the eventual suffering
from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Up to age two, young children can recreate
stressful events and even imagine such events recurring; However, the mind is
not developed enough to identify, anticipate, or prevent future traumatic
occurrences. At age three, children cannot, "distance themselves, in time,
appreciate roles and differences in behavior, access situation, or adopt
nonegocentric causality (Saigh 189)". This flaw opens them up to the impact of
trauma because the child cannot anticipate and protect themselves. By age four,
children have the ability to protect themselves by avoiding traumatic encounters.
They also have the ability to suppress their anxiety when it becomes difficult
to cope with. Because children do not have this ability any earlier they are
vulnerable to physical and sexual assault. Children continue as such until they
become concrete operational at about age six or seven (190).
Children who have been sexually abused develop many of the syndromes
associated with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, some of which are, the inability
to establish normal relationships with adults and peers, to make a normal
transition from adolescence to adulthood, as well as to develop skills required
to progress in school. However, this was not the case with all sexually
assaulted children. Walder states, "not all those so exposed will develop a
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder reaction; some may have a certain "hardiness" that
helps them cope without any noticeable residual effects while others may have a
severe psychological reaction that renders them unable to function (Walker
130)."
Knowledge of sexual assaults has recently become more common. Random
surveys of adults indicate that approximately 28% of women and 16% of men were
victims of sexual abuse before the age of sixteen (Valentier 455). The nature
of the abuse stretched from fondling to sexual intercourse committed by an adult
that was five years older than the victim (Wolf et al). Women are more often
the victims of child sexual assault then men. According to John B. Murry, women
are the victims of child hood sexual abuse at a ratio of 10:1 over men (Murry
658). Furthermore, children of lower income families are also common victims of
sexual assault. But, as Murry points out, sexual abuse occurs in all types of
families regardless of their income; and, sexual assaults are usually committed
by a member of the family. It is difficult to get an accurate record of the
actual number of children that have been sexually abused. Many cases never come
to light and because of differences in definitions of sexual assault , some
cases are missed.(658).
Researchers have begun to explore the concept of Posttraumatic Stress
Disorder with children and adults that