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On the one hand, if we adopt an ethnocentric standard, we will judge all sexual behavior throughout the world according to its consistency with Western practices. Behaviors ranging from nude public bathing to pubertal initiation rites might be seen as harmful or abusive mainly because they are not practiced and understood in Western cultures.
It is true that lower SES families are over represented in documented cases because they are under the scrutiny of public agencies. And, indeed, researchers have documented cases of child sexual abuse in middle and upper income families. However, there is not enough evidence to conclude that child sexual abuse occurs with equal frequency in all social classes.
The few direct studies of sociocultural aspects of child sexual abuse have also been hindered by the two other obstacles mentioned in relation to the child abuse literature. These studies tend to discuss cultural and ethnic differences without controlling for the confounding effects of social class.
There are two sources of research data that are especially relevant to an understanding of sociocultural aspects of child sexual abuse. The first source is research on sociocultural issues that relate to child abuse in general. Lest we reinvent the wheel of sociocultural analysis, we should extrapolate from our empirical and theoretical knowledge of child abuse those issues that pertain specifically to child sexual abuse.
It is probably a safe assumption that most people dealing with the problem of child sexual abuse neglect the importance of sociocultural factors. Many of us have a tendency to treat all cases of child sexual abuse as though every person came from the same socioeconomic and cultural background.
A second issue deals with the duration and continuity of effects. Currently, we; have almost no information on duration of the effects of child sexual abuse; additionally, it is unclear whether effects are continuous from the short to the long term. Do symptoms change at different ages, or are they relative continuous?
After reviewing the literature on the effects of child sexual abuse, one better understands why a large number of authors conclude their writings in this area with the plea for more and better research. With the current upsurge in interest have come numerous hypotheses, largely untested.
Although it appears that the majority of studies on child sexual abuse conclude that its effects are harmful, there are a host of problems with this research. Definitions of sexual abuse lack precision and comparability, making it difficult to draw conclusions across studies.
Another potential mediator is the amount of guilt the child experiences concerning the abuse; as noted earlier, this is generally thought to be greater with older children. It is posited that if children experience pleasure during the abuse, or believe that they precipitated it, they will feel more guilt and shame; in turn, greater guilt is associated with worse trauma.
The next mediator frequently mentioned in the literature is the age or relative maturity of the child. It is generally argued that sexual abuse will affect the child differentially, based on his or her age and or developmental level. However, authors disagree on the nature of the relationship between age and effects.