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At risk or teen risk taking? U nderstanding the behaviours of sexually abused adolescent girls

At risk or teen risk taking? U nderstanding the behaviours of sexually abused adolescent girls. Rosemary Carlton , McGill University. At risk or teen risk taking?. My presentation explores:

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At risk or teen risk taking? U nderstanding the behaviours of sexually abused adolescent girls

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  1. At risk or teen risk taking? Understanding the behaviours of sexually abused adolescent girls Rosemary Carlton, McGill University

  2. At risk or teen risk taking? • My presentation explores: • How understandings of child sexual abuse intersect with understandings of adolescent girls’ exploration and experimentation in the context of child protection practice? • How these understandings inform child protection practice with sexually abused adolescent girls? • What might be the consequences for the development of individual identity and autonomy for sexually abused adolescent girls involved with child protection authorities?

  3. Understanding Risk In Western societies …, risk has become somewhat of a key word, used with increasing frequency to denote danger, hazard and threat. (Lupton & Tulloch, 2002: 320) • Discourses of risk are shaped by context: • Child protection: • at risk or “in need of protection” • Risk and adolescence: • at-risk youth • risky or problem youth

  4. Risk and adolescent girls • Girls are more frequently seen as “at risk” than as “risky” • For example, girls, particularly adolescent girls, are at a disproportionate risk for sexual abuse/assault (Bolen & Scannepieco, 1999; Casey & Nurius, 2006). • Girls are thought to be vulnerable as a result of growing up in patriarchal societies: • “girls enter a patriarchal world in which they experience pressure to behave in “feminine” ways in their relationships with other people … and through there relationships with their own bodies” (Impett, Schooler, and Tolman, 2006: 132). • Girls grow up in a “girl-poisoning culture, … a dangerous, sexualized and media-saturated culture” (12) and as a result are prone to “eating disorders, alcohol problems, posttraumatic stress reactions to sexual or physical assaults, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), self-inflicted injuries and strange phobias” (Pipher, 1994: 27).

  5. Risk taking behaviours in adolescence • Adolescence has traditionally been portrayed as a time of experimentation and exploration. • Risk taking behaviours have been associated with identity formation and potential positive outcomes, including enhanced relationships with peers as well as “increased self-confidence, self-esteem, stress tolerance and initiative” (Moore & Parsons, 2000: 372). • But, risk taking is “neither simple nor unidimensional” (Shapiro, Siefel, Scovill & Hays, 1998: 143). • Risk taking behaviours can range from expected and relatively safe to dangerous, harmful or antisocial.

  6. Adolescent girls taking risks • Adolescent risk taking has been traditionally viewed as being virtually exclusive to boys. • Recent empirical evidence reveals that girls do engage in risk taking behaviours, sometimes to even greater extents than boys (Abbot-Chapman, Denholm & Wyld, 2008; Shapiro et al, 1998) • Corresponding with a discourse of girl-power, today, “girls are expected, even encouraged, by parents, teachers and the media to be just as risk taking and self-confident as boys” (Abbot-Chapman et al, 2008: 132). • Reflects a shift in what is regarded as “acceptable” female behaviour: In societies and times where girls … “go out” more …, where they drive cars and mix with peers more than they do with family, their opportunity for risky and even antisocial activity is increased (Abbot-Chapman et al, 2008: 134).

  7. Risk taking and maltreatment • Research shows that maltreated adolescents are at increased risk of engaging in dangerous or excessive risk taking behaviours: • Early and heavy drug and alcohol use, binge drinking, use of multiple substances, street drug use, and at least weekly use of tobacco, alcohol and/or marijuana; • Running away, dropping out of school; • Causing or becoming pregnant, sexual promiscuity and sexual risk-taking; and, • Carrying weapons, engaging in delinquent behaviour (i.e. assault or vandalism), and exposure to threatening or violent dating behaviour. from Wekerle, Wall & Knoke’s (2004) review of literature.

  8. Holding hands in care • Policy implemented to disallow handholding between adolescents in a closed residential setting. • Regulation and surveillance of adolescent sexuality in response to staff anxiety and fear. • Reproduction of gendered understanding of risk. • Anxiety exacerbated by expectation that sexual risk-taking by maltreated youth exceeds that of non-maltreated youth. • Complicated by notions of girls in care as risky: • The risky girl represents “girl power out of control”. She “must be monitored not simply for self-destructive behaviours, but for the potential to harm others” (Harris, 2004: 29).

  9. Risk and sexual abuse • Child protection practice includes: • assessing risk of sexual abuse, • putting an end to the sexual abuse, • removing risk of re-victimization, and • mediating potentially harmful effects of sexual abuse. • Sexual abuse cases comprise 3% of all substantiated investigations of child maltreatment across Canada (Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect – 2003, 2005) • Left out of this number are those situations in which child sexual abuse is known or suspected but the child/ adolescent is deemed to be at risk for reasons other than the sexual abuse (i.e. behavioural disturbances).

  10. Risks following sexual abuse • Girls experiencing sexual abuse, as compared to those who have not been sexually abused are at increased risk of: • Teen pregnancy (Brown, Cohen, Chen, Smailes & Johnson, 2004; Erdmans & Black, 2008; Noll, Trickett & Putnam, 2003) • Sexual risk taking (Cinq-Mars, Wright, Cyr & McDuff, 2004; Raj, Silverman & Amaro, 2000) • Sexual re-victimization (Roodman & Clum, 2001; Smith, White & Holland, 2003) • Suicidal thoughts and/or action (Martin, Bergen Richardson, Roeger & Allison, 2004) • Antisocial or delinquent behaviour and substance use (Bergen, Martin, Richardson, Allison & Roeger, 2004) • Violent victimization undermines self-perception of individual autonomy and agency (MacMillan, 2001)

  11. Direct practice with sexually abused girls – Carly’s situation • Protection is the overarching, ever-present guiding principle that informs all aspects of practice. • Challenge of working with the intense, painful and often difficult emotions and behaviours of adolescent girls. • Tension between protection and adolescent autonomy: • “social workers … experienced a degree of professional anxiety, being charged with the protection of … immature or psychologically disturbed adolescent girls making judgements and decisions that left them at risk” (Kirk, 1999: 143). • Frustration and impotence due to lack of both resources and time to respond to the emotional needs of girls. • Awareness of contradictions in practice as seen in the unintended negative consequences of adopting specific strategies aimed at meeting girls’ best interests.

  12. Concluding thoughts • In the context of child protection, sexually abused adolescent girls’ risk taking is narrowly understood in terms of negative outcomes. • Practices with sexually abused adolescent girls largely involve regulating and monitoring girls’ relationships and behaviour. • Sexually abused adolescent girls involved with child protection have little opportunity to benefit from expected adolescent exploration and experimentation: • “Attempts to constrain youthful risk taking or to identify youth at risk can have overly manipulative consequences to the ultimate detriment of young people and their futures” (Moore & Parsons, 2000: 372). • Left out of scholarly discussion as well as daily child protection practice are the perspectives of adolescent girls.

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