There Goes "Honey Boo Boo:" How common is this type of abuse?

How often are children abused by a parent's partner, and how do parents react to disclosures of this type of abuse? If you've heard about the "Honey Boo Boo" abuse disclosures and want accurate information without the media hype, or need help and information for a situation in your own life, this is the blog for you.

Reality TV show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” was recently cancelled after media outlets released photos showing members of the family profiled on the show with Mark McDaniel, who was recently released after serving 10 years for aggravated child molestation. Prior to his conviction, McDaniel was in a relationship with the mother of the family and the photos appear to show that the relationship resumed after his release. Many were particularly concerned that the family’s youngest daughter is the same age of the children McDaniel abused. After the situation was publicized, one of the family members revealed that McDaniel had also abused her; he was indicted but not convicted and court documents related to the case have since been released.   

 

Although Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands is not involved in this case, we do provide services to many children who have experienced similar instances of sexual abuse as well as education on issues related to sexual violence and the sex offender registry. This blog is one of two parts: part 2 discusses the sex offender registry and many of the misconceptions about the registry.

How often do situations like this happen?

Up to 16% of male children and 25% of female children have experienced contact sexual abuse, and a child being abused by a parent’s partner is one of the most common situations in the world of child abuse. In fact, a national study found that a child’s risk of being abused is up to eight times higher if they live with a parent’s partner as opposed to living with married biological parents, and more than 2 times higher than any of the other living situations studied (such as living with only one biological parent or not living with any biological parents).  For sexual abuse specifically, the study found that only 0.5 per 1,000 children living with married biological parents and 4.3 per 1,00 children living with a remarried parent or adoptive parents were sexually abused, compared to 9.9 per 1,000 abused children in families where a parent’s partner lived in the home. This means that children living with a parent’s partner are 19 times more likely to experience sexual abuse than children living with married biological parents and more than twice as likely to experience sexual abuse than children in any other living situation. This study didn’t differentiate risks of sexual abuse between girls and boys in these living situations, but the risk of sexual abuse by a parent’s partner would most likely be even higher for girls specifically since rates of sexual abuse of girls tend to be higher than abuse of boys.  

When a child has been abused—whether by a parent’s partner, by a parent, or by any other adult—it is unfortunately common for their disclosures to be doubted, even though children rarely falsely report sexual abuse. Studies of how parents respond to these disclosures have found that the parents who are currently in a relationship with the abuser are among the least likely to believe the child’s disclosure, with up to 1/3 of these parents doubting the child’s report. Just over half of the mothers in one study were supportive of their children AND separated the child from the abuser, while other mothers did only one or neither of these things.  In McDaniel’s case, one survivor reported that her mother did not believe her disclosure, and continued her relationship with the assailant; however, another family member assisted the survivor in reporting the abuse and separating her from the abuse.

Although knowledge of how to respond to a disclosure of sexual abuse is something no parent hopes to need, there is help out there. Online resources have information about trauma in children, and parents can receive services from agencies like ours. It’s also important that parents report the disclosures to law enforcement and/or the Department of Social Services: under SC law, any person who “allows to be committed against the child a sexual offense…or engages in acts or omissions that present a substantial risk that a sexual offense…would be committed against the child”—which would include continuing to allow an abuser contact with the child or failing to report abuse—is considered to have themselves committed abuse against the child.

If I am aware of a similar situation, what can I do?

One of the most important things to do is to respond in such a way that the child knows that you believe and support them, and want to get them help. Then, get them help by bringing in trained professionals: any person who is aware that a child has been abused or neglected in any way should immediately contact law enforcement to report the crime, as well as the Department of Social Services if the child’s living situation is not safe.

There are also many agencies in SC that can provide counseling and support to survivors, including child advocacy centers that exclusively serve children and rape crisis centers that serve teens, adults, and secondary survivors. Any person in need of assistance—in making reports of abuse or in seeking services—can reach Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands through our 24 hour hotline at (803) 771-7273. Survivors of sexual violence can access free, confidential services from Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands including crisis intervention, individual and group counseling, and personal and legal advocacy.