Sex Abuse in Foster Care: Why Does It Happen?

One in five children in the U.S. is a victim of sex abuse. Children in foster care face an even higher probability of being sexually abused. In fact, in some states, the rate of sex abuse in foster care may be as much as 28 times higher than in the general population. With nearly a third of all foster children experiencing some type of abuse or neglect, many experts question whether removing children from their own homes actually protects them. Unfortunately, even with intense services and close supervision, some of these homes are still unsafe. It is a sad fact that a child already victimized by sex abuse when he or she enters foster care is all too likely to be targeted again.

Increased Risk

Children do not have the psychological maturity to cope with sexual stimulation. When they are exposed to sex too early in their lives, children may develop certain behaviors that make them vulnerable to further sexual abuse. Although this may sound like blaming the victim, it does seem that children hurt by sex abuse can be easy prey for abusive foster parents as well as for other children in the home. Some of the factors that increase a victim’s risk of further sex abuse are:

  • Sex abuse conditions children to behave in ways that are often interpreted as inviting sexual activity.
  • Sexually abused children might expect adults to behave sexually with them.
  • Victims of child sex abuse may develop an early sexual awareness. As a result, physical pleasure may be associated with sex.
  • Sexually abused children may lack age-appropriate socialization skills, exposing them to rejection or victimization by their peers.
  • Abused and neglected children placed in foster care may have been subjected to serious emotional deprivation. These unmet needs may cause them to seek affection in inappropriate ways.

Foster Parent Abusers

A foster parent who sexually abuses one child in the home may repeat the behavior with other children. Risk factors for sex abuse by foster parents include:

  • Foster parents with no history of abusing their own children may feel less inhibited about sexual activity with non-biological children. Removal of the “incest taboo” may create an opportunity for sexual abuse.
  • Foster parents are in close, intimate contact with the children in their care, bathing and dressing them, disciplining them, and putting them to bed. This intimacy may stimulate sexual arousal in those who would not normally act on these feelings with their own children.
  • Foster fathers who resent their wives’ devotion to the children in their care may sexually abuse a child out of anger or for emotional and sexual gratification.
  • A foster parent may rationalize taking advantage of a sexually abused child by saying that the child has already had sex with at least one adult. These foster parents may convince themselves that further sexual activity will not harm the child.

Preventing Further Abuse

Many cases of sex abuse in foster care go unreported and uninvestigated, making prevention difficult. There are, however, certain measures that may help to curb further victimization of sexually abused children:

  • Thorough background checks and screening of foster parent applicants.
  • Special foster parent training in child sex abuse focusing on
  1. Normal childhood gender and sexual development.
  2. Behavior of sexually abused children.
  3. Causes of child sexual abuse.
  4. Management of sexual behaviors in children.

One of the long-term effects of sexual abuse in children is the risk of repeated abuse. But foster parents and the agencies that recruit, train and supervise them, still have a duty to keep these children safe from further harm.

If you or a loved one has been sexually abused in foster care, contact the attorneys at The Orlow Firm for a free initial consultation. For your convenience, we maintain four offices throughout New York City. Call (646) 647-3398 or contact us online.