Child in the shadowlands

The topic of this blogpost made the headlines in a shocking way this week when US Republican Todd Akin stated that women rarely get pregnant from rape because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Akin’s medieval assertions coincided with the publication of an essay in the Lancet that went in the very opposite direction and requested more attention for children born of rape, in particular in war circumstances.

Lead author Elisa van Ee, clinical psychologist and PhD candidate at Centre ’45 introduces the essay below.

The World Health Organization described children born of rape as at risk of being neglected, stigmatized, ostracized, or abandoned. Cases of infanticide (the killing of an infant) have also been reported. Despite such general concerns, little is known about the fate of these children. Even in the mental health domain, professional conversations hardly include their fate.

Clinical case reports describe a high rate of ambivalent parent-child relationships or even abusive relationships and a high rate of serious discrimination within the societies in which these children are raised. These relational difficulties have serious consequences for the child as they become the indirect victim of the trauma of the mother. An essay in the Lancet asks attention for these children born of rape:

“She shivered as she entered the hotel room. It was not that the team of investigators from the International Criminal Court did not seem friendly. It was not that she was afraid to give her testimony and go through her traumatic experiences all over again. It was the air-conditioned, dark hotel room that made her shiver: a sharp contrast with the outside heat and sun-beaten colours of Bangui.

Dressed in bright colours, hair styled with care, her head proudly lifted, the woman approached the team. Her impression of strength made the young boy behind her seem almost invisible. Behind the folds of his mother’s dress, we saw her 5-year-old son clinging to her. His clothes were dusty and his trousers were torn. Most striking, though, was his shy and fragile appearance. His movements had an awkward quality and clearly he was anxious. We tried to set the boy at ease but he kept avoiding eye contact. His mother did not seem to take much notice of him.”

The investigators introduced themselves and the procedure to the woman. Before the legal interview started, a psychosocial assessment had to take place to evaluate her mental health and her capacity to go through with the interview….” Please read the free full text of Child in the shadowlands.

Van Ee E, & Kleber RJ (2012). Child in the shadowlands. Lancet, 380 (9842), 642-3 PMID: 22908379

3 thoughts on “Child in the shadowlands

  1. There are so many different areas of psychology that this particular situation can be discussed under, including clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, counseling psychology, developmental psychology, and social psychology. It is so hard to put one’s self in this type of scenario, because either choice would be extremely hard and emotional. On one hand, you have many people saying that you should keep the baby, even if it did spawn from a involuntary rape situation. Well the problems with this is that not only is keeping that child going to always remind you of a terrible experience, but that child is most-likely going to have a hard time growing up knowing that, not only does the child have no father, but the child will someday know that he/she was unwanted and were the result of the worst event in their mother’s lives. It would be very traumatizing for both sides. And on the other hand, there is the option of aborting this rape-spawned child. If the mother chooses to do this, then there is a high chance that the mother will feel pain and regret later in life, causing herself tons of emotional issues. The mother knows full-well that it is not the child’s fault that the mother was raped, and so why should the child suffer for this? I believe this is what causes many mothers develop serious emotional issues over aborting rape-created children. Besides the mothers personal beliefs, society puts certain pressures on mothers. It is known that aborting a child is looked down upon amongst the majority of society , so she is at risk for developing issues because of this as well. Nobody wins in a situation like this, one must just make a decision and deal with the situation in the best way possible.

  2. Reading this article I would say there is many perspectives of psychology. A couple of them that I would use as an example would be cognitive, behavioral, and cross cultural. In this situation you could see how the mother responds to her child demostrating mixed behaviors to him. She wants to love him and show him love and affection but there are so many tramatic and painful memories and feelings that resurface. Different cultures handle situations such as rape in different manners.I would say that the perpective I think this situation leans the most to is cognitive because it is the mental process that one remembers information, thinks, and solve problems with. In a situation regaurding rape i believe at that moment the brain starts to make processes and memories of the information around them. These can cause the victim to not be able to move past it fully because certain sights, smells, sounds and feelings can trigger the tramatic moment that they exprienced. You want to move forward with life but I could see that keeping the child could force someone to have to look into their child’s face knowing that part of their child belongs to someone who brutally violated them. I think it has to be based on an idividual on wat to do with the child. One person might be able to raise a child and move forward while another would not to be able to do so.

  3. Thank you for your comments. As you write ambivalence (on different levels) is the key to understand the difficulties mother and child face. It is interesting that some mothers and societies are able to accept these children as their own, while others struggle. I believe it is important to enhance our understanding of this; which factors contribute to acceptance, and how could we help these mothers and children. In addition, we should pay more attention to the needs and rights of these children. Whenever the topic comes up most attention goes to the mothers. These mothers do suffer, but these children as well. So, how can psychology improve their understanding of and services to these children?

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