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Views of Child Sexual Abuse in Two Cultural Communities:
An Exploratory Study Among African Americans and Latinos

By Lisa Aronson Fontes, Mario Cruz and Joan Tabachnick

Child sexual abuse is a problem throughout the United States and it affects people from all cultures.  However, there is little information on how culture affects people’s knowledge of the problem, their experiences with it, and the strategies used to prevent it.  This study explored the definitions and descriptions of child sexual abuse with Latino and African American participants, as well as their knowledge of the signs of a child being sexually abused, their perception of the seriousness of this problem in their communities, and the different views about prevention strategies for males, females, Latinos, and African Americans.

  • The study used focus groups with a total of 58 participants.  The focus groups were conducted separately for males, females, Latinos and African Americans to facilitate the discussion on specific views and sensitive issues related to sexuality and culture.
  • All participants knew about child sexual abuse and its existence in society and their communities.  They all considered it a significant problem and were aware of the differences in power between adults or adolescents offenders and a child.
  • Participants expressed less concern about child sexual abuse involving a female offender and a male child, and they did not mention the possibility of a woman abusing girls.  
  • Male participants were more explicit in naming behaviors that were sexually abusive and female participants tended to be less direct in naming these behaviors.
  • Male participants described warning signs or indicators of sexual abuse using behaviors with a single child or children in general, while female participants described warning signs based on how the child looked after the abuse. 
  • Latino participants were more comfortable than Africa Americans in telling personal stories of abuse.
  • Latino participants were more likely to refer to family risk factors such as changes in culture and family resulting from immigration as increasing children's risk of sexual abuse.
  • A number of Latino and African American male participants recognized that offenders could make the children accept the abuse and remain silent about it by creating fear in the children.  
  • English-speaking Latinas considered that keeping a male partner in the house because of social and economic pressure was exposing the children to risky situations. 
  • Both Latinos and African Americans stated that children are especially at risk in institutions where strangers might have access to them. 
  • Participants from both groups identified two types of offenders: 1) men who are "truly perverted” and are aware of what they are doing, and 2) adolescent boys and men who learned to abuse or have a mental health problem that can be treated.

Fontes, L.A., Cruz, M., & TAbachnick, J. (2001).  “Views of Child Sexual Abuse in Two Cultural Communities: An Exploratory Study Among African Americans and Latinos”  Child Maltreatment, 6(2), 103-107. 


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All Rights Reserved. Last updated 12/13/07.