Sexual Abuse - The Case of Samantha

Samantha was 10 and had been sexually abused and abandoned by both her parents. She had then been shuffled from one foster home to another until, at age 9, she landed in a home where the foster parents intended to keep and adopt her. She was a management problem, and a collaborative team intervention was convened.


When knowledge of Samantha's sexual abuse reached the proper authorities, Samantha was removed to her first foster home. This removal occurred when she was four years old. When she refused to obey the directions of the foster parents, the refusal was labeled depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and attachment disorder. Any attempt to punish her for misbehavior was considered inappropriate and abusive because she was already abused. Adults in charge of Samantha were only allowed by the child protection authorities to use half of the effective parenting formula, the protection dimension. Use of the control dimension was forbidden, and effective parenting was thereby doomed to failure. When one after another set of foster parents found it impossible to parent without the use of negative consequences, these parents were defined as incompetent or abusive, and Samantha was passed on to a new set of foster parents. Along the way, other supposedly helpful social service agencies and therapists were added to the mix, all advocating further investment in the abuse/recovery paradigm. In school, for example, a teacher aide with a special background in working with abused children was assigned to Samantha to protect her from any upsetting experiences in school.

Assessment & Intervention

When Samantha began to defy school rules and throw chairs when asked to leave the classroom, school officials were put in a difficult position. They didn't want to place her outside the school building, but they could not tolerate her disruptive and dangerous defiance. The collaborative team intervention included several school personnel, the foster parents, and representatives of several helping services. The parents and the helping providers would not allow Samantha to attend the meeting for fear of traumatizing her.

After everyone had his chance to give his views on Samantha's situation, I asked the group to provide examples of oppositional behavior which would not necessarily be caused by sexual abuse, e.g., refusing to brush teeth or insisting on coloring in class when the students were supposed to be looking at the teacher. Everyone was able to give such examples of non-compliant behavior regarding the same or similar tasks on other occasions. I attempted to make the case through various examples that, regardless of sexual abuse or other morbid past, Samantha could and, for her good, should be expected to comply with reasonable adult requests. The participants were somewhat open to this line of reasoning, but most were unwilling to use negative consequences to accomplish the goal.


The results of intervention with Samantha unclear. The school staff was mixed in its acceptance of my approach. I can only hope that saane forces eventually prevailed.


While we all wish that no child should be sexually abused, it is a mistake, in my view, to provide such a child with the equivalent of a free ticket through life. One's character, ability to succeed, and ability to make oneself happy are based on life experiences which are a combination of easy and difficult. To protect any child, regardless of background, from facing life's difficulties is to take the risk of facilitating the development of a child handicap worse than the original problem. As is clear in the case of Samantha, the current cultural cast of parents, teachers, and helping professionals do not all agree with my views on this matter.

More case studies:

Greg | Melanie | Jared | Samantha | Jeremy | Marie | Linda | Michael | Jonathan

For appointments and scheduled consultations, please contact Dr. J. Brien O'Callaghan at or write to him at J. Brien O'Callaghan, Ph.D., 246 Federal Road, C-32, Brookfield, CT 06804