Recognize Child Sexual Abuse
What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse is defined as “utilizing a child for sexual gratification by an adult or older child in a position of power, or permitting another person to do so.”
Non-touching sexual offenses:
- Indecent exposure/exhibitionism
- Exposing children to pornographic material
- Deliberately exposing a child to the act of sexual intercourse
- Masturbation in front of a child
Touching sexual offenses include:
- Making a child touch an individual’s sexual organs
- Any penetration of a child’s vagina or anus – no matter how slight by a penis or any object that does not have a valid medical purpose
Sexual exploitation of a child is also an offense and can include:
- Engaging or soliciting a child for the purposes of prostitution
- Using a child to film, photograph or model pornography
What are the signs of sexual abuse?
The first indicators that a child has been sexually abused may be behavioral changes.
Behavioral indicators in young children may include:
- Changes in behavior (mood swings, clinging, withdrawal, etc.)
- Loss of self-respect
- Unsocial behavior
- Excessive fear of being touched
- Recurrent nightmares
- Acting younger than actual age
- Fears of certain places, people, or activities
- Poor schoolwork and frequent absences
- Shame about his or her body
- Premature knowledge of sex acts
- Preoccupied with sex play (frequent masturbation, touching other children’s genitals, exposing genitals frequently)
- preoccupied with sex play (frequent masturbation, touching other children’s genitals, exposing genitals frequently)
- Displays more sexual tendencies than other children
- Shows unusual sexual behavior (constantly touching his genitals, rubbing genitals on inanimate objects, mimicking sex with dolls or toys)
- Withdraws and seems to lack social skills
- Aggressive, overt sexual behavior
- Sleep disorders
- Drawing pictures of people with genitals
- Taking frequent baths
- Starting fires
- Cruelty to animals
- Self-inflicted injuries
- Fear of a particular person, place or activity
- Reporting that abuse has taken place
Possible physical symptoms:
- Stained or torn underwear
- Difficulty walking or doing other activities that show the child is sore in the genital area
- Discomfort in the genital area (bruises, swelling, bleeding, etc.)
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Involuntary gagging
- Pain during bowel movements
- Repeated medical problems with genitals or digestive system
- Experiences a sudden change in appetite
What are long-term effects of child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse may have lifelong effects on children resulting in serious
- emotional problems including depression, anti-social behavior, identity confusion and substance abuse
Young girls who are forced to have sex are three times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders or abuse alcohol and drugs in adulthood, than girls who are not sexually abused.
Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D., et al, Medical College of Virginia Commonwealth University, Archives of General Psychiatry 2000;57:953-959.
- Children may lose trust in adults in their lives
- Suffer feelings of guilt or develop self-abusive behaviors
Among both adolescent girls and boys, a history of sexual or physical abuse appears to increase the risk of disordered eating behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting or use of laxatives to avoid gaining weight.
Dr. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, et al, University of Minnesota, International Journal of Eating Disorders 2000;28:249-258.
- Risk taking and risky sexual behavior
Adolescents with a history of sexual abuse are significantly more likely than their counterparts to engage in sexual behavior that puts them at risk for HIV infection.
Larry K. Brown, M.D., et al, American Journal of Psychiatry 2000;157:1413-1415.
- The memories of abuse may even be suppressed until later in their adult lives.
Myths and Facts
Myth 1: Children are most likely to be sexually assaulted by a stranger.
Fact: 27% of all offenders were family members of their victims.
Myth 2: Children lie or fantasize about sexual activities with adults.
Fact: Developmentally, young children cannot make up explicit sexual information unless they have been exposed to it. They speak from their own experiences. Sometimes a parent will try to get a child to falsely report sexual abuse. Primary indicators of such a report are the child’s inability to explicitly describe or illustrate the act, or a grossly inconsistent account.
Myth 3: The sexual abuse of a child is an isolated, one-time incident.
Fact: Child sexual abuse is usually a situation that develops gradually over a period of time and occurs repeatedly.
Myth 4: It is not important for children to have information about sexual assault. Talking to children about it will only scare them.
Fact: It is just as important for children to receive information about sexual assault for their own safety as it is for them to receive information about fires, crossing the street, and swimming. Inaccurate information is more frightening and damaging to children.
Myth 5: Nonviolent sexual behavior between a child and adult is not emotionally damaging to the child.
Fact: Although child sexual abuse may involve subtle rather than extreme force, nearly all survivors will experience confusion, shame, guilt, anger, and a lowered self image, though they may reveal no obvious, outward signs.
Myth 6: Child molesters are all “dirty” old people.
Fact: In a recent study of convicted child molesters, 80% were found to have committed their first offense before the age of 30.
Myth 7: Just as many adult women abuse young boys as adult men exploit young girls.
Fact: While there are women offenders, most reported cases of child sexual abuse involve adult men and young girls. When young boys are exploited, they are usually the victims of adult men. Research indicates that over 90% of offenders are male.
Myth 8: The lower the family income and social status, the higher the likelihood of the sexual abuse of children.
Fact: There is no data to support this conclusion. It is safe to assume, however, that the lower the income and social status, the higher the likelihood of the abuse being reported to a public agency.
Myth 9: Multiple sexual abuse (such as parent abusing two or more sons or daughters) is extremely rare.
Fact: If there are two or more children in the home, without discovery or intervention, a sexually abusive parent will usually be involved with each of them. It is rare for a parent to be sexually abusing only one child if there are several in the family.
Myth 10: Any parent who would sexually abuse their child has to be mentally ill.
Fact: The vast majority of abusers are not mentally ill and most hold jobs, function well in the community, and are well respected by their peers. Most abusers deny the event and some claim seduction by the child.
Myth 11: Family sexual abuse is easy to treat, once it becomes known.
Fact: Sexual abuse is extremely difficult to treat because it involves different people moving at different speeds (father, mother, child, other siblings). Often, none of them may be ready for treatment.
Myth 12: Children provoke sexual abuse by their seductive behavior.
Fact: Seductive behavior may be the result, but never the cause, of sexual abuse. The responsibility lies with the adult offender.
Myth 13: In father-daughter sexual involvement, the mother is unaware of sexual abuse occurring in the home.
Fact: In some cases, the mother may have good grounds to suspect abuse and may contribute to and perpetuate the situation. In fact, upon open discovery, the mother may even insist that the daughter be removed from the home. It is important to recognize, however, that this does not apply to all mothers of incest survivors. Because of their lack of awareness, many may suspect something is wrong, but are unclear as to what it is, or what to do.
Myth 14: If the children did not want it, they could say, “stop.”
Fact: Children generally do not question the behavior of adults. They are often coerced by bribes, threats, and use of a position of authority.
How Can You Help A Child
Your child has been the victim of sexual abuse. It is important that you give your child the protection, love, and support she needs to work through her feelings of confusion, anger, fear, shame, and guilt.
Believe your child.
Children seldom lie about sexual abuse. Do not blame your child. Whatever the circumstances, your child was not asking to be abused or molested. Your child was robbed of her childhood, personal power, and integrity. Let your child know that you trust her and that what happened wasn’t her fault.
Reassure your child
that she is not be blamed, that the blame rests entirely with the abuser. Allow the child to regain her sense of personal control. Don’t be overly protective. Let your child make choices.
Respect your child’s fear.
Your child may have feared being hurt or that someone else in her family may be hurt. Your child may fear being abused again or blamed for being abused. Your child may fear that they will be punished or that they won’t be believed. Help your child develop skills to increase their safety. Helping children protect themselves reduces the likelihood of further victimization and helps restore the child’s sense of self-esteem.
Accept all her feelings
Tolerate her moods. Don’t tell your child that they “shouldn’t feel that way.” Give your child an atmosphere of acceptance, warmth, safety, and love. In order to alleviate her fears, let your child know that you will protect them. Allow your child to express their anger. Provide a safe environment where your child can vent her feelings.
Listen without making judgments or giving advice
Try to understand what your child has and is going through. Do not criticize her actions or feelings. Do not preach. Compliment your child on her bravery to tell what happened. Validate her worth as a person.
Respect your child’s privacy
Don’t pressure or pry for information. Your child will talk when she is ready.
Care about your child’s well-being
Let your child know you care. Don’t worry about doing or saying the wrong thing. Be there for your child. Be okay with silence. Let your child know that you are sorry about what happened and will do your best to protect and support her.
Take care of yourself, too.
This has been an extremely upsetting experience for you. You may need to talk to someone in order to cope with some difficult emotions of your own. If you are experiencing rage or blaming yourself, you can be more helpful to your child if you find appropriate ways of coping with your own emotions. You need support and encouragement as you’re struggling through this ordeal with your child. Approaching a medical professional for references is a good place for you to start.
Don’t blame yourself.
Take a look at your feelings of responsibility. Do your feel it is your responsibility to protect your child at all times? Maybe her abuse gives you a sense of failure. Realistically, no one can protect another person at all times without making that person a prisoner. Check out your own feelings of vulnerability, anxiety, shame, embarrassment, fear, guilt, anger, and loss of control over your own life.
Give yourself credit
For what you’ve already done and become knowledgeable about child sexual abuse. Accurate information helps parents overcome feelings of isolation, guilt, anger, grief, shame, and embarrassment. Know that children rarely lie about sexual assault and tend to minimize, not exaggerate the facts. Know how frequent child abuse is, that children are often not able to tell in words, and that offenders are usually well known to the family.
Abuse is motivated by a need for power and control. Coercion is almost always an element. Abusers are usually self-centered, don’t know or care how much psychological harm their behavior causes, and plan their sexual contacts carefully in advance. Abusers depend on their victims to meet their emotional needs and to “keep it a secret.” Abusing children allows him to feel like a powerful person instead of a victim. However, they are still responsible for the abuse they inflict on children and need help to change that behavior and those abusive attitudes. Many sexual abusers were victims of sexual abuse themselves as children.
Teach Children to recognize sexual abuse
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