of Child Sexual Abuse
There are often no obvious physical signs of child sexual abuse. However, there are some symptoms that could indicate that a child has been victimized. A child victim often develops low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. The child may be withdrawn, mistrustful of adults, or even suicidal.
Other symptoms may include:
Unusual interest (or fear of) all things of a sexual nature.
Drawings, pictures, or stories with a strong, unusual, or bizarre sexual theme.
Seductiveness – attempts to seduce adults or other children.
Detailed understanding of sexual behavior that is not age appropriate.
Change in sleeping habits, nightmares.
Sudden changes in eating habits such as overeating or lack of appetite.
Regression or loss of previous skills, such as a sudden return to bedwetting or thumb sucking.
Unusual aggressiveness or anger.
Refusal to go to school.
A 2003 study, A Health Survey of Texans: A Focus on Sexual Assault, reported that 4% of males and 16% of females under the age of 17 have been sexually assaulted.
Child Sexual Abuse
According to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect in Washington, DC, sexual abuse is any “contact between a child and an adult when the child is being used for sexual stimulation of that adult or another person.” Sexual abuse has many forms and may be so subtle that the child doesn’t even know it is happening.
Sexual abuse includes:
Sexual touching or fondling
Exposing a child to pornographic materials, adult sexual activity or genitalia (in a sexual context)
Having a child pose, undress or perform in a sexual fashion
“Peeping” into bedrooms or bathrooms
Oral sex, intercourse or the attempt to engage in these activities
A vast majority of child sexual abuse incidents are never reported to the authorities. Child abuse remains one of the most underreported crimes because children are often afraid to tell anyone what happened. The offender may have told them no one will believe them, it has to be a secret, or they may have threatened that something bad will happen if they tell. Some children feel responsible and guilty because the cooperated or were bribed into participating.
The reality is that your child is most at risk for sexual abuse from someone they know – a relative, family friend, or neighbor. Ninety-three percent of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker. The offender rarely has to use force because they are usually known and trusted by the child. The offender uses that trust to trick or manipulate the child into compliance.
Risk Reduction Tips
Education is the best way to reduce your child’s risk of becoming a victim. Teaching your child not to talk to strangers is simply not adequate. In addition to the fact that most children are molested by someone known to them, children are also susceptible to clever lures developed by intelligent offenders with an understanding of child psychology. Discuss the following possible lures with your child:
The offering of gifts, candy, money, or bribes.
Appealing to the child’s sense of helpfulness such as asking for assistance in finding a lost dog.
Offers of rides on motorcycles, trail bikes, or in sports cars.
Telling children that their parents were hurt and offering a ride to the hospital.
Telling the children that they were sent by their parents to pick them up.
Offering to fix bicycles, etc.
Parents should also teach their children about their bodies, and about inappropriate and appropriate touching.
1) Teach your child that their body belongs to them, and that they have the right to say “no” to anyone who touches them.
2) Explain to your child that people they know and trust may touch them in a way that feels funny, and they still can say “no.”
3) Tell your child that you want them to come to you if anything happens that makes them feel uncomfortable, and that you won’t be angry no matter what happened (for example, if they broke a rule).
4) Do not teach your child blind obedience to adults. Do not teach a child to do whatever a teacher or babysitter tells them. Teach your child that it is okay to say “no” to an adult if they want them to do something they know or think is wrong.
5) Teach your children which areas are sexual and private. Tell them that the areas covered by their bathing suit are private, sexual areas.
6) Teach your children the correct names for their body parts. Teach them that they do not have to be embarrassed to talk to you about their private parts.
7) Teach your children not to keep secrets from you, and don’t encourage secret keeping in your family.
8) Advise your child not to give information over the phone such as “my parents aren’t home.”
9) Tell your child in advance if someone other than yourself is supposed to pick them up.
10) Do not allow your children to go to public areas such as parks, playgrounds, or pools alone.
11) Know your babysitter. Be cautious of babysitters who are loners and have no apparent friends.
12) Encourage risk reduction and prevention programs in your local school system.
If Your Child is Sexually Assaulted
If a child hints even in a vague way that sexual abuse has occurred, stay calm, don’t make judgmental comments, and encourage the child to talk freely. Here are some more suggestions for handling a child’s disclosure of abuse:
1) Assure the child that they did the right thing by telling.
2) Tell the child they are not to blame for the sexual abuse.
3) Find out how the child feels physically. Does their body hurt anywhere?
4) Don’t exhibit strong angry emotions in the child’s presence.
5) Don’t be afraid to show affection toward your child.
6) Notify the police. Do not take the law into your own hands.
7) Seek help in coping with the incident.
8) Contact OnePlace, your local child abuse or rape crisis center. Seek support for both the child and yourself.
9) Remember that with the love and support of adults such as parents, teachers, and counselors, children can recover and thrive after these traumatic incidents.