Child sexual abuse is a veryserious and devastating problem that is happening at high rates in the UnitedStates, more so than we would like to think.
Child sexual abuse is occurringwithin homes and families with the high possibility of it going unnoticed ornot addressed. Most of the time, the perpetrator is a family member such as aparent, uncle, or a grandparent. Child sexual abuse is defined as a type ofmaltreatment, violation, and exploitation that refers to the involvement of thechild in sexual activity to provide sexual gratification or financial benefitto the perpetrator. It includes contact for sexual purposes, molestation,statutory rape, prostitution, pornography, exposure, incest, or other sexuallyexploitative activities.” (American Society for the Positive Care of Children,2017). There are two main categories ofchild sexual abuse: contact and non-contact. Contact sexual abuse refers to anyphysical touching of the child’s sexual areas.
Examples of this could includeforcing the child to receive or give oral sex or touching/fondling the child’sgenitals. Non-contact refers to any sexual acts that are not physical. Examplesof this includes forcing a child to watch sexual acts or forcing a child tolook at sexual parts of the body. Non-contact abuse can occur through sexuallyexplicit videos, DVDs, magazines, or photographs. Further, the perpetrator mayask or make sexual intrusive comments or questions. This type of abuse canhappen in person or online (Barriere, 2017).
As one can imagine, child sexual abuse can have immediateand long-term effects that can follow a child into adulthood. The most common,immediate affects of child sexual abuse is depression, anxiety, anger, andavoidance. Depression, in one report, was the most common symptom reported dueto child sexual abuse.
Child victims are four times more likely to be diagnosedwith major depression, at some point, than non-abused children. Anxiety is alsoa common, disruptive condition that many victims face. Children who have beenabused are more likely to meet the criteria for generalized anxiety disorder,phobias, panic disorder, and OCD. Survivors are five times more likely to bediagnosed with an anxiety disorder than people who have not be sexually abused.The anxiety that a child faces often interferes with the ability for them toform meaningful relationships. Anger is another effect that sexual abuse canhave on a child.
Anger is often expressed in behavioral problems, throughfighting or bullying. This often leads the child to unpopularity or to becomesocially isolated. Avoidant behavior is furthermore common in victims of childsexual abuse. The child may use avoidance as a means to cope, along withsubstance abuse, tension-reducing activities, and suicidal ideation. Oftentimes, these behaviors lead to lower self-esteem and greater feelings of guiltand anger. More long-term effects of child sexual abuse include post-traumaticstress disorder, substance abuse and addiction, indiscriminate sex, and eatingdisorders. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common long-term effectthat can occur if the victim does not receive help when they should. PTSD,often times for survivors, takes place in flashbacks- or re-experiencing of theevent through nightmares or intrusive thoughts.
The use of alcohol or drugs maybe used by victims of this kind of abuse in order to self-medicate. Childrenwho were sexually abused are 10 times more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs asan adolescent or adult. Additionally, it has been recorded by clinicians thatmany adolescents and adults engage in frequent, episodes of sexual activity,often with several different partners. This might be due for a need forcloseness and intimacy or to provide as a distraction. This is in partly due tothe fact that sexual activity can be a coping mechanism that can control painfor a short amount of time. The relationship between child sexual abuse andeating disorders is a fairly new study however, it has been found that there islikely to be a link between the two. The eating disorder may provide self-soothing, adistraction, or a filling of perceived emptiness (Briere and Elliott, 1994).
Unmistakably, there arenumerous repercussions that sexual abuse can have on a child. The listmentioned above are only a few to the very exhaustive list that couldpotentially be a result. Child sexual abuse, without doubt, has detrimental, severeeffects on the survivor of sexual abuse if it is not dealt with. Indications of child sexual abuse can take place in manyways. Some physical indications are redness, rashes, and/or bleeding in thegenital, oral, or anal area, bruising, difficulty walking or sitting, STIs oryeast infections, frequent sore throats, psychosomatic symptoms such asstomachache or headache, or complaints of itching or pain near the genitalarea. Behavioral indications of sexual abuse can include sexualized behaviorthat is not appropriate for the age of the child, signs of an eating disorder,or self-mutilation (Barriere, 2017). The world might be a little bit easier if society wasable to distinguish between what an abuser looks like and what they don’t looklike. However, it is not that easy.
In reality, there is not one, set in stonearchetype of what a child abuser looks like. But, there are somecharacteristics that could be helpful. Most offenders are between the ages of20-50, half are married, and many have their own children. Often times, theoffender was also a victim of child sexual abuse themselves. It is estimatedthat about 40% of the offenders abuse children that they know. Moreover, theoffender has most likely been attracted to young children all of his life.
Itis also important to note that the vast majority of people who abuse are notviolent. They do not prefer violence, but feel the need to have power. Lastly,there are a number of offenders who grew up never learning about sex or sex wasnot allowed to be openly discussed in their households (Hodson and Skeen, 1987). As aparent, teacher, or simply someone who cares about children, it is important tohave the knowledge about what to do if a child decides to disclose informationto you that they have been sexually abused.
As one can imagine, having thisconversation is hard and uncomfortable, especially for children who may beconfused, scared, or embarrassed about the situation. However, there are tipsthat you can take in order to ensure that you’re being supportive to the child.One thing is to reassure the child that it is right to tell someone they trustif they have been sexually abused.
The child needs to be reassured that it isnot their fault and the adult is not angry with them because they are not thecause of distress. Secondly, always listen and support the child. It isimportant that the authorities investigate, not the adult who is supposed to besupportive. Quizzing or repeatedly asking the details may seem to the childthat you don’t believe them. Thirdly, don’t be afraid of saying the “wrong”thing. As long as you are doing your best to be supportive that is the primarygoal.
If the child is disclosing something like this to you, that means thatthey trust you. Fourthly, don’t make promises that you can’t keep. Often,children will fear repercussions or consequences such as, getting in trouble. Alot of the time the child will ask the adult to not tell anyone, however thisis not a promise an adult should make.
It is important to tell authorities.Instead, promise the child that you will do everything in your power to keepthem safe. Fifthly, try to maintain a calm appearance. Although this can bedifficult and overwhelming, not doing so could scare the child. If you arehaving a hard time controlling your emotions be sure to tell the child you aresad because adults are supposed to care for children, not hurt them.
Sixthly,give the child your undivided attention and let the child take their time whentalking to you. If the area around you is noisy, let the child know that youwould like to move to an area where you can hear him or her properly. However,be sure to ask the child for permission. Some areas might trigger memories ofthe abuse. Additionally, depending on the child, they may not want to talkabout it for a long time while others might want to talk about it for a longerperiod of time.
Either way, it is imperative that the child doesn’t feel rushedor panicked. Seventhly, let the child use his or her own words. This can helpreduce discomfort in the child and it is also important in case there are legalproceedings in the future that the child is using their own words. Eighthly,let the child know what your next steps are at the end of the conversation. Trynot speaking about organizations or authorities that the child may notunderstand without explaining it first.
Explain to the child that in order forthem to be safe, you need to tell another adult. It is important to keep thechild involved in what you’re doing because they may already feel a big loss ofcontrol, and this can add to that. Ninthly, accept that the child is only goingto tell you what they’re comfortable with and recognize their strength andbravery in talking about something that is so difficult and personal.
It isimportant the child feels in control and pressing for information could makethe child feel that they’re not in control. Also, it is important toacknowledge the child’s bravery. Lastly, do not confront the perpetrator. Thiscould create a potential risk for the child’s safety. Confronting an allegedperpetrator should be left to police or the correct authorities (Healey, 2015). With atopic that can be so difficult and overwhelming, it is crucial that we are ableto distinguish between facts and myths.
One myth is that child sexual abuse isa rare occurrence. This is not the case, one out of three girls and one out offive boys will be sexually abused before they are 18. Another myth is that childsexual abuse is mostly committed by strangers. The fact is that ninety percentof child victims know their sex offender. Child abusers are easy to identify isalso a common myth. This is not true, child sex offenders come from every walkof life. Lastly, a common myth is that children often make up stories aboutsexual relationships with adults.
This is not true simply due to the fact thatchildren don’t know enough about sex to be able to describe sexual behaviorsthat have not occurred. The damagethat can occur physically, emotionally, and psychologically can havedetrimental effects on a child’s well-being. That is why it is paramount thatas adults we do everything in our power to try to prevent or lessen childsexual abuse. The first is to give children the correct terminology for thesexual parts of their bodies. Secondly, help children identify the differenttypes of touching: good, bad, or confusing.
Good touches are normal, lovinginteractions. A confusing touch might be incessant tickling by an adult afterthe child has said “stop.” A bad touch is touches on sexual parts of the bodywithout the child’s permission. Teach children that their bodies are their ownand they have control over them. Teach children that abuse is not their faultand teach them how someone might try to manipulate them. Encourage opencommunication. Believe the child if they tell you something has happened tothem and investigate further. Foster appropriate attitudes in responsibleadults.
Encourage the child to keep telling if they tell an adult and the adultdoes nothing. Lastly, know your resources and know that they are available ifyou need them. Childsexual abuse is an awful and difficult thing to handle. However, as a society,we can not pretend like it doesn’t exist. Learning about child sexual abuse andways to lessen or prevent it, is a step that we should all take.
Childrenshould be allowed to be children and not have their lives disrupted withsomething like sexual abuse.