Sexual abuse can be physical, verbal or emotional and includes:
- Sexual touching and fondling.
- Exposing children to adult sexual activity or pornographic movies and photographs.
- Having children pose, undress or perform in a sexual fashion on film or in person.
- “Peeping” into bathrooms or bedrooms to spy on a child.
- Rape or attempted rape.
The use of physical force is rarely necessary to engage a child in sexual activity because children are trusting and dependent. They want to please others and gain love and approval. Children are taught not to question authority and they believe that adults are always right. Sexual abuse is an abuse of power over a child and a violation of a child’s right to normal, healthy, trusting relationships.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
Because most children cannot or do not tell about being sexually abused, it is up to adults to recognize signs of abuse. Therefore, we must look for behavior signs.
These are general behavior changes that may occur in children who have been sexually abused.
- Fear or dislike of certain people or places.
- Various sleep disturbances.
- School problems.
- Lack of concentration.
- Withdrawal from family, friends, or normal activities.
- Excessive bathing or poor hygiene.
- Return to younger, more babyish behavior.
- Discipline problems.
- Running away.
- Eating disorders.
- Passive or overly pleasing behavior.
- Delinquent acts.
- Low self–esteem.
- Self–destructive behavior.
- Hostility or violent behavior.
- Drug or alcohol problems.
- Sexual activity or pregnancy at an early age.
- Suicide attempts.
- Copying adult sexual behavior.
- Persistent sexual play with other children, themselves, toys or pets.
- Displaying sexual knowledge, through language or behavior, that is beyond what is normal for their age.
- Unexplained pain, swelling, bleeding or irritation of the mouth, genital or anal area, urinary infections.
- Suffers from sexually transmitted diseases.
Often children do not tell anyone about sexual abuse because they
- Feel too ashamed or embarrassed to tell.
- Are afraid no one will believe them.
- Are too young and innocent to put what has happened into words.
- Were threatened or bribed by the abuser to keep the abuse a secret.
- Feel confused by the feelings accompanying the abuse.
- Blame themselves or believe that it happened because they are “Bad”.
- Worry about getting into trouble or getting their loved one into trouble.
Protecting Our Children
Child ProtectionWe want to protect our children from sexual abuse, but we can’t always be there to do that. We can, however, teach children about sexual abuse in order to increase their awareness and coping skills. Without frightening children, we can provide them with appropriate safety information and support at every stage of their development along with other routine safety discussions about fire, water, health, etc.
In order to protect children, teach them
- To feel good about themselves and know they are loved, valued and deserve to be safe.
- The difference between safe and unsafe touches.
- The proper names for all body parts, so they will be able to communicate clearly.
- That safety rules apply to all adults, not just strangers.
- That their bodies belong to them and nobody has the right to touch them or hurt them.
- That they can say “No” to requests that make them feel uncomfortable–even from a close relative or family friend.
- To report to you if any adult asks them to keep a secret.
- That some adults have problems.
- That they can rely on you to believe and protect them if they tell you about abuse.
- That they are not bad or to blame for sexual abuse.
If a child trusts you enough to tell you about an incident of sexual abuse, you are in an important position to help that child recover. The following suggestions can help you provide positive support.
- Keep calm. It is important to remember that you are not angry with the child, but at what happened. Children can mistakenly interpret anger or disgust as directed towards them.
- Believe the child. Trust your child, in most circumstances children do not lie about sexual abuse.
- Give positive messages such as “I know you couldn’t help it”, or “I’m proud of you for telling”.
- Explain to the child that it is not their fault and he or she is not to blame for what happened.
- Listen to them carefully and answer the child’s questions honestly.
- Respect the child’s privacy. Be careful not to discuss the abuse in front of people who do not need to know what happened.
- Arrange for a medical exam. It can reassure you that there has been no permanent physical damage and may prove important evidence.
- Get help. Get competent professional counseling, even if it’s only for a short time.