Child Sexual Abuse: Definition, Prevention, and Coping

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Child sexual abuse is a terrible act that robs children of the most innocent time in their lives. It forces the child to grow up faster than they would have done otherwise. It robs them of their spontaneity, encouraging the young one to act more cautious of the world, and to expect hurt from everyone close to them for the rest of their lives.

|SEE ALSO: Anna Lee Gruenwald: A Survivor of Child Sexual Abuse|

It is no small event. Sexual abuse affects every aspect of the victim’s life, tainting it with fear, insecurity, shame, depression, and dissociation from reality. It forces a young person to not want to feel their own emotional world because it has become too painful. Later in life, the abuse can inflict a desire to search for external ways to feel better or be crushed by the weight of the circumstances.

What is the definition of child sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse is any sexual objectification of a minor. This includes, but is not limited to, inappropriate touching, kissing, petting, and communication. Any contact, sexual in nature, through the internet and phone constitutes abuse. Any action that makes a child feel sexually unsafe is wrong and should be punished by law. Any person who suspects sexual abuse has the duty to report it to the police or a child advocacy program. If such a person does not file a report, they become an accomplice for withholding evidence.

Who commits child sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse is not confined to any one socio-economic status, and can cross into any type of family structure. Despite class, no matter who the suspected predator is, they should not be overlooked in an investigation process. The National Center for PTSD says that only 1 in 10 sexual abuse cases involve a stranger. This means that 9 out of 10 times, the abuser is someone the child is familiar with, such as a family member, friend of the family, teacher, or neighbor. The abuser is usually a male also, no matter the gender of the victim. However, it should be noted that women also commit sexual abuse. Woman attackers account for around 14% of all sexual abuse cases involving boys and about 6% girls.

The internet

Online chat rooms now play a role in child abuse. Underage children sometimes get bored and go where they shouldn’t on the internet, such as adult chat rooms. It is important to go over safety with your young one about communicating with strangers on the internet. Predators will try to lure underage victims out of the house by lying to them.

Keeping children safe

There are many trustworthy people who work with children. Unfortunately, there are people who work with children that sometimes have bad intentions. Adults in positions of responsibility over children, such as camp and guidance counselors, teachers, social workers, priests, and daycare attendants should all be checked against the sex offender registry and watched closely. Predators sometimes seek after positions of power where they can control and dominate those weaker than themselves. This is not meant to evoke fear and paranoia in parents about their children’s care givers, but to air on the side of caution always. It is absolutely important to do research on the people that will be around your children instead of blindly trusting people out of naivety.

The best defense for a child against these types of pedophiles is to have a safe dialog established by their parents. As early as possible, the child must feel safe enough and know the words associated with reporting abuse. This is the responsibility of every good parent.

A parent should choose to use gentle language when explaining things to a young child. This awkward dialog must be faced to keep your little one safe. Perhaps the parent could say something like, “This is very important sweetheart that you tell Mommy/Daddy if anyone tries to hurt your private places,” or, “Tell Mommy if anyone makes you feel bad or hurts you.” Then it is your job to listen to your child.

It has been documented that child molesters tell children that they abuse that they will hurt them or their family if the child tells their parents or anyone what is happening to them. This isolates the child, separating them from the people who love them most, and keeps them silent, all things that promote permanent emotional damage and low self-esteem.

Talk to your child. Listen to them.

Tell your child that if anyone ever threatens them or your family to tell you immediately, no matter how scary the threat. Tell them that your Mommy/Daddy/Caregiver is stronger and knows big scary Police officers who won’t let anything happen to them no matter what a bad adult may say.

The best way to protect your child is by talking to them and paying attention to them! Sounds simple, but what changes or signs should you beware of in your child to detect abuse? Here are some warning signs of sexual abuse in children to look for. If you notice these kinds of changes in your little one, it may be a sign something bad is going on.

  • The child shows an obvious fear or repulsion at the mention or sight of a person or place that they frequent where they are supervised by someone other than you.
  • The child shows signs of PTSD, like nervousness, anxiety, and fearful behavior. They may have nightmares about the abuse. When they play, the child might attempt to act out the abuse they have sustained.
  • An abused child may have to relearn skills they have already learned because after abuse they may regress into younger behavior. A child who has been abused could start wetting their bed or sucking they’re thumb, after previously growing out of those behaviors.
  • The child may act in a sexual way. They may exhibit overt sexual behavior, act seductive and not maintaining appropriate distances with others.
  • Children “act out” or “act in” after sexual abuse. Acting out could include behaving cruelly towards others or attempts to run away from home. Acting in can include acting overly compliant, depressed, and withdrawn. They may drift away from expressing themselves to friends and family.
  • Older children and teens often try to hurt themselves with excessive amounts of drugs and alcohol. They may cut themselves and attempt suicide.
  • For teachers looking for signs of parental abuse, be aware of a child often getting to school much too early, staying too late, and in general not wanting to go home. If a child discloses information about parental abuse, it should be taken seriously.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends certain steps to protect child victims of sexual abuse, including listening without judgment if a child comes to you with complaints of abuse, and contacting the appropriate authorities. They recommend contacting the police for children that are not related to you, and the local Child Protection Agency for children in the family.

During a sexual abuse encounter a child will shut down or detach emotionally from their body. This is because it is such a terrifying experience for a young mind to process. Some later describe out-of-body experiences, which make uncovering childhood traumatic memories very tricky.

Shutting down is the youngster’s mind’s way of defending itself. For if it was to fully grasp the gravity of the encounter, to fully feel the incredible fear welling within them, they would overload. When someone who is supposed to be caring for the well fare of the child lets them down in this manner, it completely destroys a child’s sense of trust and well-being.

That is why so many who experience sexual abuse will grow up later to find themselves lonely, isolated, detached, and unable to form lasting relationships. Part of the reason the survivor has trouble leading a normal life is that they don’t know what normality looks like because the reality they’ve been shown as normal is anything but. When a caretaker lets down a child there is a sense of profound loss in the child.

If child sexual abuse is suspected, it is a person’s duty to help protect that child by law. In fact, to not do so is now considered a crime punishable by prison. Choosing to stay silent about abuse can land that person in jail right beside the abuser. Not to mention, by staying silent, a person is contributing to the down fall of that child’s life, health, and happiness.

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