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Helping Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Abuse is an organization on a mission to help heal, educate, and empower people who have been impacted by sexual assault and abuse. They provide individuals with accurate, trustworthy and up-to-date information regarding their legal, financial, and healthcare options for individuals after experiencing sexual assault and abuse.
Many individuals hold the misconception that child sexual abuse is a rare occurrence in modern society. Regrettably, this is far from the truth. Shockingly, statistics reveal that up to 25% of girls and 16% of boys undergo some form of sexual abuse before reaching the age of 18. Moreover, it is essential to acknowledge that children are often subjected to sexual abuse by individuals within their own circle of acquaintances. In the majority of cases, child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone they know intimately, rather than by strangers. Disturbingly, nearly 75% of such cases involve family members, foster parents, or other individuals well-known to the child.
What is child sexual abuse?
In 1999, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially adopted a precise definition of child sexual abuse.
This definition stipulates that child sexual abuse encompasses instances where a child is engaged in sexual activities that they do not fully comprehend, cannot provide informed consent for, are not developmentally prepared for, or activities that violate societal laws or norms.
Child sexual abuse can manifest in various forms, including interactions between a child and an adult or between two children. It encompasses acts such as coercing a child into participating in sexual activities, exploiting a child for purposes of prostitution, involving a child in pornographic performances, displaying pornographic materials to them, and other harmful actions.
What are the dynamics of child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse frequently involves a pattern in which an adult or older child establishes trust with a young victim, with the intention of subsequently manipulating them. Children, by nature, tend to place significant trust in adults they know and rely on. Consequently, those who engage in child sexual abuse are typically older children or adults who exploit this trust to coerce the child into participating in sexual activities.
Subsequently, the child often feels compelled to keep the abuse hidden, influenced either by direct communication from the perpetrator or by personal emotions that speaking about the harm might lead to further repercussions, family strife, or even a lack of awareness that they are being victimized.
Child sexual abuse often unfolds over extended periods, at times spanning years. In certain instances, it may commence at a very young age, making it difficult for the child to anticipate anything different within the relationship. Typically, it begins gradually and escalates over time, often involving grooming techniques aimed at fostering trust with the child.
As mentioned previously, most perpetrators of child sexual abuse target individuals close to them, including family members, their own children, their partner’s children, or they may actively seek opportunities to work or volunteer with children. Additionally, there is an increasing trend where perpetrators of child sexual abuse seek victims online through the utilization of online grooming methods.
Any child has the potential to be a victim of child sexual abuse but certain risk factors may increase the chances of child sexual abuse occurring. Risk factors include but are not limited to:
- Children who are often unaccompanied or alone
- Children whose parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol
- Children who come from low-income households
- Physically or mentally disabled children
- Children whose parents experience severe mental illness
Children who experience multiple risk factors may be at a higher risk of becoming a victim of abuse compared to others. It is crucial to note that any child, regardless of race, socioeconomic status or gender can become a victim of child sexual abuse. Children may not be believed or dismissed because they do not meet the risk factors.
Signs of child sexual abuse
There are several signs that a child may be experiencing sexual abuse. Signs of abuse may manifest physically, behaviorally, or emotionally within the child.
Some examples of physical signs:
- Wetting or soiling accidents after potty training
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Unexplained injuries to the genital area
- Pain, bleeding, or discharge in the genitals, anus, or mouth
Some examples of behavioral signs:
- Knowledge about sexual topics that seem inappropriate for their age
- Withdrawal from regular interactions and conversations with peers or activities they previously enjoyed
- Desire to spend an unusual amount of time alone
- Regressing behaviors not normal for their age
Some examples of emotional signs:
- Self-harming or suicidal behavior
- Nightmares, trouble sleeping, or fear of being alone at night
- Change in mood or personality
- New or increased depression or aggression
A child’s response will be unique, and not all of these indications may be present. Do not dismiss a child’s claims or disregard them if they do not show the following signs as every child is unique and other life factors, such as drug usage or domestic violence in the home, can be contributing factors in their overall behavior and demeanor.
What is you suspect a child is being groomed?
Grooming is usually done by someone who may already be close to the child, such as a family member, coach, teacher, or youth group leader. Perpetrators are finding victims on online platforms such as social media, gaming platforms, and on forums to start the grooming process and be more anonymous as they can hide behind a fake online identity.
Grooming is usually the first step a predator will take when they plan to sexually abuse a child. The grooming phase is a set of manipulative behaviors the abuser uses to gain access and build trust with a potential victim, coerce them to agree to the abuse, and reduce the chances of being caught.
If you notice behaviors in a child that lead you to suspect they’re being sexually abused, it’s important to take action. Many state and local governments have specific laws and guidelines that establish what should happen if child sexual abuse is suspected. Make sure to familiarize yourself with them before taking action. Some professionals, such as those in the medical or teaching fields, may be obligated and required to report and this may vary across jurisdictions.
If you are unsure of how to report and/or speak with the child to understand what may be occurring, you can utilize resources such as the hotlines provided by the National Sexual Assault Hotline or VictimConnect.
How to respond if a child reports being abused
Many children don’t report abuse to their parents for several different reasons. They may be scared of the repercussions, may fear that their parents or other family members will be harmed by exposing the abuse, may not realize that abuse has occurred, or not know who to tell. If a child tells you clearly that they have been abused, it’s important to take them seriously and create the safe space to begin the conversation.
Find out the requirements in your state for reporting child sexual abuse and ensure that you follow them. If you notice signs of child sexual abuse, take actions immediately by getting the child medical help, notifying the proper adults (such as the workplace, volunteer organization, or other relevant community members.