Sexual abuse of children is a grim fact of life in our society. It is more common than most people realize. Some surveys say that at least 1 out of 5 women and 1 out of 10 men recall sexual abuse in childhood.
What Is Child Sexual Abuse?
Sexual Abuse Definition: Sexual exploitation of a child, including rape, incest, fondling, exhibitionism, or pornography
It is any sexual act with a child that is performed by an adult or an older child. Such acts include fondling the child's genitals, getting the child to fondle an adult's genitals, mouth to genital contact, rubbing an adult's genitals on the child, or actually penetrating the child's vagina or anus.
There is no such thing as "only fondled". He fondled her genitals and that, in itself, is a crime. He may, in fact, not have touched her at all, confining his sexual advances to lewd and suggestive remarks, and this can be devastating too. If a child has been subjected to years of painful intercourse then she has been more traumatized than someone who has been fondled a few times. In both cases, however, the emotional scars run deep.
Other, often overlooked, forms of abuse occur. These include an adult showing his or her genitals to a child, showing the child obscene pictures or videotapes, or using the child to make obscene materials.
What Can Parents Do to Prevent Sexual Abuse?
Tell someone in authority if you suspect that your child or some else's child is being abused. No man stands as tall as he who bends to help a child. ~Robert Wagner
Prevention measures to safeguard your children should begin early, since a number of child abuse cases involve preschoolers. The following guidelines offer age-appropriate topics to discuss with your children:
Stay alert to sexual abuse and teach your children what it is. Tell them they can and should say NO! or STOP! to adults who threaten them sexually. Make sure your children know that it's OK to tell you about any attempt to molest them - no matter who the offender is.
18 months - Teach your child the proper (accurate) names for body parts. Diapering, potty time, and bathing are good times for this to occur naturally. Know with whom your child is spending time. Be careful about letting your child spend time in out-of-the-way places with other adults or older children. Plan to visit your child's caregiver without notice. Teach your child about the privacy of body parts, from the time they're toddlers, to respect their own and others' privacy (but maintain constant vigilance to ensure their safety). Teach them to feel good about themselves, their bodies, and their future - to have self-confidence, self-respect, and self-worth. Teach them to express their feelings in words from early preschool age, and LISTEN to what they say. Don't stop just because they grown into teens.
3-5 years - Teach your child about private parts of the body and how to say no to sexual advances. Talk to your child about sexual abuse. Teach them specifically (children don't generalize; they are literal-minded) that no one may touch their "bathing suit" areas unless you are present or have given permission for a specific situation such as a doctor's visit, and that they are not to look at or touch anyone else's unclothed bodies without your permission. Teach them to say "NO!" forcefully and loudly if someone tries to get them to do something that you have taught them is wrong or that they believe is wrong, and to get help if the person persists. Give straight forward answers about sex. Teach them that the human body is beautiful and has inherent dignity. Children's books for this purpose or artistic paintings and sculpture can help convey this so that kids don't have to look at "dirty" pictures or experiment with playmates to satisfy their natural curiosity. Teach them that they can ALWAYS come to you if they feel uncomfortable in any situation and that you will help them. Remind them especially when they are away from home. Listen when your child tries to tell you something, especially when it seems hard for her to talk about it.
5-8 years - Discuss safety away from home and the difference between good touch and bad touch. Encourage your child to talk about scary experiences. Give your child enough of your time so that the child will not seek attention from other adults.
8-12 years - Stress personal safety. Start to discuss rules of sexual conduct that are accepted by the family.
13-18 years - Stress personal safety. Discuss rape, date rape, sexually transmitted diseases, and
Could My Child Be Sexually Abused? By Whom?
Boys and girls are most often abused by adults or older children whom they know and who can control them. The offender is known by the victim in 8 out of 10 reported cases. The offender is often an authority figure whom the child trusts or loves. Almost always the child is convinced to engage in sex by means of persuasion, bribes, or threats.
We must never give in
to those who would harm our children.
We must provide every assurance of safety and love ...
and we must not forget.
~ N. Faulkner
How Would I Know if My Child Is Being Sexually Abused?
Children who are being abused often have been convinced by the abuser that they must not tell anyone about it. A child's first statements about abuse may be sketchy and incomplete. He may only hint about the problem.
Some abused children may tell friends about the abuse. A child who is told about or sees abuse in another child may tell an adult.
Parents need to be aware of behavioral changes that may signal this problem. The following symptoms may suggest sexual abuse:
*exceptional fear of a person or certain places
*an uncalled-for response from a child when the child is asked if he has been touched by someone
*unreasonable fear of a physical exam
*drawings that are scary or use a lot of black and red
*abrupt change in conduct of any sort
*sudden awareness of genitals and sexual acts and words
*attempts to get other children to perform sexual acts
If My Child Reveals Sexual Abuse, What Should I Do?
Above all, take it seriously, but stay calm. Many children who report abuse are not believed. When a child's plea is ignored, she may not risk telling again. As a result, the child could be victimized for months or years. Millions of children have had their lives torn apart by ongoing sexual abuse.
Make sure you help your child understand that the abuse is not his or her fault. Give lots of love and comfort. If you are angry, don't let your child see it - you do not want the child to think the anger is aimed at her. Let the child know how brave she was to tell you. This is the most important if the child has been abused by a close relative or family friend. Then, tell someone yourself. Get help. Talk to your child's doctor, a counselor, a policeman, a child protective service worker, or a teacher.
1. Believe your child and affirm them for telling you; stay calm and supportive.
2. Seek professional help immediately for your child and your family. (Start with your pediatrician, child protective services, and a counselor trained in treating sexual abuse.)
3. Reassure your child that it wasn't their fault and that they did the best they could at the time.
4. Expect the consequences to be painful and for the pain to recur later on at different times. Don't expect it to all be over and done with and put behind everyone. It takes time to heal and is an ongoing process for everyone in the family.
5. Let your child talk about it at their own pace. Don't push them or try to shush them.
6. Expect your child to recant when the going gets rough. Encourage them to tell the truth for the good of all concerned, but understand that they may try to "erase" the whole experience.
7. As strongly as possible, let your child know that it's the adults' job to protect children and that you and God love them no matter what!
Can I Deal with Sexual Abuse in My Family without Contacting the Authorities?
It is difficult for parents to stop sexual abuse without help from experts. The hard but healthy way to deal with the problem is:
1.Face the issue.
2.Take charge of the situation.
3.Work to avoid future abuse.
4.Discuss it with your pediatrician, who can provide support and counselling.
5.Report abuse to your local child protection service agency and ask about crisis support help.
Talking about sexual abuse can be very hard for the child who has been told not to tell by a trusted adult. It can be just as hard for adults if the abuser is close to them. Still, the abuse should be reported to your local child protection agency or your doctor. It is the best thing to do for both the child and the family.
A Message from Monica Cone, representitive of Child Protect:
There appears to be little out there on infant abuse. In "Assessing Allegations of Sexual Abuse in Preschool Children" by Sandra Hewitt. It says is that the only possible detection of sexual abuse in infants is through physical/medical evidence or witness testimony. Both of these are difficult to corroborate due to infants' lack of verbal communication skills. Sometimes, children may later put into words a memory from early life, but not customarily.
Painful events can resurface at different stages in a child's life, such as fearfulness, behavioral problems, insecurity, etc. I would do my best not to LOOK FOR these things, or you will find them. Kids may exhibit these behaviors just because they are kids or due to their personality style, or because of something else going on with them.
The important thing is...abused or not, children are not warped for life because of a traumatic incident. It is true that they are far more resilient than adults.
Being a strong support system for your child--especially in the area of communication from the moment they can do so, will be very therapeutic and reassuring to them. Listening, I have found, is often better than any technique that can be used.
If your child is under loving and consistent care, then most likely they will have a secure attachment, feel safe to explore the world around them, and reflect the love they have been shown.
I'm not sure that you can intuitively know that a caretaker or anyone else would hurt your child. Know that perpetrators capitalize on winning the trust of adults before gaining opportunities to be alone with your children. Most perpetrators. are people related to you or a trusted acquaintance. It is perfectly normal to leave your child with a babysitter, relative, or known person. Only GOD can know the true intention of a person's heart. Perpetrators are the only ones ultimately who can stop sexual crimes, because they make free-will choices to do this. We as parents are not psychic, and most likely would have NEVER left our child with the person if we had an inkling they might abuse them.
Warning signs, to me, include any abnormal/abrupt change in behavior in a child that cannot be attributed to something else going on. Excessive crying, overly clingy to the point of panic if you are not in their sight (children will go thru this stage normally for a short time in late infancy). Other things might be a child becoming upset when informed he will be spending time with a particular person (often parents overlook this). If a child says they do not like an adult person, than I would NOT force them to interact with or be alone with him/her. Really listening to your child and taking their feelings as seriously as an adult's is a key to early intervention. Sexual acting out is a concern. A child who publically touches himself (frequently) after being corrected may have received some type of exposure to sexual behaviors. I would only consider that if the child has other behavioral changes as well. Self-exploration is normal in kids. Abused children often act out sexually explicit behaviors on other kids or seem obsessed with stimulating their genitals (almost as if they are in a trance). Asking honest questions like, "Where did you learn
to do that?" (without panicking) helps. I warn parents not to question their children for details or ask, "Has somebody messed with/touched you?". Ask open-ended questions like, "What do you and Uncle Joe play in the bath tub?". Notify Human Resources or law enforcement if suspicious.
Trust your instincts, but starve paranoia to death. Paranoia can make a child anxious, insecure, and fearful about life and will really cut in on his enjoyment. For me, faith in GOD comes in here, giving the precious one over to HIM and trusting HIM to be a better parent than you or I can be.
The following web sites and organizations are where I gained my materials
Panora's Box: http://www.prevent-abuse-now.com/
Day of the Child: http://www.dayofthechild.org/dc98/orgindex.htm
Still Waters Run Deep: http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/7130/
Bearing Through It: http://www.bearingthroughit.org
National Children's Advocacy: (256) 533-0531. Director: Connie Carnes, 200 West Side Square, Ste 700, Huntsville, AL 35801
National Committee for prevention of Child Abuse, P.O. Box 2866, Chicago, IL 60690.
Helene Hubbard, "Empower Your Child To Repel Sexual Abuse", Women of Spirit Magazine. Helene is a professor of pediatrics in Florida.