Responding to Child Sexual Abuse

Girl sitting on beachWhat is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse can include many types of sexually related activities that engage the child in direct or indirect sexual contact for the purpose of the offender’s sexual gratification. Some of the more common types of sexual abuse are:

  • Offender exposing his/her genitals to a child
  • Offender fondles or touches the child’s genitalia
  • Offender encourages the child to touch him/her in a sexual manner
  • Offender has vaginal, oral or anal penetration or penetration with an object with a child
  • Offender entices a child to engage in sexual activity
  • Offender coerces a child into sexual relations with himself/herself, another adult or another child
  • Offender exploits child through child pornography or exposing the child to adult or child pornography

What are the early indicators of sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse involves a high level of secrecy. The offender will frequently threaten or coerce young people into remaining silent. The child is then very reluctant to disclose sexual abuse because of the fear of the consequences he/she may face. Most children will not directly disclose the details of sexual abuse to adults but instead the abuse is often revealed through the child’s behaviors.

Early indications of child sexual abuse may include:

  • Exceptional need for secrecy and privacy
  • Displays unusual interest in or preoccupation with sexual acts
  • Higher level of sexual knowledge than appropriate for the child’s age
  • Unexplained withdrawal or overaggressive behavior
  • Sexual permissiveness and acts out sexually or engages in prostitution
  • Inordinate fear of males or seductive toward males or females
  • Sudden drop in grades or non-participation in school activities especially physical education classes or sports
  • Sleep disturbance or nightmares
  • Has poor peer relationships or is unable to make friends
  • Has a poor self-image and lacks self-esteem
  • Does not participate in school and/or social activities
  • Excessive anxiety and worry
  • Suicide attempts
  • Running away especially among adolescents
  • Early pregnancy
  • Has sexually transmitted disease
  • Hints about sexual activity or states that he or she has been abused
  • Has a sudden interest in sex, pregnancy, or sexually transmitted diseases

Many adults feel uncomfortable when a child shows signs of sexual abuse or discloses sexual abuse. It is a difficult issue to discuss especially when the offender is someone you or the child knows and trusts. It is very important you take some time to think about your emotional response so  you can be supportive of the child. The way you respond to the child will have a great impact on his or her healing process. Here are some things you should do:

  • If you suspect a child has been sexually abused or if the child discloses sexual abuse, encourage him or her to talk freely. Don’t make any judgmental comments about the child, the offender, or the act itself.  Just be there to listen and offer support without asking questions.
  • Make sure the child knows he or she is believed and you are taking what he or she is saying very seriously.
  • Make sure you emphasize the child did the right thing by telling you about the abuse. Assure the child you are there to keep him or her safe and he or she is not going to be punished for telling his or her secret.
  • Be sure the child understands it is not his or her fault and never blame the child for the abuse.
  • Explain you must call some other people that can help him or her. (Police, child protection agency, doctors etc.)

Know how and where to report child sexual abuse

If you know or suspect a child has been sexually abused, please report the abuse. Since the average child molester or pedophile has hundreds of victims in his or her lifetime, it is vital you take the necessary steps to protect your child and the offender’s past and future victims as soon as possible.

The two most common places to make a report of child sexual abuse is your local Child Protective Services or your local law enforcement agency. Some states also have hotlines where you can report child abuse.