At least one in four girls and one in six boys have been molested before the age of 18. Most victims know their perpetrator, which may be a family member, friend or acquaintance, or even a date. Here's what you, as a parent, and your child need to know.
What Is Sexual Abuse?
First, it's critically important to know what sexual abuse is. The American Psychological Association defines sexual abuse as an:
"Unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.”
Sexual activity includes abuse that can be physical, emotional, and/or verbal. It can be overt (such as being physically molested or raped) or covert (someone making you undress, pose for pictures, or making you watch pornography). It can also be used in bullying.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network further explains,
"Child sexual abuse is any interaction between a child and an adult (or another child) in which the child is used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator or an observer. Sexual abuse can include both touching and non-touching behaviors. Non-touching behaviors can include voyeurism (trying to look at a child’s naked body), exhibitionism, or exposing the child to pornography. Children of all ages, races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds may experience sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse affects both girls and boys in all kinds of neighborhoods and communities."
Warning Signs Of Sexual Child Abuse
Many times, children who are abused are also threatened and bullied into keeping quiet. Here are some common warning signs to watch for:
- An increase in nightmares and/or other sleeping difficulties
- Withdrawn behavior
- Angry outbursts
- Not wanting to be left alone with a particular individual(s)
- Sexual knowledge, language, and/or behaviors that are inappropriate for the child’s age
First Steps To Heal Sexual Abuse
If the abuse has happened within the last 24 hours, these are the first steps victims and their parents can take towards healing and regaining control.
1. Get Help Immediately
Do not keep the abuse secret. Call a trusted friend or adult to help you cope. Call 911 or a hotline. Here are two hotlines you could call:
2. Get Medical Help
Go to the hospital; do not bathe or change clothes. If there has been penetration, the hospital can do a “rape kit” to get DNA material from the perpetrator that will aid in the legal process. Go to the hospital even if you don't want to report the assault. You need to be seen by a doctor.
3. Talk To A Safe Adult
If you don’t want to report this, it is your choice, for some people don’t want to go through the process of a court hearing (for some, it almost feels like being raped again). But you still need to talk to a trusted adult and be medically checked out for possible STDs or injuries that need to be treated.
Know that some adults such as teachers, counselors, ministers, and other adults are “mandated reporters” which means they legally have to contact the police and Child Protective Services if you tell them. However, if you decide to report, these people can be very supportive of you.
4. Get Counseling
Contact an assault/rape support center who can help you with counseling and decisions regarding any legal actions you may wish to pursue. Two resources to help you are:
You can also seek other counselors who may specialize in sexual trauma. Parents and children alike can benefit from individual and family counseling.
Emotional Healing From Sexual Abuse
Feelings of fear, hurt, pain, depression, and anxiety are real. No one can heal from them without support. It's important for all survivors of child sexual abuse to know these five truths.
1. Don't Blame Yourself
The perpetrator is at fault for what happened, not the victim. Even if you were wearing tight clothes, flirting, were intoxicated and couldn’t give permission, it is not your fault. Clothing, flirting, or being impaired by alcohol are not excuses for someone to abuse you.
2. Don't Feel Guilty
Some victims, even when being assaulted, may feel sexual feelings or may have an orgasm which makes them feel guilty. This is not about whether you wanted to be victimized; it’s about how the body may naturally respond to sexual stimuli.
3. Don't Act On Negative Feelings
Feelings can't be fixed by drinking or drugging, or self-harm behaviors such as cutting and burning, harming others as you have been harmed, or other dangerous behaviors. You may even feel suicidal, but you don’t need to act on the feeling. Instead, you need to seek help from professionals.
4. Use Healthy Coping Skills
Trying to find a new normal helps. Get back into favorite activities like:
- Talking to friends
- Participating in your usual leisure events such as school extra-curricular activities
- Playing video games
- Hanging out with friends
Joining a support group, journaling, exercising, and being creative can also help survivors heal from the abuse.
5. Healing Takes Time
Something terrible has happened, and you can't pretend it didn't. Don't feel bad if you feel bad, but know that you don't have to be stuck with the same feelings all your life. You can be hurt and resilient at the same time. You can also can take charge of your life and your own healing process by finding others who know how to help you heal in healthy ways.
Re-establish your routines, give yourself time to grieve and feel sad and angry, and cope with negative thoughts and feelings by letting others know.