Child sexual abuse is a serious & widespread issue that has severe and long-lasting effects on children’s mental health. Throughout this article we will not attempt to soften any language or portray this issue in a less-serious manner. The content below should carry weight. It should be real. It should not minimize.
Child sexual abuse refers to any sexual activity, including touching, fondling, oral sex, or penetration. It also includes exposing one’s genitals, forced or coerced viewing of pornographic materials and speech that is sexual in nature.
Abuse can have serious and long-lasting effects on children’s mental health. It can cause a range of emotional and psychological problems, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and low self-esteem. Children who have experienced sexual abuse may also have difficulty trusting others and may have difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships for as long as the trauma goes untreated.
Warning signs and symptoms
There are a number of warning signs and symptoms that may indicate that a child has experienced sexual abuse. These can include:
- Changes in behavior, such as becoming withdrawn, anxious, or aggressive
- Changes in sleep patterns, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Changes in appetite, such as loss of appetite or overeating
- Physical symptoms, such as unexplained injuries or sexually transmitted infections
- Difficulty with personal hygiene, such as refusing to bathe or changing clothes
- Regression to younger behaviors, such as bedwetting or thumb-sucking
It’s important to note that these signs and symptoms may be caused by other factors, and that not all children who have experienced sexual abuse will exhibit these behaviors.
How prevalent is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse is a serious and widespread problem. Because this is a disturbing topic with a vulnerable and innocent victims, we often like to pretend that child sexual abuse is rare, and the exception. It’s NOT. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18.
To drive the point home even further, simply look at the Google News feed for the search term ‘child sexual abuse’. You’ll be served over 11 million news articles in less than a second.
Child Sexual Abuse is Often Not Reported
It’s estimated that only 12% of abuse cases are reported to the authorities. Children often do not have the capability to defend themselves against their abuser. There are many reasons why children may not report sexual abuse. Some of the most common reasons include:
- Fear: Children may be afraid of the abuser or of being blamed or not believed if they report the abuse.
- Shame: Children may feel embarrassed or ashamed about what happened, or they may be worried about how others will perceive them if they report the abuse.
- Loyalty: Children may feel a sense of loyalty to the abuser, particularly if the abuser is a family member or someone they know and trust.
- Lack of understanding: Children may not fully understand what has happened to them or may not have the words to describe it.
- Dependence: Children may be dependent on the abuser for their care or for other basic needs and may be afraid of what will happen to them if they report the abuse.
- Confusion: Children may be confused about their feelings and may not know how to react to the abuse.
- Denial: Children may try to deny that the abuse is happening or may try to convince themselves that it is not really abuse.
- Powerlessness: Children may feel powerless to stop the abuse or may feel that they have no control over the situation.
It is important to remember that every child is different and may have their own unique reasons for not reporting sexual abuse. It’s also important to realize that their abuser is likely installing these feelings in the child as a manipulation tactic.
Where are children most likely to encounter sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse can occur anywhere and can be perpetrated by anyone, including family members, friends, and strangers. However, children are most likely to experience sexual abuse within their own homes or within the homes of trusted adults, such as friends or family members. Approximately 90% of child sexual abuse cases involve someone the child knows, such as a family member, friend, or acquaintance.
Sexual abuse can also take place in trusted environments between children. Sexual abuse between children can take many forms, including but not limited to:
- Touching or fondling another child’s genitals or breasts without consent
- Forced or coerced oral, anal, or vaginal penetration
- Exposing one’s own genitals to another child
- Forced or coerced viewing of pornography or sexual activity
- Non-consensual sharing of sexually explicit photos or videos
It is important to note that children who engage in abusive behavior towards other children are most often themselves victims of abuse and may not understand the harm and impact of their actions. It is important for adults to intervene and provide support and education to both the victim and the perpetrator in these situations.
What are the long-term affects on children after sexual abuse?
The long-term effects of child sexual abuse can vary widely and may depend on the severity of the abuse, the child’s age, and the child’s individual characteristics. Some of the long-term effects of child sexual abuse may include:
- Mental health problems: Children who have experienced sexual abuse are 4x more likely to develop mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
- Physical health problems: Children who have experienced sexual abuse may be at increased risk of developing physical health problems later in life, such as sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancies, and physical injuries.
- Cognitive and developmental delays: Child sexual abuse can affect a child’s cognitive and developmental development, leading to delays in physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development.
- Difficulty forming and maintaining relationships: Children who have experienced sexual abuse may have difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships with others.
- Every 9 minutes, CPS substantiates or finds evidence of a child abuse case (RAINN.org)
- 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18 (National Child Traumatic Stress Network)
- Approximately 90% of child sexual abuse victims know their abuser (Child Welfare Information Gateway)
- Only about 12% of child sexual abuse cases are reported to authorities (Child Welfare Information Gateway)
- Children with disabilities are at an increased risk of sexual abuse, with studies finding that they may be 3-4 times more likely to be sexually abused than non-disabled children (Child Welfare Information Gateway)
- Children who have experienced sexual abuse are at increased risk of developing mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD (National Child Traumatic Stress Network)
- Sexual abuse can affect a child’s cognitive and developmental development, leading to delays in physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development (National Child Traumatic Stress Network)
- Children who are between the ages of 7 and 13 are most likely to be victims of sexual abuse although abuse can & does occur at all ages.
What to do if you suspect sexual abuse
If you suspect that a child is being sexually abused, it’s important to take immediate action to protect the child and report your concerns to the appropriate authorities. Here are some steps you can take:
- Stay calm: It can be difficult to remain calm when you suspect that a child is being sexually abused, but it’s important to try to stay as calm as possible. This will help you to think clearly and to take the necessary steps to protect the child.
- Listen to the child: If the child is willing to talk to you, it’s important to listen carefully to what they have to say. Believe the child and let them know that you are there to help them.
- Don’t confront the suspected abuser: It’s important to remember that it’s not your responsibility to confront the suspected abuser. This can be dangerous and can put the child at further risk.
- Report your concerns: If you suspect that a child is being sexually abused, it’s important to report your concerns to the appropriate authorities. In the United States, you can report your concerns to the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or to the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).
- Seek support: It can be difficult to cope with the emotional impact of suspecting that a child is being sexually abused. It’s important to seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional.
In conclusion, child sexual abuse is a serious and widespread problem that can have serious and long-lasting effects on a child’s mental and physical health. It’s important to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms of sexual abuse and to take action to protect children if you suspect that they are being abused. If you suspect that a child is being sexually abused, it’s important to report your concerns to the appropriate authorities and to seek help and support for the child. By working together, we can help to protect children from sexual abuse and support those who have experienced abuse in their journey towards healing and recovery.