Click on the titles to read answers to some frequently asked questions, and read statistics from information gathered by Darkness to Light, a national non-profit dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse.
Child sexual abuse is sexual contact between a child and adult or older child for the sexual gratification of the offender. Sexual abuse can be physical or nonphysical. Examples of physical sexual abuse include fondling or inappropriate touching of any kind, rape or attempted rape, or making the child read or participate in pornography. Examples of nonphysical abuse include indecent exposure, talking about sex with the intent of shocking the child or sparking their curiosity, and allowing the child to watch or hear sexual acts or materials. Molestation and exploitation are also considered sexual abuse. This does not always mean sexual intercourse.
All of these acts are considered abuse, even if the offender says he/she was gentle and did not hurt the child. Sexual abuse is NEVER the child’s fault and is always forced, even though the force may be subtle rather than an obvious physical attack.
An offender may use psychological forces, such as bribery or taking advantage of a child’s dependency and lack of knowledge. There may be threats of harm and withdrawal of love. Since children are taught to trust adults, they usually believe these types of threats, making it very difficult to disclose abuse.
The effects of sexual abuse vary between children. The following list is not comprehensive, but gives symptoms sometimes shown by children as a result of abuse.
- Behavioral (change in school performance, anger and mood changes, aggressiveness, rebellion)
- Nausea/upset stomach
- Crying/clinging to parents
- Nightmares/changes in sleep patterns
- Sexually inappropriate behavior
- Attention seeking
Other physical signs to be aware of include:
- Unexplained headaches, stomach aches, vomiting, fainting, blackouts
- Bed wetting, soiling, or other related problems
- Loss of weight or appetite, or weight gain
- Problems such as itching, pain, or soreness in the genital or anal areas
- Unexplained injury of vagina, rectal opening, penis, or genital areas
- Torn, stained, or bloody underclothes
- Sexually transmitted disease or vaginal discharge
Children will react differently to abuse depending on their age, the extent of the abuse, or their relationship with the offender. Abusers sometimes make comments leading the child to believe that they have somehow provoked the abuse, which may affect their reaction to the abuse. Most children will not show physical injury.
The following are examples of how offenders gain access to children and a few of the tactics they might use:
Looking for and finding an approachable child
Abusers will look for children they may have easy access to, such as friends, relatives, and neighbors. They will usually look for children who seek emotional attention or other special needs.
Establishing a relationship with the child
Abusers will build a rapport and trust with the child by playing with them, being their friend, buying presents, and giving the time and attention a child wants and needs.
Desensitizing a child’s resistance to touch
Because the abuser has established a personal relationship with the child, the physical contact they have with the abuser may become confusing as to what is okay. By playing games or wrestling, the abuser may use this as a chance to touch the child sexually without the child realizing what is happening.
Isolating the child
Abusers will make themselves available to the family and the child so that they may find themselves alone with the child. They might use the opportunity to baby-sit or to have the child spend the night.
Blaming the child into keeping their secret
Abusers shift the responsibility to the child so they will feel guilty and not tell anyone.
“You know you like the way I touch you.”
“If you tell, people will think you are bad.”
“If you tell our special secret, I will go to jail.”
“If you tell your mother, she won’t love you anymore.”
Some of the many reasons children give for not telling include:
- Shame or embarrassment
- Self blame – they feel responsible
- Prior victimization
- Fear of loss, punishment or other consequences
- Fear no one will believe them
- Attachment and loyalty to the offender
- Cultural rules about privacy
- Instruction to secrecy
- Domestic violence
- May believe s/he is protecting siblings from abuse
- Doesn’t want to break up the family
Children often feel a sense of guilt over the abuse, and they may also experience self-destructive thoughts or a loss of trust or self-esteem. Some of these signs may not even be obvious until the child becomes an adult. At first, they may deny that anything has happened when asked, or they will not tell the whole story the first time. Disclosure is a process, not an event!
REMEMBER: Child sexual abuse can happen to any child in any community. If the parent’s reaction to the child is disbelief, the child may wonder if their feelings are mistaken. Children do not want to cause problems for their parents and will not tell about abuse thinking they are “protecting” their mom and dad. Also, they fear that telling will make people angry at them.
IT IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT FOR CHILDREN TO REPORT ABUSE!
Helpful things you can say to your child that will support them are:
- I believe you.
- I know it’s not your fault.
- I’m sorry this happened to you.
- I don’t know what will happen now.
- You don’t need to take care of me.
- I am upset, but not with you.
- I am angry at the person who did this to you.
- You can still love someone but hate what they did to you.
- I love you.
- Reassure your child that this is not their fault and you are glad they told you.
- Listen to your child if they want to talk, but be careful not to question your child about the abuse.
- Protect your child immediately from the person suspected of the abuse. This is to protect you, that person, and the child.
- Help your child work with the professionals who will handle the case.
- Keep your routine normal while providing safety, love, and support to your child.
- Seek counseling for your child as soon as possible. The Four Corners Child Advocacy Center will provide a list of mental health providers in your area and can assist you with any help you may need to receive therapy.
- Take care of yourself. You are not in this alone and The Four Corners Child Advocacy Center can help you find resources to meet your needs.
- Remember to give attention to your other children.
- The single most important factor affecting your child’s recovery is the level of support from the parents or care givers.
It is this simple: If you do everything you can to support your child, the chances of recovery are much greater!
Reporting child abuse and neglect is EVERYONE’S responsibility!
A referral to The Four Corners Child Advocacy Center for a forensic interview or medical exam can only be made by Children’s Division or law enforcement.
If you have a concern for a child’s safety, please call the Child Abuse/Neglect Hot line at 800-422-4453 or 9-1-1.
Children’s Division is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. State law requires DSS to respond to the information you provide in a timely manner.
NATIONWIDE USA – 1-800-4ACHILD (800-422-4453)
National Child Abuse Hotline Provides multilingual crisis intervention and professional counseling on child abuse. Gives referrals to local social service groups offering counseling on child abuse. Has literature on child abuse in English and Spanish. Operates 24 hours. TDD users call 1-800-2A-CHILD (800-222-4453)
If you would like some information regarding child sexual and physical abuse, please contact The Four Corners Child Advocacy Center. For children who are interviewed here, we provide a variety of resources available in your community, including mental health and medical providers
If you are a mandated reporter (teacher, medical provider, counselor, etc.), and a child has disclosed information to you about possible abuse, please contact the Hotline listed above immediately.