The effects of sexual abuse extend far beyond childhood. Sexual abuse robs children of their youth and creates a loss of trust, feelings of guilt and self-abusive behavior. It can lead to antisocial behavior, depression, identity confusion, loss of self-esteem and other serious emotional problems. It can also lead to difficulty with intimate relationships later in life. The sexual victimization of children is ethically and morally wrong.
Child sexual abuse can be touching or non-touching. Non-touching can include such things as engaging in indecent exposure or exhibitionism; exposing children to pornographic material; deliberately exposing a child to the act of sexual intercourse; and masturbating in front of a child. Touching sexual offenses include fondling a child’s genitals or making a child touch an adult’s sexual organs; penetrating a child’s vagina or anus no matter how slight with a penis or any object that doesn’t have a valid medical purpose. Engaging a child or soliciting a child for the purposes of prostitution and/or using a child to film, photograph or model pornography is also considered sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse can take place within the family, by a friend or neighbor, teacher or stranger. No child is emotionally prepared to cope with repeated sexual stimulation. The older child who knows the abuser becomes stuck between affection and loyalty for the person, and the sense that the sexual activities are dreadfully wrong. If the child tries to break away from the relationship, the abuser may intimidate the child with violence. When sexual abuse occurs within the family, the child may fear the anger, jealousy or shame of other family members, or be afraid the family will break up if the secret is told.
A child who is the victim of prolonged sexual abuse usually develops low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness and an abnormal or distorted view of sex.
Some children who have been sexually abused have difficulty relating to others except on sexual terms and are fearful of telling. Some sexually abused children become child abusers or prostitutes, or have other serious problems when they reach adulthood. Sexually abused children and their families need immediate professional evaluation and treatment to regain a sense of self-esteem, handle feelings of guilt about the abuse, and begin the process of overcoming the trauma.
What are the signs of sexual abuse? It may include such things as an overly curious interest in or avoidance of all things of a sexual nature, depression, problems sleeping, drawing pictures of a sexual nature, seductiveness toward others of opposite sex, and more. A child who was not shy might withdraw from family or friends, or may exhibit feelings of shame or guilt, or he may begin to masturbate excessively. An older child may suffer from depression, change from a good student to one with poor performance, become promiscuous or begin using drugs or alcohol.
What can parents do to prevent, avoid, or decrease the odds that his child might be sexually abused? Parents need to teach their children that if someone tries to touch his body and do things that make you feel funny, say NO to that person and tell the parent right away. Another is to teach children the difference between blind obedience and respect. Just because a person is a teacher or babysitter doesn’t mean you always do what they say, especially if it is contrary to what you know is right. Also, it is vital to provide ample supervision for your children and only leave them in the care of individuals whom you consider safe.
For more information on sexual abuse visit Child Sexual Abuse American Humane Association: http://www.americanhumane.org/children/stop-child-abuse/fact-sheets/child-sexual-abuse.html
Caring for victims,