Whether you are a parent, teacher, or someone else who cares for and loves children, the best defense against sexual abuse is to educate yourself and your children about it.
What Is Child Sexual Abuse?
Child sexual abuse involves an adult engaging in any type of sexual activity with a child or adolescent. It may also involve an adolescent engaging in sexual activity with a younger child.
There are different forms of sexual abuse. Like other forms of abuse, it can be physical, verbal, or emotional. It may be subtle enough that a child does not know what’s happening, but only feels uncomfortable. According to the Massachusetts Citizens for Children and the organization Stop It Now, child sexual abuse includes:
Fondling a child’s genitals, breasts, or anus for sexual pleasure or other unnecessary reason
Playing sexual games or making a child touch someone else’s genitals
Inserting objects or body parts (fingers, tongue, or penis) inside the vulva, vagina, mouth, or anus of a child, for sexual pleasure or other unnecessary reason
Exposing genitals to a child
Showing pornography to a child
Making sexual remarks to a child
Having a child pose, undress, or perform in a sexual fashion (including for photographs)
Peeping into bedrooms and bathrooms
In many cases of sexual abuse, the child knows the offender. The offender is often someone the child trusts or loves, such as a parent, neighbor, or relative.
Signs and Symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse
Children often don’t tell others about sexual abuse because they feel frightened, ashamed, and confused. Their abusers often convince them that it must be kept a secret. Be alert for the following potential warning signs:
Underwear that is torn, stained, or bloody
Difficulty walking or sitting
Redness, pain, bleeding, or bruising in the external genital area, vagina, or anal area
Bed-wetting, thumb sucking, or loss of bowel control
Fear of undressing, or wearing extra layers of clothing
Fear of going to the bathroom, refusal to have a bowel movement, or constipation
Difficulty making friends
Getting to school early and staying late, to avoid being at home
Marked fear of a person (including parents) or certain places
Promiscuity, seductive behavior, or age inappropriate interest in sexual matters
Persistent, inappropriate sex play with peers or toys, or excessive masturbation
Truancy or dropping school performance
Running away from home
Abusing alcohol or drugs
When You Suspect Sexual Abuse
If you show anger or disgust, the child might take it personally. Don’t panic or overreact. This is a difficult experience and the child needs help and support.
Take what the child says seriously.
Listen carefully and compassionately
to the child and answer questions honestly.
Child abuse is
the child’s fault. Reassure the child that he or she is not to blame. Tell the child that you are proud of him or her for speaking up. Give lots of love, comfort, and reassurance.
Respect the child’s privacy.
Don’t pressure the child to talk about the abuse. The child will talk about it at his or her own pace. Don’t discuss the abuse in front of people who don’t need to know about it.
Report the abuse
to the Department of Human Services as soon as possible. They can help keep the child safe and provide assistance and resources.
Take the child for a medical exam
in case there might be physical injury, damage, or disease that has resulted from the abuse. An exam may also provide important evidence.
Get help from a variety of sources: the child’s pediatrician, a counselor, a police officer, a child protective service worker, or a teacher.
Do not prevent the child from talking about the abuse.
Do not confront the offender in front of your child.
Such a confrontation could be very distressful and harmful to the child.
How to Help Prevent Sexual Abuse
Here are some ways that parents can help lessen the chance of sexual abuse:
Tell children, “If someone tries to touch your body and do things that make you feel funny, say NO to that person and tell me right away."
Teach children that respect does not mean blind obedience to adults and to authority.
Encourage professional prevention programs in the local school.
Know the people who spend time around your child, especially caregivers.
Communicate frequently and openly with your child in a non-judgmental way.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a