In a previous article, I wrote about a subject that is never easy to discuss: child sexual abuse, and its enduring impact on both the victims and our communities. In this article, I want to address the warning signs and treatment for this wide-spread health issue affecting children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, victims of child sexual abuse are likely to experience ongoing health issues as adolescents and adults. These include emotional and psychological issues, eating disorders, and drug abuse. Additionally, the abused often learn to disregard personal safety and engage in risky behaviors.
There are several warning signs, both physical and behavioral, that can alert a caregiver to a possible victim of abuse. The physical warning signs, as reported by the United States Health and Human Services (HHS), include bruising, bleeding, and abrasions to the child’s genitals, anus, or mouth. HHS also recommended that the child is taken to a doctor, so that the abuse can be documented. The physician will also test for sexually transmitted diseases.
The stress of sexual abuse can cause numerous changes in behavior. According to the Stop It Now! abuse prevention organization, if several of the warning signs are observed in the child’s behavior, it is time to intervene. It is important to remember that the behaviors in the following list can occur for reasons other than suspected child sexual abuse, but they should not be ignored: mood swings, bed wetting, nightmares and fear of the dark, loss of appetite, play-acting sexual acts with dolls, using slang words for private body parts, possessing money given by a "new" or "secret" friend.
Treatment for these victims is lengthy and often difficult. The child welfare arm of the Department of Health and Human Services reported that healing the abused victim should include psychological counseling from a therapist trained in Child sexual abuse treatment, and decreasing the child’s risk for future sexual abuse. Counseling may involve family, individual or group sessions to restore the child’s health and self-esteem.