Understanding a child sexual abuse survivor

Sexual abuse is the involvement of unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent. Most victims and perpetrators know each other. Immediate reactions to sexual abuse include shock, fear or disbelief. Long-term symptoms include anxiety, fear or post-traumatic stress disorder. While efforts to treat sex offenders remain unpromising, psychological interventions for survivors — especially group therapy — appears effective.

All sexual touching between an adult and a child is sexual abuse. Sexual touching between children can also be sexual abuse. The abuse between children is often defined as when there is a significant age difference (usually 3 or more years) between the children, or if the children are very different developmentally or size-wise. Sexual abuse does not have to involve penetration, force, pain, or even touching. If an adult engages in any sexual behavior (looking, showing, or touching) with a child to meet the adult’s interest or sexual needs, it is sexual abuse.

Non-touching sexual activity towards children

  • showing pornography to a child
  • deliberately exposing an adult’s genitals to a child
  • photographing a child in sexual poses
  • encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts
  • inappropriately watching a child undress or use the bathroom

As well as the activities described above, there is also the serious and growing problem of people making and downloading sexual images of children on the Internet (also known as child pornography). To view child abuse images is to participate in the abuse of a child. Those who do so may also be abusing children they know. People who look at this material need help to prevent their behavior from becoming even more serious.

Impacts of Child sexual abuse

Reviews studies that have tried to empirically confirm the effects of child sexual abuse cited in the clinical literature. In regard to initial effects, empirical studies have indicated reactions—in at least some portion of the victim population—of fear, anxiety, depression, anger and hostility, aggression, and sexually inappropriate behavior. Frequently reported long-term effects include depression and self-destructive behavior, anxiety, feelings of isolation and stigma, poor self-esteem, difficulty in trusting others, a tendency toward re-victimization, substance abuse, and sexual maladjustment. The kinds of abuse that appear to be most damaging are experiences involving father figures, genital contact, and force. The effects of duration and frequency of abuse, age at onset, the child’s reporting of the offense, parental reaction, and institutional response are also considered.

The social impact on children

  • Delinquency and crime, often stemming from substance abuse, are more prevalent in adolescents with a history of child sexual abuse. Adults survivors are also more likely to become involved in crime, both as a perpetrator and as a victim.
  • Academic problems
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Sexual behavior and over-sexualized behavior problems

The health impact of sexual abuse on children

There are many health-related costs to survivors of sexual abuse. Generally, adult victims have higher rates of healthcare utilization and report significantly more health complaints when compared to adults without a history of child sexual abuse. Some health related issues include:

  • Emotional and mental health problems are often the first consequence and sign of child sexual abuse.
  • Substance abuse problems are common, often beginning in childhood or adolescence and lasting into adulthood.
  • Obesity and eating disorders are more common in women who have a history of child sexual abuse. The resulting health issues as a result of obesity includes diabetes and heart disease.

Overall impact of child sexual abuse on children

The following may be effects of child sexual abuse:

  • Unusual interest in or avoidance of all things of a sexual nature
  • Sleep problems or nightmares
  • Depression or withdrawal from friends or family
  • Seductiveness
  • Statements that their bodies are dirty or damaged, or fear that there is something wrong with them in the genital area
  • Refusal to go to school
  • Delinquency/conduct problems
  • Secretiveness
  • Aspects of sexual molestation in drawings, games, fantasies
  • Unusual aggressiveness
  • Extreme fear or anxiety
  • Substance use / abuse
  • Suicidal behavior

Parents can prevent or lessen the chance of sexual abuse by:

  • Telling children that 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.
  • Teaching children that respect does not mean blind obedience to adults and to authority, for example, don’t tell children to, always do everything the teacher or baby-sitter tells you to do.
  • Encouraging professional prevention programs in the local school system.

Because of the possible devastating effects of child sexual abuse, sexually abused children and their families need immediate professional evaluation and treatment. Psychiatrists and psychologists that specialize in helping sexually abused children are particularly helpful. Professional help can help the child regain a sense of control over life and can help deal with the feelings of shame or guilt over the abuse. This help can begin the process of recovery from the trauma and prevent future problems.

Myths and misconceptions related to sexual abuse that parents need to eliminate

1. Sexual abuse is a family matter that doesn’t need to be reported

This is the most futile attempt of parents to hide their incapability to understand their own kids, who is going through that phase by assuming it to be a family problem and need to sorted amongst them. It is nothing so. It is a crime to sexually harass someone without his or her consent. Parents need to always advice their children to speak up for themselves and share any inconvenience they feel. They should not show aggression or think kids are putting false allegations towards the abuser. Rather they should always support them and take some legal actions against the abuser. You should immediately provide medical help to the child.

2. A 3-year-old won’t remember the sexual abuse

Unfortunately, it is not true. They do remember the horrible experience of being harassed by some close or dear ones or any stranger. Sometimes, the incident takes a terrific turn in their lives causing serious disability to any emotions all through the lifespan. The damage is permanent. So, ignoring that they will forget in due course of time is absolute blind belief. Treating a victim is very important. You need to take him or her to the Psychiatrist and support him all through the life.

3.  It didn’t hurt (he didn’t say no/he enjoyed it)

Forced sexual acts are humiliating, hurt physically and leave deep psychological scars. Anyone who says otherwise is in in deep denial eschewing all common sense and reasoning, not to mention volumes of documentation. Both the offender and his family have used this as a way of implying that there was no crime and that what happened is no big deal.

4.  It’s just a teenage boy thing (hormones or just a phase he’s going through)

We all know that teenage boys are full of raging hormones that get the best of them and that they fantasize about a lot. I remember talking to the police officer by his cruiser as he was getting ready to leave and he made this point: It has not and has never been normal to fantasize about prepubescent boys and girls. He is correct. Those who fantasize about little kids are pedophiles and those that act on their fantasies are molesters.

Sexual abuse help and where to find it?

Most people realize that if a child is abused, sexual abuse help is needed. Sexual abuse help is needed not only for the child involved but also for his (or her) caregivers as child sexual abuse can touch entire families. An adult should always seek out sexual abuse help from professionals as the situation can easily be made worse, even with the best of intentions, without the training and education in knowing how to deal with child sexual abuse.

In spite of knowing this though, not everyone knows where to find sexual abuse help. Luckily this help can be found in many places.

Sexual Abuse Help Through Law Enforcement

It is an individual’s responsibility to report any suspicion of child abuse to local law enforcement and child welfare agencies. It is not up to the individual to prove or investigate the suspicion – only to report it. Investigation will be done by the agencies trained and prepared to deal with such a delicate situation. And while an adult might want to, understandably, shield a child from the process of reporting to authorities, it’s critical this step take place in order to tell the child that you believe their allegations, you take them seriously and you want to help them. The last message any child should receive is that the sexual abuse should be swept under the rug. Once the abuse is reported to law enforcement and child welfare agencies, these organizations can help point you towards other avenues for sexual abuse help.

Other Sources of Sexual Abuse Help

It’s important to get help for the abuse child and family, and this help should be from a person or organization that specializes in child sexual abuse help. Some professionals work exclusively in this field and should be sought out for their expertise.

Places to find sexual abuse help include:

  • Hospitals / doctor’s offices
  • Offices of psychiatrists / psychologists / therapists
  • Mental health centers
  • Sexual assault centers
  • Transition homes
  • Distress centers

10 Ways to Teach Your Child the Skills to Prevent Sexual Abuse

1. Talk about body parts early.

Name body parts and talk about them very early. Use proper names for body parts, or at least teach your child what the actual words are for their body parts. I can’t tell you how many young children I have worked with who have called their vagina their “bottom.” Feeling comfortable using these words and knowing what they mean can help a child talk clearly if something inappropriate has happened.

2. Teach them that some body parts are private.

Tell your child that their private parts are called private because they are not for everyone to see. Explain that mommy and daddy can see them naked, but people outside of the home should only see them with their clothes on. Explain how their doctor can see them without their clothes because mommy and daddy are there with them and the doctor is checking their body.

3. Teach your child body boundaries.

Tell your child matter-of-factly that no one should touch their private parts and that no one should ask them to touch somebody else’s private parts. Parents will often forget the second part of this sentence. Sexual abuse often begins with the perpetrator asking the child to touch them or someone else.

4. Tell your child that body secrets are not okay.

Most perpetrators will tell the child to keep the abuse a secret. This can be done in a friendly way, such as, “I love playing with you, but if you tell anyone else what we played they won’t let me come over again.” Or it can be a threat: “This is our secret. If you tell anyone I will tell them it was your idea and you will get in big trouble!” Tell your kids that no matter what anyone tells them, body secrets are not okay and they should always tell you if someone tries to make them keep a body secret.

5. Tell your child that no one should take pictures of their private parts.

This one is often missed by parents. There is a whole sick world out there of pedophiles who love to take and trade pictures of naked children online. This is an epidemic and it puts your child at risk.Tell your kids that no one should ever take pictures of their private parts.

6. Teach your child how to get out of scary or uncomfortable situations.

Some children are uncomfortable with telling people “no”— especially older peers or adults. Tell them that it’s okay to tell an adult they have to leave, if something that feels wrong is happening, and help give them words to get out of uncomfortable situations. Tell your child that if someone wants to see or touch private parts they can tell them that they need to leave to go potty.

. Have a code word your children can use when they feel unsafe or want to be picked up.

As children get a little bit older, you can give them a code word that they can use when they are feeling unsafe. This can be used at home, when there are guests in the house or when they are on a play date or a sleepover.

8. Tell your children they will never be in trouble if they tell you a body secret.

Children often tell me that they didn’t say anything because they thought they would get in trouble, too. This fear is often used by the perpetrator. Tell your child that no matter what happens, when they tell you anything about body safety or body secrets they will NEVER get in trouble.

9. Tell your child that a body touch might tickle or feel good.

Many parents and books talk about “good touch and bad touch,” but this can be confusing because often these touches do not hurt or feel bad. I prefer the term “secret touch,” as it is a more accurate depiction of what might happen.

10. Tell your child that these rules apply even with people they know and even with another child.

This is an important point to discuss with your child. When you ask a young child what a “bad guy” looks like they will most likely describe a cartoonish villain. You can say something like, “Mommy and daddy might touch your private parts when we are cleaning you or if you need cream — but no one else should touch you there. Not friends, not aunts or uncles, not teachers or coaches. Even if you like them or think they are in charge, they should still not touch your private parts.”

Every child is innocent and important. Parents should look after every possible ways to keep them secured and safeguard their childhood.