Was there ever a time in your life that you wanted to tell someone you’re in desperate need of help, but afraid to let someone know? Have you known anyone who needed help but was afraid to ask?Have you ever felt a sense of discomfort in the pit of your stomach? How about when you hear your child confide in you that he or she is being sexually abused? What about when you hear that the perpetrator is a family member, friend, or neighbor? All of these questions can become a parent’s worst nightmare.
As a parent, if the situation above becomes reality, you feel a sense of hopelessness and self-worthlessness, as well as anger and disgust toward the individual who sexually abused your child.
As you hold your first child in your arms, you aren’t given a parent handbook that warns you of all the dangers in this world. Neither would you ever think your child would go through such traumatic events.
By understanding the early warning signs of child sexual abuse, you can better prepare yourself, your children, and your family. In this article, I will discuss what sexual abuse is, 17 ways to early detect child sexual abuse, and what to do afterward.
What Do Statistics Show about Child Sexual Abuse?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children Bureau Child Maltreatment 2015 report, 9.1 percent of children in Washington state have been sexually abused. This report contained 52 states (the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, and the commonwealth of Puerto Rico), of which, 57,286 child abuse cases were reported. The state of Washington reported 538 child abuse cases.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 2012 statistics show 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys have been sexually victimized. It is reported that between the ages of 7 and 13, children are most vulnerable to sexual abuse.
Victimized by sexual abuse at such a young age, children will suffer severe trauma, most commonly known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Youth Victimization: Prevalence and Implications 2003 report, 28.2 percent of boys who experienced sexual abuse experienced PTSD at some point in their lives, while 29.8 percent of girls who experienced sexual abuse experienced a lifetime of PTSD.
Innocent to what is happening to them, they will carry this burden with them well into their adult years, whether they remember the incident(s) or not. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 20 percent of adult females and 5-10 percent of adult males have self-reported the recollection of childhood sexual abuse or assault. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Youth Victimization: Prevalence and Implications, 86 percent of youth sexual abuse went unreported.
What Is Child Sexual Abuse?
When talking about sexual abuse, often times you will see or hear it being called sexual assault or child molestation; the terms are used interchangeably. For a case to be considered child sexual abuse, the child must be younger than 18 years of age. Child sexual abuse is a type of maltreatment which is reported to Child Protection Services (CPS).
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Youth Victimization: Prevalence and Implications, sexual abuse is defined as “a range of acts, including the sexual penetration of a youth’s vagina or anus by a penis, finger, or object; the placement of another person’s mouth on a youth’s sexual parts; the forcing of a youth to touch others’ sexual parts; or the unwanted penetration of others by a youth (asked only of male adolescents).”
Penetration, force, and pain commonly describe the act of sexual abuse, but it can also include an adult engaging in looking, showing, or touching of a youth’s sexual parts to meet the sexual needs or interests of the adult. Child pornography is also defined as sexual abuse by means of distribution, manufacturing, and viewing.
For a child who is or has been victimized by child sexual abuse, most often, the abuse occurred gradually. The perpetrator will have done some research as to who they will choose, what they will use, when and where they will carry out the sexual abuse, and how they will accomplish their sexual needs or interests from the child.
As a parent, your number one priority is to ensure the safety of your child. It is common for a parent to be unsure what child sexual abuse is and the early warning signs to look for. You are not alone!
Listed below are some early warning signs you as the parent or legal guardian can be aware of:
17 Warning Signs of Child Sexual Abuse
As a parent, your life is consumed with work, kids (extracurricular activities, school, daily routines), marriage, and bills, among other responsibilities. You want to ensure a safe environment where your kids can grow up. You trust those who are close to you and your family, such as family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.
Unaware of what your child is going through, you carry on with your daily life. STOP! Take a moment to talk to your kids. Sometimes you may not know when your child is crying for help, whether they say it out loud or not.
Below is a list of signs to look for if your child or adolescent is being sexually abused:
- He or she has sleep problems with no explanation
- Has consistent, unexplained nightmares.
- Bed-wetting, wetting and soiling of his or her undergarments
- Expresses pain in the lower abdomen area – UTI, bowel movements, bleeding
- Appears to be distracted or distant
- Has trouble swallowing; increase or decrease in eating
- Plays with toys by reenacting sexual gestures
- Draws and writes sexual ideations
- Adult-like behaviors, knowledge, and language
- Increased knowledge of sexual parts or sexual gestures for the child’s age
- Influx of moods
- Rage, fear, insecurity, withdrawal
- Unusual amount of time with an older person
- Refers to self or body as dirty, bad, or repulsive
- Fear of telling a secret to an older person
- Self-injury – cutting, burning
- Suicide attempts
- Drug and/or alcohol abuse
- Mood changes
- Depression, anxiety, withdrawn, anger
- Fear of getting close with others
- Sexual promiscuity
What to Do if Your Child is Being Sexually Abused
It’s never easy to hear that your child has been a victim of sexual abuse, especially if the perpetrator is a family or friend. As a parent, all you want to do is hug your child and never let them go.
In that moment, your emotions are running on anger and disgust. You begin to question how anyone could harm an innocent child, your child. You also question how you as the parent never noticed your child’s cry for help.
Child sexual abuse can be prevented by being aware of the signs and symptoms listed above. If you notice your child displaying any signs or symptoms, pull them aside to a SAFE room, and talk to them. Let your child know you are there to protect them. LISTEN to your child. Do not dismiss what they are saying.
It is easy to be clouded by disbelief, especially if the perpetrator is a family member or friend. COMFORT your child. Let them know this is not their fault. REASSURE your child that you will always be there for them and that you are not mad at them for keeping any secrets from you. Re-establish SAFETY. Create and discuss a safety plan with your children and family members.When your child confides in you, be aware of your own emotions. It is very normal for you as the parent to feel and express anger and disgust toward the disturbing news. Do not let your child see your anger. The child might perceive this as an emotion toward them, and feel responsible and guilty for your anger.
If you need to do so, step out of the room to regain your composure by taking a few deep breaths before gathering the information you need from your child. Try to remain as calm as possible. Your child can sense and see your emotions.
Gather the information
According to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, if you are reporting sexual abuse to your local law enforcements, be prepared to be asked these questions:
- Name, address, and age of child
- Name and address of the child’s parent(s), guardian, or other persons having custody of the child
- Identity of the perpetrator
- Nature and extent of the abuse
- Any evidence of previous incidences
- Any other information that may be helpful in the case
Remember to remain calm as much as possible to allow the child to express the incident without feeling afraid.
Report the incident
If you suspect your child is being sexually abused based on what you’ve witnessed, or your child has confided in you, it is your responsibility as a parent to report the incident to the appropriate authorities.
Notify the appropriate law enforcements. Research your local offices responsible for investigating reports of suspected child abuse.
- Law enforcements
- Child Protective Services (CPS):
- Toll Free Reception: 1-800-557-9671
- After Hours: 1-800-562-5624
- 24/7 Child Abuse or Neglect Hotline:
- Toll Free: 1-866-363-4276
Create a safety plan
Teach your children about sexual abuse. Educate them at their level. For example, explaining to a 7-year-old about sexual abuse will be different from the way you will educate a 13-year-old. Ensure open communication. Set clear boundaries for personal space and privacy. Identify one or more safety person(s) a child can express concerns or report sexual abuse to.
Seek professional help
Schedule an appointment with your child’s primary care physician as soon as possible. Then, seek out a professional counselor for your child and family members. Even though the child experienced the traumatic event, the whole family is affected, too. It is highly encouraged to seek counseling to begin the healing process needed to move forward.
Join a support group
As a parent, it’s not easy to deal with and process through such traumatic events. Turning to close friends or family members can help, but having a support group who understand and feel what you’re going through can help. Remember, you are never alone! Reach out to a local support group.
Be aware of sex offenders in your neighborhood
There are websites you can check to determine how many registered sex offenders are in your neighborhood.
- Criminal Watch Dog: http://www.criminalwatchdog.com/neighborhood-watch/
- Family Watch Dog: http://www.familywatchdog.us/Default.asp
Benefits of Christian Counseling
During a time of hopelessness and loss, time appears to stand still as you forget the world around you. As you process the tragic news, you’re filled with anger, disgust, and disappointment. You begin to question God and your relationship with Him. You question how this could have happened to an innocent child.
Seeking professional help is highly encouraged. Counseling can help you, your child, and your family process the traumatic events that occurred individually and as a family in a safe and judgement-free environment. Your trust in God may be shattered in that moment, but through the work of your counselor, God will help heal your scars. Trust in Him. He will not forsake you.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6
Let’s begin the healing process!
Finding out your child is or has been a victim of sexual abuse is a hard reality to accept. Dealing with emotions and your belief system (personally and spiritually), you work hard to ensure that safety and trust is re-established in your family.
Understanding the early warning signs of child sexual abuse may help to prevent such traumatic events from re-occurring. Take the appropriate actions if your child is or has been a victim of sexual abuse. Educate yourself, your child, and your family about sexual abuse. Create a safety plan and implement it immediately. Remember, you are not alone! Seek help and guidance immediately and lean on God during this time.
Ashcroft, J., Daniels, D. J., & Hart, S. V. (2003). Youth Victimization: Prevalence and Implications. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved October 11, 2017, from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/194972.pdf.Child Maltreatment. (2015). U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Retrieved October 11, 2017, from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/cm2015.pdf.
How to Report Child Abuse or Neglect. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2017, from https://www.dshs.wa.gov/ca/child-safety-and-protection/how-report-child-abuse-or-neglect
The National Center for Victims of Crime: Child Sexual Abuse Statistics. (2012). Retrieved October 11, 2017, from http://victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/child-sexual-abuse-statistics
Tip Sheet: Warning Signs of Possible Sexual Abuse in A Child’s Behaviors. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2017, from http://www.stopitnow.org/ohc-content/tip-sheet-7
“Cuddle time,” courtesy of Jordan Whitt, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Puddle walking,” courtesy of Daiga Ellaby, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Jenga,” courtesy of Michal Parzuchowski, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Play time,” courtesy of Caroline Hernandez, unsplash.com, CC0 License