The Sweet Water Foundation offers professional psychotherapies for clients seeking relief from issues around child sexual abuse. This also includes families of victims, and perpetrators. To have your questions confidentially addressed and for information on therapists, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Child Sexual Abuse is:
Child Sexual Abuse includes a wide range of sexual behaviors that take place between a child and an older person. These sexual behaviors are intended to erotically arouse the older person, generally without consideration for the reactions or choices of the child and without consideration for the effects of the behavior upon the child. These behaviors are also meant to instill a sense of power and control over the child or victim, this often being the most insiduous aspect of the abuse.
Behaviors that are sexually abusive often involve bodily contact such as sexual kissing, touching, fondling of genitals and oral, anal or vaginal intercourse. However, behaviors may be sexually abusive even if they don’t involve contact, such as in the case of genital exposure, verbal pressure for sex, and sexual exploitation for the purposes of prostitution or pornography.
How you can tell if a child has been sexually abused:
Because child sexual abuse often occurs in private, because it often does not result in physical evidence, and because perpetrators generally frighten their victims into keeping their abuse a secret, child sexual abuse can be difficult to detect. Nevertheless abused children may either “Act Out” with behavior problems, such as cruelty to others or running away, or they might “Act In” by becoming depressed, withdrawing from friends and family or trying to injure themselves.
Other possible symptoms of child sexual abuse may be:
- Waking up during the night sweating, screaming or shaking with nightmares.
- Showing unusually aggressive behavior toward family members, friends, toys and pets.
- Beginning wetting the bed.
- Experiencing a loss of appetite or other eating problems, including unexplained gagging.
- Demonstration of sexual behavior or seductiveness to others.
- Difficulty relating to others except on sexual terms.
- Unusual interest in or avoidance of all things of a sexual nature.
- Depression or withdrawal from friends and family.
- Showing unusual fear of a certain place or location.
- Indicating a sudden reluctance to be alone with a certain person.
- Statements that their bodies are dirty or damaged, of fear that there is something wrong with them in the genital area.
- Refusal to go to school.
- Withdrawing from previously enjoyable activities.
- Engaging in self-mutilations, such as sticking themselves with pins or cutting themselves, compulsive masturbating and self stimulation.
- Vaginal Infections.
Who are the perpetrators of child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse can take place within the family, by a parent, step-parent, sibling or other relative. It can also take place outside the home, by a friend or relative, neighbor, child care person, teacher, or stranger.
What can parents and caretakers do to keep children safe?
- Provide a safe, caring environment so children feel able to talk freely.
- Talk to your children about the difference between good touch and bad touch. Tell the child that if someone tries to touch his or her body and do things that make the child uncomfortable, he or she should say NO to the person and tell you about it right away.
- Let children know that they have the right to forbid others to touch their bodies in a bad way.
- Let them know that respect does not always mean doing what those in authority tell them to do. Do not tell them to always obey adults, no matter what.
“Many parents are unsure or squeamish about bringing up sexual matters, especially with their children. Yet, there are ways for laying the groundwork so that you can talk to your child without scarring her/him. Establish an open dialogue about sexual issues early on. If you introduce the subject of sex in a discussion of abuse, there is the danger that the idea of sex may become automatically linked in your child’s mind with danger and anxiety.
If you have fostered in your child a sense of ownership regarding her body, she will likely have an instinct about what is okay for her body and what is not. You build on her natural sense of ownership of her body by letting her pick out her own clothes or wash herself in her own way. Also, avoid pushing her to kiss or hug other adults when clearly she does not want to.
Finally, when parents treat their children’s bodies with respect, children tend to demand that others treat their bodies in a similar manner. Children who are consistently hit, grabbed, or physically punished at home may feel that adults are entitled to misuse their bodies simply because they are bigger.”
What should parents and caretakers do if they suspect abuse?
- If a child says she or he has been abused, try to stay calm.
- Reassure the child that what has happened is not their fault.
- Seek a medical examination and psychological consultation immediately.
- Get help yourself. It is often very painful to acknowledge that your child has been sexually exploited. Parents can harm children further if they inappropriately minimize the abuse or if they harbor irrational fears related to the abuse. Therapy can help caretakers deal with their own feelings about the abuse so that they are able to provide support to their children.
What are some possible long-term effects of child sexual abuse?
No child is psychologically prepared to cope with repeated sexual stimulation. Even a two or three year old, who cannot know the sexual activity is wrong, will develop problems resulting from the inability to cope with overstimulation.
The child of five or older who knows and cares for the abuser becomes trapped between affection or loyalty for the person, and the sense that the sexual activities are terribly wrong. If the child tries to break away from the sexual relationship, the abuser may threaten the child with violence or loss of love. 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. Effects are both short-term and of a long-term nature, including psychopathology later in life. Some of these effects may be:
- Post traumatic stress disorder
- Anxiety / depression
- Eating disorders
- Dissociative disorders / somatic disorders
- Substance abuse
- Criminality in adulthood