Child Sexual Abuse
by Teresia Smith
In addition to April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it is also recognized as Child Abuse Prevention Month. The statistics on the sexual abuse of children are shocking. Some estimates place the prevalence as high as 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys that are sexually abused before their 18th birthday (Aust. Institute of Criminology, 1993). And these are only the reported cases. It is highly likely that you know someone who has been abused. It may have been you.
We teach our children “stranger danger,” but statistics tell us 95% of sexually abused children will know their abuser (Child Protection Council, 1993). The abuser will often be an immediate family member, a close family friend or someone the child has regular contact with.
So how can we protect our children? The most important thing we can do is raise awareness about what comprises child sexual assault and talk to our kids to make sure they feel comfortable telling someone they trust. Just as with adults, child sexual assault covers many things. According to Rainn.org, “Child sexual abuse does not need to include physical contact between a perpetrator and a child. Some forms of child sexual abuse include: Exhibitionism, or exposing oneself to a minor, fondling, intercourse, masturbation in the presence of a minor or forcing the minor to masturbate, obscene phone calls, text messages, or digital interaction, producing, owning, or sharing pornographic images or movies of children, sex of any kind with a minor, including vaginal, oral, or anal, sex trafficking, and any other sexual conduct that is harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare.”
Child sexual abuse isn’t usually something easy to see. Clues that a child is being sexually abused are often present, but they are often hard to identify apart from other signs of childhood pressures. “Explicit physical signs of sexual abuse are not common. However, when physical signs are present, they may include bruising, bleeding, redness and bumps, or scabs around the mouth, genitals or anus. Urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases and abnormal vaginal or penile discharge are also warning signs. Sometimes a child who is being abused will suddenly display signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, express suicidal thoughts, inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviors, nightmares or bed-wetting” (https://www.d2l.org/education/5-steps/step-1/).
It’s also not easy to recognize a perpetrator. If only they were easy to identify. People who abuse children usually look like everyone else. The majority of perpetrators are someone the child or family knows and trusts. A perpetrator does not have to be an adult to harm a child. They can have any relationship to the child including an older sibling or friend, family member, a teacher, a coach, a babysitter, or the parent of another child. Sometimes, an abuser will choose a single mom and work to gain her trust to be left alone with her children, offering to babysit or take the kids on outings. Sometimes the grooming starts right in front of the mom with rough-and-tumble play or tickle games that make it appear the person is bonding with the child but in fact, these games allow an abuser to sneak in bad touches. It is imperative that we remain vigilant and not allow our children to be in dangerous situations.
Childhood sexual assault impacts everyone and the impact of the abuse continues to affect survivors well into adulthood. It is a root cause of many health and social problems we face in our communities. “Seventy to eighty percent of sexual abuse survivors report excessive drug and alcohol use. One study showed that among male survivors, 50% have suicidal thoughts and more
by Teresia Smith
The nation recognizes April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). SAAM aims to raise public awareness about sexual violence, communicate to members of the community what services are available to survivors and calls attention to the fact that sexual violence is widespread. This proclamation is an invitation to join advocates and communities across the country in taking action to prevent sexual violence. This is the 19th year of SAAM, and this year’s national theme is “I Ask.”
The ultimate goal is about more than awareness; it is about prevention. Since consent is a clear, specific example of what it takes to end sexual harassment, abuse and assault, this year’s campaign shares the message that asking for consent is a normal and essential part of sex.
The movement to end sexual violence relies on people to make a choice to get involved. This means no turning a blind eye or pretending sexual violence isn’t happening. Sexual violence seems inevitable, but the choice people have made to become educated, aware and involved in making changes in national conversations about sexual violence has helped to expand support for survivors. There are many ways to be involved in changing conversations about sexual violence, supporting survivors and preventing sexual violence before it happens. We must educate communities on how to show their support for survivors, as well as take a stand against victim blaming and hurtful misconceptions.
We know that one month cannot solve the serious and prevalent issue of sexual violence; however, SAAM generates an opportunity to strengthen prevention efforts throughout the year.
“The good news is that prevention is possible, and it’s happening. Individuals, communities and the private sector are already successfully combating the risk of sexual violence through conversations, programs, policies and research-based tools that promote safety, respect and equality. By promoting safe behaviors, thoughtful policies and healthy relationships, we can create safe and equitable communities where every person is treated with respect.” (National Sexual Violence Resource Center.)
There were many awareness events planned in our area before the need for social isolation; however, now we are using creative ways to get the message out during this month. If you know of someone who could benefit from our services, please share our information. Social media has become a great resource that many are embracing during this time. Here are some ways you can get information or participate:
• Please leave an encouraging note on Facebook to survivors of sexual assault with the #SAAM and #JacksonCountyCoalitionAgainstDomesticViolence.
• Crisis Services has Text Chat available if you are feeling stressed and need to talk to someone but don’t want to call. You can text anonymously with a crisis counselor by texting 256.722.8219 between the hours of 4pm – 11:30pm. Also, there is always someone to talk to at the HELPline, which can be reached at 256.716.1000.
• Join our Facebook group: Jackson County Support for Survivors of Sexual Assault where you will find informative and educational posts, as well as ways to communicate with advocates. This group is open to survivors as well as supporters.
• Even though our advocates are not in our office daily, our free, confidential services are still offered, just in a different format. Options such as voice calls, video calls and video support groups are available for you. Forensic nurses are still available to offer their services which include collection of rape kits and providing medical care after a sexual assault.
How can you help someone who has experienced sexual assault? To support victims, you don’t need to be an expert. You just need to believe them. Don’t ask what they were wearing or place any of the blame for a sexual assault on the victim.
The crime of sexual violence is based on power and control of another person and a victim does not cause someone to rape them by what they wear or where they go. Listen and let them talk and validate their feelings. Don’t try to “take charge” and tell them what they need to do. Let them take the lead and support their decisions. Get help for yourself. Helping someone cope with a sexual assault can be a difficult experience. In addition to offering services to a survivor, we also offer support services to secondary victims, which are those who are supporting an assault survivor such as parents, teachers, family members or friends.
This month is an extraordinary opportunity to increase awareness and change behaviors. The time to unite communities to combat sexual violence is now. Please join us as we strive to support survivors. There is a national network of community-based rape crisis centers, with centers available in every state and territory. These centers exist across the United States to provide supportive services to victims of sexual assault. In this area, Crisis Services of North Alabama maintains an office in Jackson County to provide services for residents who are in crisis due to domestic violence or sexual assault.
For more information or assistance, please call Crisis Services Jackson County Office at 256-574-5826 or our 24 hour HELPline at 256-716-1000.
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