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