Child sexual abuse



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.
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 some-one the child has regular contact with. Up to 95% of child sexual abusers are male (Bagley, 1995).
So how can we protect our children?  The most important thing we can do is raise awareness about what constitutes child sexual assault and start a conversation that makes sure children 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 always easy to spot. 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/).
What does a perpetrator look like?  If only it were that 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 baby sitter, or the parent of another child.
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 than 20% attempt suicide. Young girls who are sexually abused are more likely to develop eating disorders as adolescents. More than 60% of teen first pregnancies are preceded by experiences of molestation, rape or attempted rape. Both males and females who have been sexually abused are more likely to engage in prostitution. The CDC estimates that child abuse costs us billions annually. Sexually abused children who keep the abuse a secret or who “tell” and are not believed are at greater risk for psychological, emotional, social, and physical problems, often lasting into adulthood” (https://www.d2l.org/education/5-steps/step-1/).
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual abuse, Crisis Services of North Alabama can help. You may reach our Jackson County office at 256-574-5826 or our 24 hour HELPline at 256-716-1000.

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