WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR IF I SUSPECT A CHILD IS BEING SEXUALLY ABUSED?

Child sexual abuse cases can be very difficult to prove because of a lack of objective evidence. The first indicators of sexual abuse may not be physical signs, but behavior changes or abnormalities. Unfortunately, because it is usually so difficult to accept that sexual abuse may be occurring, the adult may misinterpret the signals and feel that the child is merely being disobedient or insolent. The reaction to the disclosure of abuse then becomes disbelief and rejection to the child’s statements.

The child victim may be the only witness and the child’s statements may also be the only evidence that sexual abuse has occurred. In such cases, the central issue sometimes becomes-can the child’s statements be trusted as true? Some child welfare experts believe that children never lie about sexual abuse and that their statements must always be believed. According to Douglas Besharov it is the job of the child protective agency to make the determination as to whether or not sexual abuse has occurred. As a general rule, all doubts should be resolved in favor of making a report. A child who describes being sexually abused should be reported unless there is clear reason to disbelieve the statement. According to the American Humane statistics, only 2-8% of all reports of child sexual maltreatment are deliberately false.

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE?

Sometimes the child may be so traumatized by sexual abuse that years may go by before he/she is able to understand or talk about what happened. In these cases, adult survivors of sexual abuse may come forward for the first time at the age of 40-50 and divulge the horror of their experiences. Its effects extend far beyond childhood occurrence. It robs children of their childhood, creates a loss of trust, feelings of guilt and/or self-abusive behavior. It can lead to antisocial behavior, depression, identity confusion, loss of self-esteem and other serious emotional problems.

HOW DO I REPORT CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE?

If you suspect sexual abuse and believe a child to be in imminent danger, call the police immediately.

WHAT CAN PARENTS DO TO PROTECT THEIR CHILDREN?

They can teach children about what appropriate sexual behavior is and when to say “no” if someone tries to touch sexual parts of their bodies or in any way that makes them feel uncomfortable. Parents can observe children when they interact with others to see if they are hesitant or uncomfortable around a certain adult. Most importantly, children need to know they can speak openly to a trusted adult and they will be believed. Children who are victims of sexual abuse should always be reassured that they are not guilty for what has happened to them and should not feel ashamed.

CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE – DISCLOSURES

  • Children often fail to report sexual abuse because of the fear that disclosure will bring consequences even worse than being victimized again. The victim may feel guilty for penalties to the perpetrator or fear retaliation from them. [Sources: Berlinger & Barbieri, 1984; Groth, 1979; Swanson & Biaggio, 1985]
  • Victims may have a feeling that something is wrong with them and that the abuse is their fault. [Sources-. Johnson, 1987; Tsai & Wagner, 1978]
  • Feelings of guilt associated with being a victim of abuse include feeling different from peers, harboring vengeful and angry feelings toward parents, feeling guilty about reporting the abuse and bringing disruption to the family. For children, any of these feelings of guilt could outweigh the decision to report. [Source: Courtois & Watts, 1982; Tsai & Wagner, 1978]
  • Early identification of sexual abuse victims appears to be crucial to the reduction of suffering of the abused youth and to the establishment of support systems for help with appropriate psychological development and healthier adult functioning. As long as disclosure continues to be a problem for young victims, fear, suffering and psychological distress will remain with the victim. [Sources: Bagley, 1992; Bagley, 1991; Finkelhor et al. 1990; Whitlock & Gillman, 1989]

WITHOUT INTERVENTION…POSSIBLE IMPACT OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

  • Adolescents with a history of sexual abuse are significantly more likely than their counterparts to engage in sexual behavior that puts them at risk for HIV infection. [Source: Larry K. Brown, M.D., et al 2000]
  • Among both adolescent boys and girls, a history of sexual or physical abuse appears to increase the risk of disordered eating behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or use of laxatives to avoid gaining weight. [Source: Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, et al, 2000]

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