Sexual Abuse

Important Factors:

  • Sexual abuse is the most concealed, most distressful, and most controversial form of child abuse and occurs far more often than is generally believed.
  • The majority of child victims are molested by a family member or someone known to the child.
  • The child may be approached sexually at any age and the sexual contact may be once or repeated over a period of time.
  • The child has been taught to respect and obey adults and therefore may have readily submitted to the known authority figures. The child may therefore be unclear about whether or not the act is wrong or unusual.
  • The inherent reluctance of a child to challenge adult authority and the possibility of retaliation may result in the child's ambivalence about reporting the abuse, and later changing the report.
  • Although studies indicate that most child victims of sexual abuse are female and most offenders are male, it should be noted that boy victims are relatively common and may suffer more neglect from lack of effective intervention than female victims.
  • When several indicators are present, action is called for, going through channels set up in the community and in conjunction with the Child Abuse Reporting Law. Reports may be made to the police or sheriff's department or the Children's Protective Services. Even one indicator, if persistent, calls for consultation with child sexual abuse professionals or the Children's Protective Services.

What to look for in identifying a sexually abused child:

Behavioral Indicators:

  • Unusual (as would be indicated by the child's age and developmental stage) knowledge and/or interest in sexual acts and terminology.
  • A child who is unusually seductive with other children and adults.
  • Extreme fear of showers and restrooms. These are common places for sexual abuse to occur.
  • Extreme fear of being alone with men or boys.
  • Frequent absences from school that are justified by one parent only, apparently without regard for child's school performance. (This of special concern if the child is home alone during the day with a father or stepfather and he writes the excuses.)
  • Repeated attempts to run away from home by a child who is otherwise not a behavior problem.
  • Fear of interpersonal relationships.
  • A child who is unusually reluctant or fearful of going home after school.

Physical Indicators:

  • Unusual or offensive odors.
  • Chronic illness, complaints or pain, evidence of physical trauma around genital areas, venereal disease or urinary infections.
  • Nightmares, consistent thumb sucking when child is too old for that behavior or bed- wetting.
  • Bruises, burns or continuing injuries.
  • Pregnancy when the child refuses to reveal any information about the father of the baby and/or complete denial of the pregnancy by the child and her family.

What parents may look for in identifying a sexually abused child:

  • A strained or an overprotective relationship between the child and one of the parents.
  • A child's reluctance to be alone with one of the parents.
  • Acting out sexually in ways that are not developmentally appropriate, such as excess masturbation.
  • A parent may frequently arrange to be alone with a child in a room with the door closed.
  • One parent may try to alienate the child from the other parent.
  • Physical changes in the child without medical explanation.
  • Suicide attempts by parent or child.
  • Severe mood changes.
  • Child begins to "boss" other parent around.
  • Parent makes sexual remarks about child.
  • One parent wants child to sleep in the same bed.
  • Discharges or bleeding on underwear or bed clothes.
  • Child says she has been told not to mention their secret.

Some ways to identify possible parent offenders:

  • Lack of emotional involvement with the child, especially when assistance is being sought for the child.
  • Hesitation to seek medical help and/or unconvincing explanation of a child's injuries.
  • Distorted belief in physical fears.
  • Expectations for child are unrealistic given the age and maturity.
  • Extreme overprotectiveness to child, refuses to allow child to participate in any social activity.
  • Family characterized by marked role reversal between mother and daughter.
  • Family characterized by extreme paternal dominance.
  • Families' severe overreaction to child receiving any kind of sex education.
  • Families are socially isolated from the rest of community and attempt to isolate children.

When the child reports sexual abuse:

  • Direct report - child reports the abuse directly to a teacher, counselor, nurse or other person in authority.
  • Indirect report - child tells classmates hoping they will report to authority for them.
  • Disguised report - "I know a person who…"
  • Child tells a teacher or counselor or other adult but makes them promise they won't tell. (Child is attempting to shift responsibility for report to someone else but still wants intervention.)

Notes:

  • Remember that history and description of family interaction are the most important determinants of sexual abuse since there are often no visible signs of the abuse.
  • Other family members (non-participative parent and siblings) frequently will deny the child's report and become extremely abusive and rejective toward the child who is revealing the "family secret".

 

 
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