Dealing with sexual abuse in children is a difficult task for parents, and often, the help of experts is needed. Those who have experienced child sexual abuse find it hard to trust anyone, will withdraw into themselves, and could become self-injurious, suicidal or depressive.
Creating an Atmosphere of Openness
It is always best to discuss the case with a child expert or counselor to understand how to deal with it in your own home, and also to help your child face the outside world. The most important contribution of a parent is to create an atmosphere in which a child feels safe and confident to talk about inappropriate behavior they have experienced. A few tips for parents concerned about sexual abuse :
- Encourage open communication about all issues. Children feel a natural curiosity about sex, gender and physical changes; and parents who punish them for expressing this can result in children who hide their curiosity. Refer to the article on Teaching about Child Sexual Abuse.
- If your child tells you about an inappropriate experience they or one of their friends have faced, refrain from over-reacting as this might cause them to stop talking or change their story.
- Reassure children that it is never their fault, and that things can be made better if they tell you about an event.
- Showing doubt or disbelief in a child’s story can make them shut down emotionally and stop telling you about their problems. Remember that some of the most heinous crimes have been committed by highly respected members of society, and sexual abuse in children is not only in the newspapers.
- Talk to the authorities about the situation, whether it is your own child or someone else’s child. Sexual abuse in children will ruin a childhood and a life, and by stopping it, you can save somebody from a lifetime of regret, confusion and shame.
- When child sexual abusers are close to the child or family, it can be very difficult for the child to reveal any details, and for the family to take action. However, to stop the offender from performing future acts against innocent children, reporting to the authorities is vital. Most authorities will accept anonymous reports of sexual abuse in children, and at least investigate the situation, if not take action.
Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children
Very often, children will find it impossible to discuss sexual abuse, even when parents are open about the topic. For child carers, teachers and parents, watching children for signs of child sexual abuse can help uncover a case. Some signs of sexual abuse in children are:
- Drawings or paintings that are disturbing, use black or red excessively, or show unnatural ideas
- Sudden awareness of sexual acts, genitals and words with sexual connotations
- Fear or reluctance of physical contact or being touched
- Behavior problems in otherwise well-behaved children
- Withdrawal from the family or social group
- Coercing other children to perform sexual acts
- Unexplained fear of a person or place
Children face risks everyday, and are naturally terrified and traumatized by sexual molestation or abuse. Very often, parents are not equipped to deal with sexual abuse in children and could further the damage by not reacting appropriately. When adults, older family members or friends, betray the trust that children place in them, children respond by developing intimacy and trust issues later in life. Lifelong damage is a result of child sexual abuse that is mishandled or ignored.
1. Child Sexual Abuse. NLM NIH Gov/Medline Plus
2. Say No! Protecting Children Against Sexual Abuse. OCFS State NY US