Defining Signs of Sexual Abuse
No one wants to think about sexual abuse. That’s one of the reasons why abusers get away with it for so long. Unfortunately, young, vulnerable children are often the victims. Long after the abuser stops (or someone stops them), young victims deal with emotional, physical, and psychological harm. Once you’ve seen how sexual abuse changes a child, you can’t unsee it.
Across the country, grown former victims have shared long-withheld stories they didn’t feel comfortable talking about when they were children. Often, no one would listen. Their experiences are now decades old, but they have helped the world understand that sexual abuse is more of a problem than anyone imagined. While you can’t save a person who was abused decades in the past, you can help stop current abuses and help prevent them from happening in the future. Read on to learn more about preventing sexual abuse from the sexual abuse attorneys at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA.
Understanding What Sexual Abuse Looks Like
Sexual abuse is sometimes a single violent event, but it’s usually far more insidious than that. Abusers plan and cultivate long-term abusive relationships. They are secretive and cautious during the early stages and sometimes bold and threatening during the latter. Their initial advances resemble normal adult/child interactions. Their behavior is usually so subtle, no one notices. To prevent or stop sexual abuse you need to understand what it looks like from both the abuser’s and the child’s point of view. To learn more about what sexual abuse is read here.
Abusers “Groom” Their Victims
In the initial stages, abuse often looks like simple kindness from an authority figure or a family friend. This is how abusers begin preparing their victims and their parents or guardians to accept the relationship. The abuser offers small gifts, time and attention, or anything that makes the child feel special. The strategy appears harmless, but it’s a maneuver that encourages the child to feel comfortable in the abuser’s presence.
Grooming helps a child grow accustomed to an abuser’s attention. It helps the abuser prepare the child for whatever comes next. To a child’s family, the attention often seems like a plus. They’re often thrilled that another adult has their child’s interests at heart. It encourages parents to be supportive of his efforts. Often they allow an abuser unlimited access to their child.
Elizabeth L. Jeglic Ph.D. discusses the concept of victim grooming in her Psychology Today article, “What Parents Need to Know About Sexual Grooming.” She defines grooming as, “…the behaviors that a child molester employs in preparation for committing sexual abuse against a child.” The abuser’s grooming serves to manipulate both the child and his parents.
Dr. Jeglic suggests that an abuser’s grooming process follows a distinct pattern.
- Selection: Abusers use selection criteria such as attractiveness, low self-esteem, lack of adult supervision, a trusting nature, or the appearance of vulnerability.
- Access: They find ways to separate a child from his or her parents or guardians. Some molesters find available children through their jobs, volunteer work, or organized sports.
- Trust: They often use gifts, attention, and secrets to gain a child’s trust.
- Desensitization: They increase “non-sexual” touching such as hugging, wrestling, bathing, and massages. They sometimes share pornography and discuss sexual issues.
Abusers usually make such a smooth transition from friend to molester, neither the child nor the parents recognize what’s happening. As the relationship shifts to sexual acts, abusers customarily employ strategies to continue their access. If the child grows confused and questions the abuser’s actions, he may threaten to harm the child or his family. He might also warn the child that no one will believe them.
Who Are the Abused Children?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes child sexual abuse as sexual acts with a child under age 18 that also violate the law. They further explain that sexual abuse involves any sexual act the child doesn’t understand, doesn’t consent to, or doesn’t have the capacity to understand or give consent. When you hear reports about the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts’ sexual abuse scandals, it seems to confirm what you might already believe: that young boys are the primary target. The CDC report, “Preventing Child Sex Abuse,“ explains otherwise.
Here are a few basic facts about childhood sexual abuse:
- One out of four girls is sexually abused during childhood.
- One out of 13 boys is sexually abused during childhood.
- The CDC estimates that 3.7 million American children experience sexual abuse each year.
- 90 percent of abusers are family members or someone the child and/or the family knows.
- The CDC sees child sexual abuse as significant yet preventable.
- Childhelp.org reports that 20.7 percent of adults endured sexual abuse as a child.
What Types of Sexual Abuse Do They Endure?
Sexually abusive adults groom children until they feel comfortable using them for sexual purposes. When they perceive that a child is ready, they fondle them and touch them inappropriately. They use them in the same ways they would an adult sexual partner. They coerce them into committing sexual acts and sometimes force them into prostitution.
Abusers commit non-physical sexual acts as well. While they come across initially as less disturbing than physical sexual abuses, they are still substantially harmful.
Abuse prevention organizations Childhelp.org and (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) list several non-physical abusive acts.
- Inappropriate talk about sex
- Obscene phone calls and texts
- Forcing a child to look at sexual acts
- Exhibitionism in front of a child
- Sharing child pornography and photos
What Are the Signs of Child Sexual Abuse?
Children show signs of abuse ranging from subtle to profound. The manifestations vary depending on the child’s age, and often whether the child is a boy or a girl, younger or older.
- Difficulty walking and moving
- Bowel difficulties
- Damaged, bloody underwear
- Unexplained injuries, bruises, and genital irritation
- Infections and STDs
- Withdrawn, moody
- Aggressive behavior
- Acting out sexually
- School attendance problems
- Inappropriate sexual knowledge
- Sleep issues
- Suicidal thoughts
- Nightmares and bedwetting
Do Children Suffer Long-Term Damage?
A sexually abused child doesn’t just get better after the abuse stops. If you’ve seen media reports about Catholic Church abuse victims, you’ve heard them explain decades of torment. Once the physical pain and injuries fade away, sexually abused children endure a lifetime of emotional, physical, and psychological issues.
The CDC determined that women were at an increased risk for sexual victimization. Both men and women were more likely to experience partner violence. Both had higher odds of attempting suicide: men, six times higher; women, nine times higher. The CDC documented a range of additional problems.
- Heart disease
- Sexual risk-taking
- Substance abuse
Who Are the Sexual Abusers?
The CDC reports that when an adult abuses a child, there’s a 90 percent chance that the child knows the perpetrator. Abusers are relatives, coaches, and friends of the family. Sometimes older children commit abusive acts. While concerned parents typically imagine abusers as male, a surprising number of women also enter the criminal justice system because they committed a child sexual abuse crime. “Uncovering Female Child Sexual Offenders,” a report by the Journal of Clinical Medicine, suggests that child sexual abuse is an underreported crime. They further documented a “culture of denial” surrounding women abusers, suggesting people don’t want to believe that women are capable of such crimes.
When researchers studied national law enforcement data from reporting years 1991 to 1996, the statistics reflected some surprising numbers. Women were implicated in 12 percent of sexual abuse cases involving children ages 6 and under; 6 percent of cases involving children between 6 and 12; and 3 percent of the cases involving children ages 12 to 17. Data from 2009 to 2010 national child agency victimization surveys reported that women committed 20 percent of all reported child sexual abuses.
How Do Sexual Abusers Find Opportunities?
Sexual abuse occurs because abusers gain access to the children they want. As the statistics show, family members, family friends, and trusted authority figures often take advantage of children when parents have hectic schedules. Abusers are able to commit these heinous acts because:
- Parents trust people in traditionally honored or respected positions.
- Young children don’t know enough about sexual abuse to object.
- Children don’t understand that they have boundaries.
- Parents have limited financial resources for child care options.
- Some abusers have substance abuse problems.
- Abusers know exactly what to do to gain a child’s trust.
Why Don’t Children Tell Someone?
Children don’t report their abusers for many reasons. By the time the sexual abuse begins, the child usually thinks of the abuser as a friend. The child’s parents often see him that way too. The abuser uses his good standing with the family as a safety net. He tells the child that no one will believe him, and that assumption is usually correct.
Parents often trust abusers. They value their interest in their children. In the cases involving sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, the victims’ families usually respected and revered the abusers as well. They trusted all priests and saw them as God’s representative. Survivor’s Accounts at Bishopaccountability.org confirm this dynamic. Decades after their abuse, grown victims finally shared stories about private outings, visits to priests’ living quarters, special invitations, and weekend trips. They still remembered the reasons why they didn’t tell their parents when the abuse began.
- Fear for their safety and their family’s safety
- Guilt or shame for their actions
- The child didn’t realize that they were being abused
- The priest was a friend of the family
- The fear that no one would believe them
- Concern that their behavior meant they were a homosexual
Taking Steps to Prevent Abuse
As a parent, you want to do everything possible to protect your child from sexual predators.
While you can’t be with your children every hour of the day, you can take steps that will help keep them safe.
- Stay involved in your child’s activities. Parents are busy, but it’s important to be a presence in everything your child does. Talk to them about their day and their friends. Share information about your time at work.
- Do a caregiver’s background check. Don’t just rely on your caregiver’s reputation. Ask for references and a criminal check. Conduct your own background investigation. Even if you trust your child’s caregiver, ask your child about their daily experiences.
- Talk to your child about sex. When children don’t understand sexual issues, they don’t recognize inappropriate behavior. You can help prevent this by discussing sex with your child in an age-appropriate manner. Talk about private parts and discuss boundaries. Find out what your child knows about sex and sexual abuse. Answer their questions.
- Know your child better than anyone. A child shows signs when an abuser has him within his sphere of influence. You should know your child well enough to notice even a subtle shift in his temperament or physical appearance. If his behavior changes, find out why.
- Supervise your child’s time with an adult. Even if your daughter is training to be the next Olympic hopeful, monitor the time she spends with a coach or an instructor. Communicate with your child about their conduct with adults.
- Monitor your child’s cell and computer use. No adult has a valid reason to communicate with your child without your knowledge and permission. Make sure your child knows that they’re not allowed to text, email, or chat with any adult other than you.
- Don’t assume that all sexual abusers are male or adult-aged. Women and older children commit abusive sexual acts too. Keep that in mind when you’re discussing your child’s daily activities.
Consult a Sexual Abuse Injury Attorney
If you or your child is suffering due to episodes of childhood sexual abuse, it’s important to discuss your legal options with a child sexual abuse attorney. Even if the abuse occurred a long time ago, you may still have options. Many states have modified their statutes of limitations to allow abuse victims a chance to recover damages for their injuries.
When you schedule a consultation, you’ll have an opportunity to tell your story to a legal representative who cares about clients’ rights. You don’t have to make a decision immediately, but it’s important to talk to an attorney as soon as possible. A sexual abuse attorney will discuss how best to protect your legal rights.