Although all forms of child abuse and neglect are difficult for many to understand, the sexual abuse of children is particularly disturbing. The short and long term effects may range from relatively mild emotional distress to severe emotional and physical trauma regardless of whether the abuse was a single incident or on-going. Statistics cited are from the Child Welfare Gateway and the Crimes Against Children Research Center.
What is sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse is any situation where a child is used for sexual gratification. This can include involving or exposing a child to sexual contact, activity or behavior. Sexual abuse includes offenses such as:
- Exposing children to pornographic material
- Using children to film, photograph or model pornography
- Exposing children to sexual acts
- Engaging children in prostitution
- Fondling children’s or having children fondle an adult’s breasts, genitals, or buttocks
- Use of an object for vaginal or anal penetration or fondling
- Vaginal, anal or oral sexual intercourse
How often does sexual abuse occur?
Approximately 9% of all child abuse reports involve sexual abuse and it is estimated that 1 in 4 girls and one in 6 to 10 boys will be sexually abused before they reach the age of 18. Sexual abuse occurs in all populations and cultures. The ages of victims range from infancy to 18. One national study showed 34% of child sexual abuse victims were between the ages of birth and 11 and 33% were 12 to 17 years of age. Studies vary by definition of family and caretakers, but do indicate that sexual abuse most often occurs with parents or other adult acquaintances (between 70% – 85%). These adults can be doctors, teachers, coaches, youth leaders, church leaders, neighbors and others. Strangers are offenders in approximately 7% to 25 % of reports.
Indicators of Sexual Abuse
Looking for indicators of child sexual abuse can be challenging. Often there are few if any physical signs that a child has been sexually abused. Behavioral indicators may be present, but are often overlooked or attributed to other causes. Many child victims exhibit a combination of indicators reflecting their particular experience. The following indicators may provide some guidance, but the list is not all-inclusive. Please contact a professional if you suspect a child has been sexually abused.
- Physical Indicators
- Bruises or bleeding in external genitalia
- Complaints of pain or itching in genitalia
- Difficulty in walking
- Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Pregnancy, especially in early adolescence
- Behavioral Indicators
- Compulsive masturbation
- Bed-wetting or soiling
- Age-inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviors
- Sleep disturbances
- Self-destructive or risk taking behaviors
- Fire setting
- Cruelty to animals
- Fear of people or of being left alone
- Depression or social withdrawal
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Criminal activity
- Running away
- Sudden changes in behaviors
- School difficulties
- Difficulty relating to peers
What can be done?
The longer neglect continues, the greater the potential for serious and long term emotional and psychological difficulties for the child. If you suspect a child is being neglected, please make a report to your local Child Protective Services Department (check your local yellow pages under child abuse). If a child is in immediate danger, please call the police.