Child sexual abuse is any kind of sexual act directed toward a child by an adult or much older child. These acts include sexual fondling, digital penetration/ intercourse, oral sex, sex, exhibitionism, prostitution and using children for pornography.
What are some of the physical and behavioral signs?
Children who may be too frightened to talk about sexual abuse may exhibit a variety of physical and behavioral signals, including but not limited to:
- Loss of appetite.
- Recurrent nightmares or disturbed sleep
- Fear of the dark.
- Regression to more infantile behavior such as bedwetting, thumb sucking or excessive crying.
- Torn or stained underwear.
- Vaginal or rectal bleeding, pain, itching, swollen genitals and vaginal discharge.
- Unusual interest in or knowledge of sexual matters for their age.
- Expressing affection in ways inappropriate for their age.
- Fear of a person or an intense dislike of being left somewhere or with someone.
- Aggressive or disruptive behavior, withdrawal, running away or delinquent behavior
- Change in performance at school.
What if I think my child has been abused?
1. Believe your child. Children rarely lie about sexual abuse.
2. Commend your child for telling you. However, do not ask your child for detailed information about the experience.
3. Listen to what your child wants to tell you.
3. Tell your child you support him or her. Many children believe abuse is their fault. Alleviating this self-blame is very important.
4. Report any suspected abuse to the Department of Social Services or to the police! Remember that taking action is critical because if nothing is done, other children will continue to be at risk.
5. Reassure your child and explain that he or she will not be blamed for whatever an adult does with them.
What should I not do?
Don’t deny the problem. Trying to forget the abuse happened doesn’t protect your child or you from having to deal with the feelings about the sexual abuse. Instead, it endangers your child. Don’t lose control of your feelings. Stay calm and never blame, punish, or embarrass your child. Support your child, no matter how hard it is to believe.
What are common reactions of parents of sexually abused children?
Shock, disbelief, rage, desire to get even, guilt, embarrassment, self-blame, depression and a sense of betrayal, to name a few. It may be a parent’s worst nightmare come true when a child reports sexual abuse. Initially, you may feel overwhelmed by your own feelings. If the abuser is a close family member, you may also be struggling with disbelief and a sense of having been betrayed.