Monday, November 14, 2011

Sexual Victimization of Children: Signs, Statistics & Suggestions

What group is the most criminally victimized in our nation? Children. And, sadly, we've developed a term for this heightened victimization--"polyvictimizations." Specifically, this term describes the repeated victimizations a child experiences, often within a single year. Sexual violence is one form of child abuse. Often this does involve body contact, but this is not a mandated element. For example, using a child for pornography is certainly considered sexual violence. Similarly, showing a child your own private parts (flashing) is also an example of sexual violence.  Child sexual abuse can take many forms, but ultimately the goal is still the same: arouse the abuser sexually.

 A child victim of long-term sexual abuse may develop low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness, and abnormal and/or distorted views of sexual behavior and activity. Some children become withdrawn and depression may develop. For some child victims, suicide is the only way out.

Most often, sexual abusers know the child they abuse, but they are not family.  For instance, the abuser may be a friend of the family, a neighbor, a camp counselor, or a babysitter. Notably, approximately 3 of 10 abusers are family members of the victimized child. And, the abuser is a stranger in only about 1 of 10 cases of child sexual abuse. Also, abusers are men most often, regardless of the sex of the victimized child.

Other things to be aware of in children who have been sexually victimized:
  1. unusual interest in or avoidance of all things of a sexual nature
  2. sleep problems or nightmares
  3. statements that their bodies are dirty or damaged
  4. fear that there is something wrong with them in the genital area
  5. refusal to go to school or any other specific location where a child would otherwise go (e.g., a friend's house, a park, etc)
  6. delinquency/conduct problems
  7. secretiveness
  8. aspects of sexual molestation within drawings, games, fantasies
  9. unusual aggressiveness
  10. lose of skills they once used/acting younger than they are (e.g., wetting the bed and/or sucking of the thumb)
The question we need to ask is, "what can we do to keep children safe?" While it is impossible to keep  the children in our lives 100% safe all of the time, it is important to get to know the people with whom they come into contact. Most importantly, we must work to create and sustain a safe, comfortable environment in which children feel they speak about sexual abuse. 

Typically, this is the space in which you might expect tips on what to do/how to protect your child(ren). I've noticed that most websites and other resources focus almost exclusively on what we can tell our children (e.g., safe touching versus unsafe touching, your body is private, etc). While I am not claiming these tips as incorrect, I find it interesting that these websites place responsibility on the victim--the child. In other words, why is it the child's responsibility to say "no" or to explain to the perpetrator that s/he doesn't have to do what they are demanding. (Again, please note I am not saying we shouldn't instruct our children about these things.) Instead, why not think about what we can do that would prevent any child from having to experience these circumstances? How can we bring the focus to the offenders, not the victims? Make a comment with your thoughts/ideas. If we focus on the offenders, do you think we'll see a decrease in child sexual assault? Preventative techniques? Do we need more severe punishment?

If you'd like more information, you might be interested in:


  1. One action to take might be to check the law in your state. Some states prosecute people who do not report child abuse; others only have fines. Many of the states that only have fines (ex. Maryland)are now checking their laws, with the intent to change them, in the wake of Penn State.

  2. Great idea Sande G.

    My two big comments about Penn State are:
    1) AWARENESS AWARENESS AWARENESS: This will be the biggest scandal in US Sports. It will be huge for schools, churches, families, victims. Teachers/coaches/ministers will finally see/feel/breathe the mandates that if not already in place, will be. I will start with my school district and I HIGHLY recommend you check with yours and your church/sport club. NO ADULT IN THE CARE OF CHILDREN SHOULD KEEP A 'CRIMINAL SECRET'.

    2. In response to the Penn State protests taking place in supPort of Paterno, I think truth and justice will prevail. Kids go to college. Adults HOPEFULLY graduate. But, many are simply ill informed. They are passionate. They are vocal. Let's give them a little time to get it right. Saw several news programs recently that showed quite a shift towards the light.

    3. I loved a commentator today that said, "we need to value a school culture/climate that encourages reporting". THIS IS THE WHOLE KIT AND KABOODLE. This is not the culture at many schools today. There is a lot of pressure and competition within schools to simply KEEP kids, not to KEEP THEM SAFE. Kids now have a dollar sign attached to them. To make the school look good, things are not reported. Test results are elevated. Whether it is bullying, violence, drugs, self-harming behaviors, suicide, homicide, etc. "Best not to talk about it or report it" is often the message teachers/parents get.

    All forms of violence are the same. They require denial on the part of the perpetrator that anything is wrong. "we were just horsing around", "it was just tickling". Really? You will get plenty of that in prison boys. Administrators are not GOD. They can't handle things INTERNALLY.

    KEEP OUR KIDS SAFE!!!!!!!!!!