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 Some children become withdrawn and depression may develop.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:
- unusual interest in or avoidance of all things of a sexual nature
- sleep problems or nightmares
- statements that their bodies are dirty or damaged
- fear that there is something wrong with them in the genital area
- 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)
- delinquency/conduct problems
- aspects of sexual molestation within drawings, games, fantasies
- unusual aggressiveness
- 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?
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