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Child Abuse: Sexual

Sexual abuse of children is more common than most people realize. One out of every four girls and one out of every six boys will experience some form of sexual abuse by the time they reach the age of 18. Although the topic of sex in general makes many parents very uncomfortable it is essential to talk with your children. By educating yourself and your children about sexual abuse you can help prevent it and be better prepared to cope if it does occur. What is child sexual abuse?

Any of the following acts by an adult or older child:

  • Touching a child’s genitals
  • Having a child touch their genitals
  • Showing a child their genitals or insisting the child show theirs
  • Exposing a child to pornographic materials
  • Penetration of a child’s vagina or anus
  • Mouth to genital contact with a child
  • Using a child to make pornographic pictures or movies

Who sexually abuses children?

  • About 30-40% of abuse is committed by a family member
  • Another 50% of children are by a trusted friend of the family
  • Approximately 40% of these children are abused by an older child
  • Only 10% of sexual abuse is perpetrated by a stranger

What are the signs my child has been abused?

  • Sleep problems including nightmares and bedwetting
  • An unusual interest in or avoidance of all things sexual in nature
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Poor school performance and diminished social skills
  • Behavior problems not typical for your child
  • New fears of people or places
  • Excessive fondling of own genitals
  • Drawings that depict sexual acts or nudity with enlarged genitals
  • An unusual response when questioned about being touched
  • Complaints of pain, blood in the underwear, unusual discharge from area, or repeated urinary tract infections in girls
  • Sometimes there are no clear signs; then abuse can only be detected by a physician’s exam

What should you do if your child reveals abuse to you?

  • Face the issue. Although thoughts of sexual abuse are disturbing you must overcome your discomfort and listen to your child.Take the information seriously and try to remain calm while talking with your child. Even though your anger may be directed at the perpetrator, your child may mistake your reaction and feel they are to blame.
  • Praise your child for telling. Let your child know that they did the right thing by coming to you and disclosing the abuse. Offer lots of comfort and reassurance that you are on their side.
  • Take charge of the situation. Take whatever steps necessary to ensure the abuse never happens again.
  • Report the abuse to the police and the child protection service agency in your area.
  • Seek out support. Contact your pediatrician and request a referral to a therapist who specializes in sexual abuse cases. Children who are sexually abused may suffer psychological problems such as PTSD, depression, low self-esteem, a distorted view of sex, and feelings of distrust and worthlessness. Child sexual abuse is devastating to a family and crisis counseling is an option for everyone.

How can I prevent child sexual abuse?

  • Start young and teach your child that their private parts belong to them and no one has the right to touch them. Giving your child ownership of their body is an extraordinary gift that lasts a lifetime.
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