SIGNS AND MYTHS OF SEXUAL ABUSE
Learn the facts and understand the risks. Realities – not trust – should influence your decisions regarding children.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
Changes in Behavior
Abuse can lead to many changes in a child’s behavior. Abused children often appear scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn and more aggressive.
Perpetrator Relationship to the Victim
Returning to Earlier Behaviors
Abused children may display behaviors shown at earlier ages, such as thumb-sucking, fear of the dark or strangers. For some children, even the loss of acquired language or memory problems may be an issue.
Fear of Going Home
Abused children may express apprehension or anxiety about leaving school or about going places with the person who is abusing them.
Changes in Eating
The stress, fear and anxiety caused by abuse can lead to changes in a child’s eating behaviors, which may result in weight gain or loss.
Changes in Sleeping
Abused children may have frequent nightmares or have difficulty falling asleep, and, as a result may appear tired or fatigued.
Changes in School Performance and Attendance
Abused children may have difficulty concentrating in school or their normal academic level may drop. They may appear less alert or on top of things.
Risk Taking Behavior
Young people who are being abused may engage in high-risk activities such as using drugs or alcohol or carrying a weapon.
Inappropriate Sexual Behaviors
Children who have been sexually abused may exhibit overly sexualized behavior or use explicit sexual language.
Child Victims of Sexual Abuse Will Have Physical Signs of the Abuse.
Frequently, an absence of physical evidence is often used as support that a perpetrator must be innocent of an alleged sexual assault. The truth is that abnormal genital findings are rare, even in cases where abuse has been factually proven by other forms of evidence. Many acts leave no physical trace.
Sexual Abuse Myths
Only Men Sexually Abuse Children.
While male perpetrators tend to be the majority of reported cases of abuse, women are also capable of child sexual abuse. Reports of female perpetrators are on the rise, and female offenders have been reported in cases of abuse involving both male and female children.
He Looks Normal and Acts Normal, So He Can’t Be a Child Molester. (Only boogeymen are child molesters.)
A common and dangerous public assumption is that a person who looks normal and acts normal simply cannot be a child molester. Sex offenders are knowledgeable about the importance of their public image and can hide their private behaviors from their friends, neighbors, colleagues, and even their own family members. Sex offenders use a number of strategies which allow them to gain access to children while hiding their true actions. Many perpetrators seek out volunteer or employment positions that place adults in close proximity to children. Some child molesters appear to be charming, socially responsible, caring, compassionate, morally sound, and sincere. Parents and other responsible adults trust these individuals. This leads to continued access to child victims.
Child Molesters Target Any and All Children Nearby
Just because a child is in the proximity of a sex offender does not mean that the child will automatically become a target or a victim. This may seem obvious, but some people believe that if a perpetrator did not abuse a certain child to whom he had access, then a child who does make an outcry of abuse must be lying. Sex offenders carefully select and groom their targeted victims, employing an outline or plan to get a particular child alone. Not every child fits the mold of what a pedophile is looking for. There is a process of obtaining a child’s friendship or trust, and in some cases, the parent’s friendship or trust, as well. Once trust has been obtained, the child is more vulnerable, both emotionally and physically.
Abused Children Always Tell! (My kids know they’re supposed to tell!)
Children often fail to disclose their abuse. This is frequently used as purported evidence that a victim’s story isn’t plausible. Children who have been victims of sexual abuse often have extreme difficulty in disclosing their victimization. One in four girls and one in six boys will be a victim of sexual abuse before his or her 18th birthday, but it is estimated that only one in ten will make an outcry of abuse. It is very common that if a child does make a disclosure, it will not be immediate. Children take time to process, understand what has occurred and realize that they should tell.
A number of factors affect a child’s ability to tell his or her story. The age of the child can be a factor, along with a family relationship to the perpetrator, or continuous sexual abuse over a long period of time. Sex offenders will emotionally victimize a child to prevent the truth from being uncovered. A perpetrator can convince a child that the child is to blame him or herself for the bad act. A perpetrator may threaten physical harm to a family member, friend, parent, household pet, or the victim directly. A perpetrator can make a child feel that a disclosure would ‘ruin’ the family. Boy children may be reluctant to make an outcry because of the social stigma attached to abuse by another male. Children experience fear, embarrassment, guilt, and shame. These feelings are enough to prevent a child from disclosing sexual abuse.
The Victim is Always a Girl
Just as women can be sex offenders, boys may be victims of abuse. Unfortunately, child sexual abuse with male victims is under reported due to social and cultural attitudes: boys are taught to fight back and not let others see vulnerability. Boys are aware at an early age of the social stigma attached to sexual abuse by another male, and fear appearing weak to others. All of these attitudes make male child victims less likely to tell of their abuse.
Remember, you are obligated by law to report suspected child abuse.
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