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Child Sexual Abuse

Introduction

Sexual assault of children often includes incest as a subset of this form of sexual assault. While there is a substantial amount of overlap in the two types of assault, for the purposes of this website we have separated them in recognition of the different needs that victims of each type of assault may have.

Contact Can Include:

  • Fondling
  • Obscene phone calls
  • Exhibitionism
  • Masturbation
  • Intercourse
  • Oral or anal sex
  • Prostitution
  • Pornography
  • Any other sexual conduct that is harmful to a child's mental, emotional, or physical welfare

Additional Features

  • May consist of a single incident or many acts over a long period of time.
  • Abuse is more often perpetrated by someone known to the child.
  • Abuse may escalate over time, particularly if the abuser is a family member.

Adult Reactions

Many adults tend to overlook, to minimize, to explain away, or to disbelieve allegations of abuse. This may be particularly true if the perpetrator is a family member.

NOTE: The absence of force or coercion does not diminish the abusive nature of the conduct, but, sadly, it may cause the child to feel responsible for what has occurred.

Warning Signs

Physical Signs

  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Bloody, torn, or stained underclothes
  • Bleeding, bruises, or swelling in genital area
  • Pain, itching, or burning in genital area
  • Frequent urinary or yeast infections
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections, especially if under 14 years old
  • Pregnancy, especially if under 14 years old

Behavioral Signs

  • Reports sexual abuse
  • Inappropriate sexual knowledge
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Nightmares or bed-wetting
  • Large weight changes/major changes in appetite
  • Suicide attempts or self-harming, especially in adolescents
  • Shrinks away or seems threatened by physical contact
  • Runs away
  • Overly protective and concerned for siblings, assumes a caretaker role
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Rape Trauma Syndrome symptoms

Common Reactions

  • Withdrawal
  • Depression
  • Sleeping & eating disorders
  • Self-mutilation
  • Phobias
  • Psychosomatic symptoms (stomachaches, headaches)
  • School problems (absences, drops in grades)
  • Poor hygiene/excessive bathing
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Regressive behaviors - thumb-sucking, etc.

What should I do if I suspect my child is being sexually abused?

Additional Resources

Stop It Now: The Campaign to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

Childhelp USA

Darkness to Light

National Children's Alliance

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA)

National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center


References

Texas Association Against Sexual Assault

National Children's Advocacy Center

Child Welfare Information Gateway


National Sexual Assault Hotline | 1.800.656.HOPE(4673) | Free. Confidential. 24/7.

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