Child sexual abuse includes a wide range of sexual behaviors that take place between a child and an older person. These behaviors are meant to arouse the older person in a sexual way. In general, no thought is given to what effect the behavior may have on the child. For the most part, the abuser does not care about the reactions or choices of the child.
Child sexual abuse often involves body contact. This could include sexual kissing, touching, and oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Not all sexual abuse involves body contact, though. Showing private parts ("flashing"), forcing children to watch pornography, verbal pressure for sex, and exploiting children as prostitutes or for pornography can be sexual abuse as well. Researchers estimate that in our country about 1 out of 6 boys and 1 out of 4 girls are sexually abused.
Who commits child sexual abuse?
Under the child sexual abuse laws, the abuser must be older than the victim in most cases. Some states require the abuser to be at least five years older.
Most often, sexual abusers know the child they abuse but are not family. About 60% of abusers fall into that group. For example, the abuser might be a friend of the family, babysitter, or neighbor. About 30% of those who sexually abuse children are family members of the child. This includes fathers, uncles, or cousins. The abuser is a stranger in only about 10% of child sexual abuse cases.
Abusers are men in most cases, whether the victim is a boy or a girl. Women are the abusers in about 14% of cases reported against boys and about 6% of cases reported against girls. Child pornographers and other abusers who are strangers may make contact with children using the Internet.
What are the effects of childhood sexual abuse?
I did and Monday I will tell you a little bit of my journey...It is not always easy to tell whether a child has been sexually abused. Sexual abuse often occurs in secret, and there is not always physical proof of the abuse. For these reasons, child sexual abuse can be hard to detect.
Some child sexual abuse survivors may show symptoms of PTSD. They may behave in a nervous, upset way. Survivors may have bad dreams. They may act out aspects of the abuse in their play. They might show other fears and worries. Young children may lose skills they once learned and act younger than they are. For example, an abused child might start wetting the bed or sucking his or her thumb. Some sexual abuse survivors show out-of-place sexual behaviors that are not expected in a child. They may act seductive or they may not maintain safe limits with others. Children, especially boys, might "act out" with behavior problems. This could include being cruel to others and running away. Other children "act in" by becoming depressed. They may withdraw from friends or family. Older children or teens might try to hurt or even kill themselves.
Sexual abuse can be very confusing for children. For a child, it often involves being used or hurt by a trusted adult. The child might learn that the only way to get attention or love is to give something sexual or give up their self-respect. Some children believe the abuse is their fault somehow. They may think the abuser chose them because they must have wanted it or because there is something wrong with them. If the abuser was of the same sex, children (and parents) might wonder if that means they are "gay."
Almost every child sexual abuse victim describes the abuse as negative. Most children know it is wrong. They usually have feelings of fear, shock, anger, and disgust. A small number of abused children might not realize it is wrong, though. These children tend to be very young or have mental delays. Also some victims might enjoy the attention, closeness, or physical contact with the abuser. This is more likely if these basic needs are not met by a caregiver. All told, these reactions make the abuse very hard and confusing for children.
If childhood sexual abuse is not treated, long-term symptoms can go on through adulthood. These may include:
■PTSD and anxiety
■Depression and thoughts of suicide
■Sexual anxiety and disorders, including having too many or unsafe sexual partners
■Difficulty setting safe limits with others (e.g., saying no to people) and relationship problems
■Poor body image and low self-esteem
■Unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol, drugs, self-harm, or eating problems. These behaviors are often used to try to hide painful emotions related to the abuse
If you were sexually abused as a child and have some of these symptoms, it is important for you to get help.