FACT: Child sexual abuse happens in both rural and urban areas, at all economic and educational levels, and across all racial and cultural groups.
Saying ‘No’ to an older and more powerful person is hard for children. Parents can teach their children:
- that it is okay to say ‘no’ to adults, ie, it is OK to say ‘no’ to a hug from a family member.
- to recognize behaviors that don’t feel ‘right’.
- how to get help with they need it.
What is child sexual abuse?
Any sexual activity between an adult and a child or adolescent (as well as between an adolescent and a child is sexual abuse.) This includes both touching and non-touching behaviors.
Touching includes everything from fondling to intercourse. Non-touching includes exposing oneself to a child, taking sexually explicit or provocative photographs of a child, and showing pornography to a child.
While exploring sexuality is a normal and healthy part of growing up, there may be times when children are involved in activities with one another that are not healthy. Pay attention when one child:
- is larger in size and/or is more than 3 years older in age.
- has greater mental, emotional, or physical ability.
- uses power through treats, bribes, or physical force.
Who sexually abuses children?
Most people who sexually abuse children look and act just like everyone else. It’s hard to face the fact that someone the child knows – and even likes or loves – might be an abuser. Most abusers are either family members (fathers, mothers, step parents, grand-parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins) or other trusted adults – not strangers.
Abusers usually build up to the abuse slowly. At first, most children do not fully understand what is happening. By the time the abuse is happening, children often believe that they are to blame. This is because the abuser has told them so.
People who sexually abuse children often appear friendly and trustworthy. When people – including family members and other trusted adults spend time with children there are signs to watch for. For example:
- they find reasons to be alone with children – take outings or trips without other adults.
- they often have a ‘special’ child friend and usually want to be alone with that child.
- they may give this child lavish gifts or pay unusual attention to the child.
- they make sexual comments to others about a child’s body or sexuality.
Tips to help protect your child:
Talking is one of the best ways to protect your child. Start early and talk often about this and other safety matters. Here are some simple rules that even young children can be taught:
- No Secrets. “No one should ever tell you to keep a secret from me – one that might make me mad if I found out. An adult who cares about you will never ask you to do this.”
- All body parts have names. No matter what names your family uses for penis, vagina, breasts, and buttocks, talk your child about these body parts in an open and honest way. When we don’t talk about these parts of our bodies, we send the message that they are not to be spoken about. Abusers rely on children to follow their parents’ lead of not talking about ‘private parts.’ “All parts of your body have names. These are _____.”
- Adults should not touch certain parts of your body. “Adults and older children have no business ‘playing’ with your private parts. When I help you with washing or wiping yourself – that is not the same as playing. Doctors and nurses help you by examining these body parts – but it’s not a secret.”
- Adults don’t need help with their bodies. “Adults and older children will never need help from you with their private parts. If you are asked to help with washing someone’s private parts, please come and tell me right away. I will not be angry with you.”
How can I tell if my child has been sexually abused?
Physical signs of sexual abuse are not common. If you are becoming concerned about unusual levels of anxiety or a behavior change in your child, these can be signs of sexual abuse – or of many other childhood stresses. Below are examples of behavior seen in children who are being or have been sexually abused:
- New words for private parts that were not learned at home.
- Sexual activity with toys or other children, sexual play with dolls, or asks others to behave in a sexual way.
- Does not want to talk about a ‘secret’ involving an adult or older child.
- Not wanting to be left alone with a certain babysitter, friend, relative, other child, or adult. Sometimes, a child’s behavior might change when left with a certain person for example, going from talkative and cheery to quiet and distant.
If your child tells you that sexual abuse is occurring, take it seriously.
What can I do if I think sexual abuse has occurred?
If you believe abuse is happening, start by simply asking your child, “You seem unhappy. What’s troubling you? I love you and I won’t get mad at you – no matter what you tell me.”
Often child sexual abuse is not obvious. This makes many people who think abuse is happening uncertain. They may not want to share what they are thinking with others. Concerned adults can call or visit the child’s doctor. Other resources include the police, the Family Services Division of the Department for Children and Families, and confidential help lines.
Listen to what your child is saying and call your child’s doctor right away. By working together, parents, health care providers, teachers, and other adults in our communities –we can prevent the sexual abuse of our children.