Sexual abuse in children

What is sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse in children is a term used when the offender, who may or may not be a member of the family, uses a child for his sexual gratification. Very young children as well as older teenagers may be victimized.

What does sexual abuse include?

Sexual abuse can be physical, verbal or emotional and includes:
Touching and fondling with sexual intent.
Exposing children to adult sexual activity or pornographic material.
Having children pose, undress or perform in a sexual fashion on film or in person.
“Peeping” into bathrooms or bedrooms to spy on a child.
Rape or attempted rape.
The perpetrator may use force, tricks, bribes or threats to involve a child into sexual activity. But the use of physical force is rarely necessary because children, who wish to seek adults love and approval, believe that they are always right and thus become vulnerable at the hands of such people.

What are the signs of sexual abuse?

Children generally do not tell if they are being sexually abused because they may be afraid of the perpetrator. The abuser may threaten to harm the child or any member of her family if she told them. In cases, where the abuser is known to the child, he may ask her not to divulge “their little secret” to anyone else.

Parents or guardians must be vigilant towards their children since there are certain general behaviour changes that may occur in children if they are experiencing such a problem.
Sleep disturbances.
School problems.
Withdrawal from family, friends or usual activities.
Other problems may include depression, anxiety, discipline problems, drug or alcohol problems, hostility or aggression and in some cases running away.
Children who have been sexually abused frequently have more specific symptoms like displaying sexual knowledge or behaviour that is beyond what is normal for their age; copying adult sexual behaviour; unexplained pain, swelling, bleeding or irritation of the mouth; urinary infections and sexually transmitted diseases.

How does a sexually abused child feel?

A sexually abused child may feel different emotions like fear of the abuser or of being different; anger at other adults around her who did not protect her; isolation, sadness, guilt, confusion and shame.

What should parents do?

As concerned adults, parents should teach the children:
that they are loved, valued and are most precious for them.
the difference between safe and unsafe touches.
that their bodies belong to them and nobody has the right to touch or hurt them.
to tell anything about which they might feel uncomfortable to their parents.
If a child trusts the parents and tells them about the incident, they should help by providing positive support.

Some dos:
Keep calm.
Believe the child.
Give positive messages such as “I know you could not help it”, “I’m proud that you trusted me”.
Respect the child’s privacy and never discuss the topic in front of others.
Take the child for a medical check up to make sure that no permanent damage has occurred.
Some don’ts:
Never panic or overreact as the child needs help and support to make it through this difficult time.
Never confront the offender in the child’s presence.
Do not blame the child because sexual abuse is never the child’s fault.