sexual abuse has been reported up to 80,000 times a year,
but the number of unreported instances is far greater, because
the children are afraid to tell anyone what has happened,
and the legal procedure for validating an episode is difficult.
The problem should be identified, the abuse stopped, and the
child should receive professional help. The long-term emotional
and psychological damage of sexual abuse can be devastating
to the child.
sexual abuse can take place within the family, by a parent,
step-parent, sibling or other relative; or outside the home,
for example, by a friend, neighbor, child care person, teacher,
or stranger. When sexual abuse has occurred, a child can develop
a variety of distressing feelings, thoughts and behaviors.
is psychologically prepared to cope with repeated sexual stimulation.
Even a two or three year old, who cannot know the sexual activity
is "wrong," will develop problems resulting from the inability
to cope with the overstimulation.
of five or older who knows and cares for the abuser becomes
trapped between affection or loyalty for the person, and the
sense that the sexual activities are terribly wrong. If the
child tries to break away from the sexual relationship, the
abuser may threaten the child with violence or loss of love.
When sexual abuse occurs within the family, the child may
fear the anger, jealousy or shame of other family members,
or be afraid the family will break up if the secret is told.
who is the victim of prolonged sexual abuse usually develops
low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness and an abnormal
or distorted view of sex. The child may become withdrawn and
mistrustful of adults, and can become suicidal.
who have been sexually abused have difficulty relating to
others except on sexual terms. Some sexually abused children
become child abusers or prostitutes, or have other serious
problems when they reach adulthood.
there are no obvious physical signs of child sexual abuse.
Some signs can only be detected on physical exam by a physician.
abused children may develop the following:
interest in or avoidance of all things of a sexual nature
problems or nightmares
or withdrawal from friends or family
that their bodies are dirty or damaged, or fear that there
is something wrong with them in the genital area
to go to school
of sexual molestation in drawings, games, fantasies
sexual abusers can make the child extremely fearful of telling,
and only when a special effort has helped the child to feel
safe, can the child talk freely. If a child says that he or
she has been molested, parents should try to remain calm and
reassure the child that what happened was not their fault.
Parents should seek a medical examination and psychiatric
can prevent or lessen the chance of sexual abuse by:
children that "if someone tries to touch your body and do
things that make you feel funny, say NO to that person and
tell me right away"
children that respect does not mean blind obedience to adults
and to authority, for example, don't tell children to, "Always
do everything the teacher or baby-sitter tells you to do"
professional prevention programs in the local school system
abused children and their families need immediate professional
evaluation and treatment. Child and adolescent psychiatrists
can help abused children regain a sense of self-esteem, cope
with feelings of guilt about the abuse, and begin the process
of overcoming the trauma. Such treatment can help reduce the
risk that the child will develop serious problems as an adult.
information see Facts for Families
to Your Kids about Sex."
#9 Updated 11/98