In our highly-sexualized society, children are being exposed to sex and sexual contact at an early age. Although the media is saturated with sexual content, peers and adults around children also influence how long they maintain their innocence. Sadly, some peers and adults make sexually suggestive comments and perform sexual gestures and acts toward children for their own stimulation.
Such incidents define child sexual molestation and abuse. If you think it is highly unlikely for your child to become a victim of child sexual abuse, meditate on the statistics reported by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Research shows that one of four girls and one of six boys will be sexually abused in some form by the age of 18. Statistics also show that most child sexual abuse incidents are perpetrated by an acquaintance, such as an uncle or aunt, stepfather or stepmother, and 23 percent of reported child sexual abuse is committed by individuals under the age of 18, such as the older brother or sister of your child’s best friend.
Experiencing sexual abuse can be extremely traumatic for any child, and the trauma can lead to effects, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, anxiety, and depression. Other symptoms include eating irregularities, fear of being alone with particular individuals or those of a certain gender, and self-destructive and risk-taking behaviors. For some children, signs and symptoms of sexual abuse never manifest. That is why it is important to talk with your children about sexual abuse. And if your child discloses abuse, use the tips below to help you help your child get through it.
The most important thing you can do when your child discloses that he or she has been sexually assaulted is react—calmly. Admitting being sexually abused takes a great deal of courage, desperation, and/or trust on the child’s part, so you must be able to meet your child with the sense of calm that they expect after carrying around such a weighty ordeal. After your child discloses, remember to mitigate your own outrage by focusing on your child. First make affirming statements, such as “You did the right thing by telling me,” and “I believe you.” If you want to hear all the facts, say, “Tell me as much as you can remember.” instead of something like “What did you do before your uncle…” Many children fear telling because they do not think anyone will believe them, so asking such questions will cause your child to think that he or she did something wrong. Children also may not disclose because they do not want the perpetrator to get hurt (especially if it is a close friend or family member), so be sure to keep your questions non-judgmental and your comments violence-free.
Remember to protect your child. For example, don’t ever have the perpetrator in the same room to confirm or deny your child’s accusations. Not only will it make your child think his or her story in unbelievable, it will also re-torment your child, who may have been threatened by the perpetrator not to tell. Also, remember to enlist the help of more knowledgeable and experienced professionals when helping your child recover. You do not have to handle this alone. You may enlist the help of a hospital, the police (call 911), or community service agency to deal with such an ordeal. Protective authorities might ask that you take your child to a hospital for an examination, depending upon the severity of the incident or how current the incident took place, or they may provide you with resources that will help you and your child with the incident.
Be proactive (against future abuse)
Finally, be proactive by finding ways to prevent the abuse from happening again. For example, create a safety plan for your abused child, a plan that you and your child can use to prevent abuse from reoccurring. It is important that your child have input on this plan, especially since their control and trust has been weakened due to the sexual abuse. Ask for your child’s opinions in all future decision-making regarding their safety.