Prevention - Step 1 - Learn The Facts
Darkness to Light Website. Child sexual abuse is an adult issue. One in 10 children in the U.S. will be sexually abused before the age of 18. As adults, we are responsible for the wellbeing and protection of the children in our care. It is highly likely that you know a child who has been or is being abused. Experts estimate that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday.3 This means that in any classroom or neighborhood full of children, there are children who are silently bearing the burden of sexual abuse. Over 90% of children who are commercially sexually exploited have a history of child sexual abuse.About 75% of child pornography victims are living at home when they are photographed. Parents are often responsible. Sexually abused children who keep it a secret or who "tell" and are not believed are at greater risk than the general population for psychological, emotional, social, and physical problems, often lasting into adulthood. It is also likely that you know an abuser. The greatest risk to children doesn't come from strangers but from friends and family. People who abuse children look and act just like every one else. In fact, they often go out of their way to appear trustworthy, seeking out settings where they can gain easy access to children, such as sports leagues, faith centers, clubs, and schools. Yet, in more than 90% of sexual abuse cases, the child and the child's family know and trust the abuser.
Consequences to children and to our society begin immediately. Child sexual abuse is a direct source of a number of problems facing our communities.
- 70-80% of sexual abuse survivors report excessive drug and alcohol use.
- One study showed that among male survivors, 50% have suicidal thoughts and more than 20% attempt suicide.
- Young girls who are sexually abused are more likely to develop eating disorders as adolescents.
- More than 60% of teen first pregnancies are preceded by experiences of molestation, rape or attempted rape.
- Approximately 40% of sex offenders report sexual abuse as children.
- Both males and females who have been sexually abused are more likely to engage in prostitution.
- Approximately 70% of sexual offenders of children have between 1 and 9 victims; 20-25% have 10 to 40 victims.
- Serial perpetrators may have as many as 400 victims in their lifetimes.
Step 2: Minimize Opportunity
If you eliminate or reduce isolated, one-on-one situations between children and adults, and children and other youth, you'll dramatically reduce the risk of sexual abuse. More than 80% of sexual abuse cases occur in isolated, one-on-one situations.
- Reduce risk. Protect children.
- Understand that abusers often become friendly with potential victims and their families, enjoying family activities, earning trust, and gaining time alone with children.
- Think carefully about the safety of any isolated, one-on-one settings. Choose group situations when possible.
- Think carefully about the safety of situations in which older youth have access to younger children. Make sure that multiple adults are present who can supervise.
- Set an example by personally avoiding isolated, one-on-one situations with children other than your own.
- Monitor children's Internet use. Offenders use the Internet to lure children into physical contact.
Step 3: Talk About It
Children often keep abuse a secret, but barriers can be broken down by talking openly about our bodies, sex, and boundaries. “My daughter tells me everything. I know she would tell me if someone touched her or made her feel uncomfortable.”
- Understand why children are afraid to tell.
- The abuser shames the child, points out that the child let it happen, or tells the child that his or her parents will be angry.
- The abuser is often manipulative, and may try to confuse the child about what is right and wrong, or tell them the abuse is a "game."
- The abuser sometimes threatens to harm the child or a family member.
- Some children who do not initially disclose abuse are ashamed to tell when it happens again.
- Children are afraid of disappointing their parents and disrupting the family.
- Some children are too young to understand.
- Children often love the abuser, and don't want to get anyone in trouble or end the relationship. They just want the abuse to stop.
- Know how children communicate.
- Children who disclose sexual abuse often tell a trusted adult other than a parent. For this reason, training for people who work with children is especially important.
- Children may tell portions of what happened or pretend it happened to someone else to gauge adult reaction.
- Children will often "shut down" and refuse to tell more if you respond emotionally or negatively.
- Talk openly with your child.
Age appropriate, open conversations about our bodies, sex, and boundaries gives children a foundation for understanding and developing healthy relationships. It also teaches them that they have the right to say "no." With this foundation in place, they are less vulnerable to people who would violate their boundaries, and are more likely to tell you if abuse occurs.
Step 4: Recognize the Signs
Don't expect obvious signs when a child is being sexually abused. Signs are often there, but you have to know what to look for.
"Is my son's withdrawal due to preteen angst or is he being sexually abused?"
- Learn the Signs
- Physical signs of sexual abuse are not common, although redness, rashes/swelling in the genital area, urinary tract infections, or other such symptoms should be carefully investigated. Also, physical issues associated with anxiety, such as chronic stomach pain or headaches, may occur.
- Emotional or behavioral signals are more common. These can run from "too perfect" behavior, to withdrawal and depression, to unexplained anger and rebellion.
- Sexual behavior and language that are not age-appropriate can be a red flag.
- Be aware that in some children there are no signs whatsoever.
- If you find physical signs that you suspect are sexual abuse, have the child physically examined immediately by a professional who specializes in child sexual abuse.
Step 5: React Responsibly
Disclosure, discovery, and suspicions of sexual abuse provide opportunities to intervene on behalf of a child. "My 11-year-old daughter said her step-father sneaks into her room at night. Then she said she made it up. Now she won't say anything. I don't know what to do."
DISCLOSURE of sexual abuse means a child has chosen you as the person he or she trusts enough to tell. It is the moment when children learn whether others can be trusted to stand up for them.
- Don't Overreact
- If a child breaks an arm or runs a high fever, you know to stay calm and where to seek help because you've mentally prepared yourself. Reacting to child sexual abuse is the same.
When you react to disclosure with anger or disbelief, the child will likely:
- Feel even more ashamed and guilty.
- Shut down.
- Change or retract the story, when, in fact, abuse is actually occurring.
- Change the story to match your questions so future tellings appear to be "coached." This can be very harmful if the case goes to court.
- Very few reported incidents of child sexual abuse are false.
- Think through your response before you react. You'll be able to respond in a more supportive manner.
- Believe the child and make sure the child knows it.
- Thank the child for telling you and praise the child's courage.
- Encourage the child to talk, but don't ask leading questions about details. Asking about details can alter the child's memory of events. If you must ask questions to keep the child talking, ask open-ended ones like "What happened next?"
- Seek the help of a professional who is trained to interview the child about sexual abuse. Professional guidance could be critical to the child's healing and to any criminal prosecution.
- Assure the child that it's your responsibility to protect him or her and that you'll do all you can.
- Report or take action in all cases of suspected abuse, both inside and outside the immediate family.
- Don't panic. Sexually abused children who receive support and psychological help can and do heal.
- Try not to show anger toward the offender, who may be someone the child loves. You can add to the child's burden by showing how upset you are.
- DISCOVERY of sexual abuse means you've witnessed a sexually abusive act by an adult or youth with a child, or you know by some other means that abuse has taken place.
- Report your discovery immediately to law enforcement.
- Tell the child's name and where he or she lives.
- Tell where you are at the present time, where the child is, and where the offender is, if known.
- Tell what the child said to you.
- Tell what interactions you saw between the alleged offender and the child.
- Tell what other behaviors, if any, you've observed in the alleged offender.
- Tell what signs in the child you've seen.
- Tell what access the alleged offender has to the child.
- And remember, if you discover child pornography, you've discovered sexual abuse. Child pornography is illegal.
SUSPICION of sexual abuse means you've seen signs in a child, or you've witnessed boundary violations by adults or other youth toward a child. Set limits. Ask questions. If you are a "bystander" who witnesses a boundary violation, or sees a situation in which a child is vulnerable, it's not important to know the intentions of the person who crossed the boundary. What is important is that you reinforce the boundary - even if you are in front of others, or in a public setting. DESCRIBE THE BEHAVIOR "It's against policy for you to be in the classroom alone with a student." SET A LIMIT "You need to take your conversation to the student lounge." MOVE ON "I'm on my way there, now, so I'll walk with you."
Offenders are rarely caught in the act of abusing a child, but they're often seen breaking rules and pressing boundaries. Child sexual abuse is a crime. Know the the policies for reporting disclosures, discoveries, and suspicion in your organization.
(Source: Darkness to Light, 5 Steps to Prevention)