Child sexual abuse is when one uses a child for sexual stimulation. It is also known as child molestation. There are different ways in which a child can be sexually abused. One way is involving in sexual activity with the child, indecent exposure to the child or using the child for child pornography. Child molestation can occur in different areas including home, school or any other social area. Another form of child molestation is the child marriages, which is considered to be one of the most prevalent forms of child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse is a form of abuse of trust, power and authority and may have serious short-term or long-term effects on a child. Many abused children do not tell others of their case due to either manipulation or threats from the perpetrators (Lowenstein, 2011). Due to this, most cases are not reported to the police or authorities. Child sexual abuse is a violation that requires a response from the whole community.
Child sexual abuse affects both boys and girls. However, girls are more sexually abused than boys. Children of all ages between birth and age 17 can be abused. Most of the abuse cases occur between ages 14 and 17 (Finkelhor, Hammer, & Sedlak, 2008). Most of the perpetrators of sexual abuse are adults. However, most of the adult perpetrators are men. Children are mostly abused by people they are acquainted with. This paper examines the possible effects of child sexual abuse and highlights the ways to prevent sexual abuse.
Signs of child sexual abuse
Child molestation has dangerous effects on a child, including depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. There are different signs to indicate child sexual abuse. One of them are the behavioural signs of the child. The signs include knowledge of or shows interest in sexual acts that are uncommon in his or her age. The child might also avoid contact with other people. He or she may be passive or aggressive to others. Older children may engage in self-destructive behaviour to deal with the pain such as abusing drugs or alcohol. Physical signs include the child being uncomfortable while seated, having stains on clothes. Swelling or bruising around the genital areas is another indicator. Another strong concern is the child having a sexually transmitted disease or being pregnant at a young age such as 14. The caregiver also displays some characteristics. He or she may seem unusually controlling of the child and limiting interaction with other children and adults. The caregiver may not show and signs of concern, however, the child may still be showing signs of abuse. It is important for one to be able to distinguish when to and when not to take measures. All the above are ways to tell that a child may be under sexual abuse (Lowenstein, 2011).
Effects of Child Sexual Abuse
The effect of sexual abuse on a child depends on different factors. They include:
Whether the child a forced or coerced aggressively.
Whether there is vaginal or anal penetration.
The person that perpetrates the sexual abuse, whether it is a stranger or a trusted member of the family (Lowenstein, 2011).
The effects of the abuse become much worse if the abuser is a close member of the family or a trusted friend. The magnitude of the effect also depends on the length of the abuse or the frequency. The type of the abuse act is also a very significant factor. For instance, penetration has more serious effects. Whether the child can confide with either of the parents and is believed is an important aspect. The situation becomes worse of the abused child is not believed by anyone. The number of perpetrators in also important in determining the magnitude of the abuse.
Some of the early symptoms of sexual abuse are early sexual behaviour. Young children tend to become anxious and often get nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bedwetting. Some children are aggressive, withdrawn or regressive. Older children tend to be more self-destructive, depressed, hyperactive, having problems in education and occurrence of suicidal thoughts. Such children also tend to suffer from psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches, which do not have organic connections. Some of the older abused children tend to run away from home and abuse drugs and alcohol. Some extreme cases may involve mental illnesses for the rest of their lives (Lowenstein, 2011).
Some of the victims may delay reporting the sexual abuse incidents because they feel guilty, helpless, or perhaps they are too close to the perpetrator. As a result, the child ends up with a serious distrust of others. Sometimes the victims tend to believe that they are to blame for what happened to them, although it is wrong. It takes long for the child to reveal that they are sexually abused if the perpetrator is within the family. The victim may also be afraid of the possible consequences of revealing the abuse, which delays them from coming forward. The same happens when a parent does not believe a child when he or she reports of abuse by the family member.
Time is important when it comes to the healing process. However, it may make the effects even worse for the victim. One of the most helpful ways is dedicated treatment. Sexually abused adult women report to be less sexually satisfied than those that were not sexually abused. Abused women may start to exhibit eating disorders and may find it hard to trust others. They may also suffer from anxiety, depression and be dangerous to themselves.
Women that have been abused before are also likely to suffer from post-partum depression and little maternal attachment as compared to women that have not been abused. In some cases, however, children that have been abused may become stronger as a result of the experience. They may be more aggressive in protecting their children from experiencing the same. Many of the symptoms that appear in abused children also occur in non-abused children. It is, therefore, important that one be carefully observant in determining whether there is cause for alarm in sexual abuse (Lowenstein, 2011).
Strategies for parents and concerned community members
One should develop positive and open communication between the caregiver and the children. One can do this by talking to them about their day, about their concerns and feelings. This may create confidence and openness. One should always teach children about healthy relationships. They should learn to express boundaries regarding their relationships. It is important for a child to learn that keeping secrets about sexual abuse is not healthy for them and that they should report any case. Caregivers should teach children who they should trust and who they can confide in. if a child exhibits any unusual sexual behaviour, one should report the behaviour to a specialist to seek help. The care givers should also learn about the child sexual abuse and how to prevent it. Finally, if one suspects of any case of child sexual abuse, he or she should report through a helpline or a local sexual violence program (Hazzard, 1993).
There are child sexual abuse prevention programs set across the United States. The programs use a risk reduction approach, where the children are educated about child sexual abuse and equips them with the skills to report and prevent abuse. A fundamental prevention approach is important in stopping the abuse before it happens. Such an approach is one where that changes the social conditions that encourage the abuses to occur.
Prevention programs that are designed for the children are important in the fight against child sexual abuse. The programs provide information and empowerment to the children. However, there is concern that the responsibility may be placed on the children. Child sexual abuse occurs as a result of the combination of different factors, which are beyond the victim’s control. Additionally, it is unlikely that a child will be able to exercise authority over people they know and trust (Hazzard, 1993). In the end, the responsibility comes down to whoever is perpetrating the sexual abuse. The community also has a huge responsibility to protect the children and prevent any more victims. Prevention programs are only one of the components necessary for the prevention of child abuse cases. The responsibility to prevent child sexual abuse should be distributed among the community members and the organizations responsible for protecting the victims. The ideal method would be to change the adults' behaviour rather than changing the children ( Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, 2002).
The child abuse preventions programs have three main goals: teach children to recognize sexual abuse, equip them with the skills to prevent sexual abuse, and to encourage them to report the sexual abuse cases to their parents or the authority. The concept of teaching children on sexual abuse involves:
Teaching them parts of the body that are considered private.
Teach appropriate and inappropriate ways one can be touched.
Make them realize that it is possible for someone they know to possibly hurt them.
That they should learn their intuition regarding other people.
Teach them about a healthy sexual development.
The following ways can be used to encourage children to report child sexual abuse:
Make them realize that it is not their fault that they are victims of sexual abuse.
Whenever they feel sexually abused they should always report to a trusted adult.
Encourage them that it is never safe to keep a secret of sexual abuse.
Teach them to identify a trustworthy adult.
Making sure they know that they will still be loved even if they report.
Teach them the correct names of body parts in case they need to report. This helps them in being articulate when they report a case (Hazzard, 1993).
Implementing the Programs
The programs can take various forms. Some may last a few minutes while others may involve several sessions. The sessions may be presented by various people including teachers, religious leaders, and school counsellors. Social organizations such as child abuse prevention and rape crisis centres may be essential in implementing the programs. Schools can also play an important role in implementing them. All institution need to target all people involved including the adults in the community.
Child sexual is a very serious offence that has serious consequences on the victims. It is important that everyone work towards protecting children against such abuse. The programs may teach the children on how to protect themselves, but they are not enough. The community needs to participate actively since adults are the most capable of protecting the young. Public awareness on the issue is also important, and those that can implement the programs should teach everyone involved.
Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. (2002). Advice to professionals on child sexual abuse prevention programs for preschoolers and elementary-aged children. Program Advisory Services, 1, 1-19.
Finkelhor, D., Hammer, H., & Sedlak, A. J. (2008). Sexually assaulted children: National estimates and characteristics. Retrieved from Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/214383.pdf
Hazzard, A. (1993). Psychoeducational groups to teach children sexual abuse prevention skills. Journal of Child and Adolescent Group Therapy, 3, 13-23.
Lowenstein, L. (2011). The Complexity of Investigating Possible Sexual Abuse of a Child. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 39:292–298.