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Identifying and Handling Sex Abuse

Approximately 80,000 cases of child sex abuse are reported each year. And, there are many other cases that are never reported. Underreporting may happen because many parents simply don't know about it, and many children are too afraid to tell their parents. As you might imagine, child sex abuse can have a devastating and long-lasting impact on a child's life.

Identifying Sexual Abuse

While there is no one description that fits a child sex abuser (and it can essentially be anyone) there are some facts that help to narrow down the list. According to the National Institutes of Health, most children who are sexually abused know the person who did it. The perpetrator is usually someone who is a trusted family friend, and, around a third of the time, it is a family member. Most child sex abusers are men, yet women do abuse as well. Identifying sex abuse is not always easy. Generally, parents will pick up on unexplained negative behavioral changes in their child, such as having an unusual interest in sex, problems sleeping, becoming withdrawn or depressed, avoiding school, or feeling like she is dirty or unworthy. If you suspect your child is a victim of sexual abuse, speak to her immediately, and then get her professional help.

Addressing Sexual Abuse

  • Act immediately. It is important that the abuse stops, that authorities are notified, and that your child gets professional help. Because of the long-term consequences that can result from sex abuse, children usually need counseling to work through the issue.
  • Avoid blaming your child. Remember, she is a child and needs your support. Adults hold the power when it comes to sex abuse, and children usually have no idea how to handle such a situation.
  • Always speak to your child about sex abuse, what it is, how to avoid it, and what to do if someone does inappropriately touch them. Many times children never say anything because they fear their parent will blame them or stop loving them. She may also fear that the person doing it will hurt her or her family. Your child needs to know that the issue will be handled appropriately and that you are there to support her.
  • Avoid leaving your child in situations that could potentially open the door to sex abuse situations. This means that it is important to know when your child is alone with adults, where she is, what she is doing, etc.
  • Seek help from a medical or mental health professional who specializes in children.

When discussing sex abuse with your child, it is important that she knows what it is. Such things as being touched inappropriately, asking to be touched, or even wanting nude photographs are off limits. The more you know and discuss with your child, the better prepared she will be to avoid sexual abuse and address the issue if it happens.