When I think about Sexual Abuse the first thing that comes to my mind is shame & abuse. For 2 years I worked with juvenile sex offenders in Arizona and almost every time the levels of shame or guilt were off the charts.
Real quick: I want to make sure everyone is on the same page here. Exposing youth to sexual situations or material is in fact sexually abusive, even if touching is not involved.
I know that we see nightly news feeds that terrorize us parents with all kind of threats to our children, but statistically this type of abuse is often perpetrated by relatives, friends & family. Sexual abuse is not limited to girls either. Studies suggest that sexual abuse among young men & boys often goes unchecked due to shame.
Shame and guilt in child sexual abuse.
Shame is a dark place that you don’t want your kids to go down. Feelings of shame & guilt can be very complex and will manifest themselves in different ways. Sexually abused children often grow up with their own sexual issues, as well as deep lasting emotional ones. Because the abused kids internalize so much of their abuse, the shame can make it difficult for any child to come forward.
A Few Reasons Why Kids Will Not Come Forward.
1. Worry that someone wont believe them.
2. Fear of retaliation from the abuser.
3. Fear that their family will be angry with them or their family will break up because they came forward.
Because of this, it’s a lot more uncommon that false accusations are made. Of course they do still happen, so I personally think that EVERY instance of suspected or reported abuse be taken seriously.
What are some warning signs of Sexual Abuse?
1. The child has difficulty walking or sitting.
2. The child has an advanced knowledge of sex and sexual acts that are not appropriate to their age.
3. The child makes a STRONG effort to avoid specific people and situations.
4. The child resists changing clothing or doing certain physical activities in front of other people.
5. The child is in crisis at home. (Running away, STD’s and pregnancy under the age of 14, physical or sexual abuse to others.)
6. The child demonstrates “grooming behavior”.
(Grooming = Gaining trust, breaking down defenses and then manipulating someone into a desired result.)
I think it’s important to talk about sexual abuse in an age appropriate manner with your kids. The doors of communication must be open and if your child knows they can talk to you and communicate effectively they are more likely to speak with you in times of personal crisis.
If you’d like to read a first hand account of some of the effects abuse can have on children, my book Child Abuse: The Ripple Effect goes into detail about what happens when the abuse ends and life comes crashing down around you.