For many of us, it’s the unspeakable- an unfathomably disgusting act- the violation of a child. It’s something we hear about in the news, but say to ourselves, “that couldn’t happen in my town, not to my child.”
Denial helps shield us from the unimaginable- the emotions that are invoked when we think of the possibility that our child, or one that we know, could be violated in such a horrific way. In reality, the magnitude of the problem would send chills down your spine.
In the United States, 1 out of every 5 children will be sexually assaulted before their eighteenth birthday. To illustrate that statistic: in a class of thirty children, at least six have or will be sexually abused.
To further complicate the matter, the perpetrator is rarely a stranger. In some ways, that makes the reality of child sexual abuse even more devastating. Those that victimize the ones we are driven to protect are our family members, partners, friends, neighbors, and others we often trust the most.
April is Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In order to honor these important topics, we would like to arm parents with the tools to protect their little ones.
So, without further ado, here are the indicators of sexual abuse in children that caregivers should be vigilant of:
Acting younger or going back to doing younger tasks and activities
Sudden changes in behavior
Fear of being alone with a certain person
Sudden, unexplained fears of certain places or kinds of people (such as all people with a particular feature or characteristic)
Fear of being touched
Changes in quality of schoolwork or grades
Self-mutilation or careless behaviors resulting in self-harm
Excessive play with their own private body parts
Persistent sex play with friends, toys, or pets
Frequent drawings that have sexual content
Unusual, persistent, or developmentally inappropriate questioning about human sexuality
The above may be dramatic changes or could involve several subtle changes in your child’s typical behaviors. When looking for behavioral changes, it’s important to know what your child’s baseline is and to understand typical sexual development (for example, many young children are curious about sexuality and frequently play with their private body parts).
Eating more or less than usual
Having trouble sleeping
Soiling or wetting clothes, or bedwetting (or an increase, if it happens already)
Physical pain or itching in the genital area
Underwear stained with blood or other discharge
Problems walking or sitting
Please note, it’s important to seek the support of your child’s physician for any medical symptoms of potential abuse. In the case of a medical emergency, you need to visit your local emergency room.
Severe anxiety (such as nightmares or clinging)
Depression (such as withdrawal, low self-esteem, thinking about or attempting suicide, or frequent crying)
Extreme anger (for example, tantrums, aggression, or increased irritability)
Please note, if your child has attempted suicide or expressed a desire to do so, you need to take them to your local emergency room to get evaluated by a Mental Health Professional (MHP). Regardless of their age, all communications about the desire to complete suicide should be taken seriously.
Where Do I Go from Here?
If your child has been sexually assaulted, it’s important to report the abuse. You’re obligated legally and ethically to file a police report with your local law enforcement agency. This will protect you, your child, and other children from the abuser. The reality is, abusers rarely sexually assault just one victim. In fact, the average perpetrator can have multiple victims in their lifetime.
Once you have reported the abuse, you should seek support to help both you, and your child, process through the trauma. This can help to mitigate long-term mental health issues that can arise from abuse.
For those in Montana, Youth Dynamics provides a wide variety of mental health services to youth and families in nearly every community throughout the state. You can learn more by calling us at 1-406-245-6539 or by contacting us through our website.