Professional answers to frequently asked questions on Child Sexual Abuse. Learn more and put this knowledge into action
Child Sexual Abuse is a crime. A child is sexually abused when they are forced or persuaded to take part in sexual acts or imitation of such acts, by an adult or older youth that has power over them. Sometimes the child won’t understand that what’s happening to them is abuse. They may not even understand that it’s wrong. Child Sexual Abuse does not need to include physical contact between a perpetrator and a child, and it can happen online. Child Sexual Abuse exists in many forms including touching and non-touching activities.
Touching activities include:
- Touching a child’s private parts for sexual pleasure
- Making a child touch someone else’s private parts
- Play sexual games or have sex
- Putting objects or body parts into private parts for sexual pleasure
Non-touching activities include:
- Showing pornography to a child
- Deliberately exposing an adult’s genitals to a child
- Photographing a child in sexual poses
- Encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts
- Inappropriately watching a child undress or use the bathroom
Children are usually sexually abused in places where they should be safe: home, school, community centers such as churches, mosques, sports facilities, play-grounds.
A perpetrator does not have to be an adult to harm a child and majority of perpetrators are someone the child or family knows. They can have a relationship to the child this includes a father, uncle, sibling or playmate, other family members, teacher, coach or instructor, caretaker or the parent of another child. Research shows that as many as 93% of victims under the age of 18 know the abuser.
How perpetrators of child sexual abuse target their victims?
- Building close relationships that give them access to children
- Perpetrators of abuse would most times develop a relationship with a child and the care givers of the child.
- They quickly become good friends with children and parents or the adults who care for them.
- They may develop friendships with parents who are facing difficulties without any support system, they may offer to take over responsibilities involving child care.
- They make themselves readily available for leadership roles within small communities that involve direct contact with children such as education, leisure and sports activities.
- Perpetrators of child sexual abuse most times offer children treats and presents which may be followed by threats on what will happen if anyone else knows.
- They create a fear of being hurt physically, being killed or bad consequences such as family disintegration if the child tells anyone.
- They take advantage of the child’s emotional feelings of shame, fear, and guilt, making the child believe that no-one will accept their report as the truth.
- They convince the child that it was an enjoyable act that he/she wanted to happen.
- There are also other reasons why children don’t tell—for example very young children may lack the words and not know how to communicate the abuse to others.
Child sexual abuse is not always easy to spot. The perpetrator could be someone you’ve known a long time or trust, which may make it even harder to notice. Consider the following warning signs:
- Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal
- Shrinks away or seems threatened by physical contact.
- Signs of depression, phobias or self-harm, suicidal thoughts
- Putting objects or body parts into private parts for sexual pleasure.
- Changes in hygiene, such as refusing to bathe or bathing excessively.
- Returns to regressive behaviors, such as thumb-sucking.
- Runs away from home or school.
- Overly protective and concerned for siblings, or assumes a caretaker role.
- Nightmares or bed-wetting.
- Writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual or frightening images.
- Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places.
- Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child.
- Talks about a new older friend.
- Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason.
- Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad.
- Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues.
- Has new words for private body parts.
- Asks other children to behave sexually or play sexual games.
- Mimics adult-like sexual behaviors with toys or stuffed animal.
- Difficulty walking or sitting.
- Bloody, torn, or stained underclothes.
- Bleeding, bruises, or swelling in genital area.
- Pain, itching, or burning in genital area.
- Frequent urinary or yeast infections.
What prevents us from seeing abuse that is happening to a child in our vicinity? Denial
It is human to tell ourselves my child would have told me if anything was happening, it cannot be happening right under my nose, he has always been a nice man, he has taken been taking very good care of the children, he is just a teenager, my child can never do that, he is a pastor, he is happily married etc.
What are the signs that an adult may be using their relationship with a child for sexual reasons?
Signs that an adult is using their relationship with a child for sexual reasons may not be readily obvious. We may feel uncomfortable about the way they play with the child, or seem always to be favouring a particular child and creating reasons for them to be alone.
There may be cause for concern about the behaviour of an adult or young person if they:
- Refuse to allow a child sufficient privacy or to make their own decisions on personal matters.
- Insist on physical affection such as kissing, hugging or wrestling even when the child clearly does not want it.
- Are overly interested in the sexual development of a child or teenager.
- Insist on time alone with a child with no interruptions.
- Spend most of their spare time with children and have little interest in spending time with people their own age.
- Regularly offer to baby-sit children for free or take children on overnight outings alone.
- Buy children expensive gifts or give them money for no apparent reason.
- Frequently walk in on children/teenagers in the bathroom.
- Treat a particular child as a favourite, making them feel ‘special’ compared with others in the family.
- Pick on a particular child always.
You can take action to protect your child and other children around you from Child Sexual Abuse when you?
- Learn the facts: Child Sexual Abuse can happen in the home or at school and by a trusted person.
- Minimize the opportunity: Eliminate the opportunity for children to be left alone with one adult.
- Talk about it: Have open conversations with your child about safety and boundaries.
- Recognize the signs: Watch carefully for emotional, behavioral and physical changes in your child.
- React responsibly: Make your child feel comfortable and secure, report to the right authorities.
Our 5 steps program for preventing child sexual abuse can be accessed here.
It is normal to feel a little overwhelmed and confused in this situation. When talking with an abused child, the best thing you can provide is calm reassurance and unconditional support. Let your actions speak for you if you’re having trouble finding the words. Remember that talking about the abuse may be very difficult for the child. It’s your job to reassure the child and provide whatever help you can
- Avoid denial and remain calm: Do not display denial, doubt, disgust or show shock
- Don’t interrogate: Let the child explain to you in his or her own words.
- Reassure the child that they did nothing wrong: It is not the child’s fault.
- Tell the child you believe him/her
- Safety comes first: If your safety or the safety of the child would be threatened if you try to intervene, leave it to the professionals.
You can call us at The Cece Yara Foundation. You will be able to talk to someone:
- Who you can trust.
- Who is genuine, open and friendly.
- Who won’t judge you or put you down.
- Who will listen to you and knows it takes courage to contact us.
- Who will let you take your time.
- Who wants you to get in touch.
- Who will take action to ensure the child at risk gets help and protection.