Child Sexual Abuse
What is sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse is any contact between a child and adult for the adult’s sexual stimulation. This includes inappropriate touching, showing pornography, sex and exposure of body parts to the child. Sometimes a child will be physically hurt during the act, but even if there are no marks, a child can be traumatized by sexual abuse.
How do you recognize sexual abuse?
Unlike physical abuse, the physical signs of sexual abuse are not obvious and with some children there are no signs at all. Often emotional or behavioral signs are more commonly seen. If there are signs, below is a list of some of the signs you may find.
- Pain, swelling or itching in genital area
- Bruises, bleeding, discharge in genital area
- Difficulty walking or sitting, frequent urination, pain
- Stained or bloody underclothing
- Venereal diseases
- Refusal to take part in gym or other exercises
- Poor peer relationships
- Unusual interest in sex for age
- Drastic change in school achievement
- Runaway or delinquent
- Regressive or childlike behavior
- Fear, anxiety, depression and/or anger
- Younger children who have been sexually abused may have poor self-esteem and difficulty with close relationships.
- Older children and teenagers may act out their hurt by using drugs and alcohol or having sex
For additional information about signs of abuse visit the Darkness to Light website.
What should I do if I suspect a child is being sexually abused?
When a child tells you that he or she is being abused, you should:
Avoid denial and remain calm. A common reaction to child abuse is shock and denial. However, if you display denial to a child, or show shock or disgust at what they are saying, the child may be afraid to continue and will shut down. As hard as it may be, remain as calm and reassuring as you can.
Don’t interrogate. Let the child explain to you in his/her own words what happened, but don’t interrogate the child or ask leading questions. This may confuse and fluster the child and make it harder for them to continue their story.
Reassure the child that he/she did nothing wrong. It takes a lot for a child to come forward about abuse. Reassure him or her that you take what is said seriously, and that it is not the child’s fault.
Call your local child protective services agency. If you suspect that a child is being abused, you need to call your local child protective services agency. In Milwaukee county, that number is (414) 220-SAFE. To find the child abuse hotlines in other Wisconsin counties, click here or call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD. For more information about this see Common Concerns About Reporting Abuse.
How can I help a child heal?
You can help a child reduce the long term effects of sexual abuse by:
- Believing the child
- Telling the child it is not their fault
- Helping the child identify a professional therapist or counselor to talk about the abuse and their feelings
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