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  • Writer's pictureSimi Hanspal

What is Child Sexual Abuse and How to Prevent it?

It's time to talk about Child Sexual Abuse(CSA).

In my career as a mental health counselor for the last decade, I have met with many people who have talked about being sexually exploited as kids. This would happen with people they knew, and for years they kept it a secret. They felt ashamed, responsible, guilty – as if they had willed for it to happen. It ate them up inside and culminated into various issues that radiated from the pain of being abused and not being able to talk about it openly, without the risk of being judged.

I have thought deep and hard about this and today have mustered the courage to talk about a very difficult, yet much-needed topic, of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). Believe me, it's more real than you could think of. If you are thinking you or your loved ones are sheltered from it – let me give you some statistics along the way which may be scary, yet sadly true.

Child Sexual Abuse
Child Sexual Abuse

The facts are astounding:

  • Experts estimate 1 in 10 kids are sexually abused before their 18th birthday

  • 30% of children are abused by family members

  • 60% of children are abused by people they trust

  • About 35% of kids are less than 11 years old when the abuse happens

  • 10% of the kids are abused by strangers.

  • Both female and male children are equally at risk

Well? Any thoughts? Research shows that the actual threat arises from people who are known to the children, rather than from strangers. People who abuse appear very trustworthy and go out of their way to be so, so as to seek out vulnerable children.

So what is Child Sexual Abuse?

When a child is forced or tricked into sexual activities and is uninformed or unable to consent – it is called Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). It may happen in the house or outside, it can happen in person or even online. The child is afraid to tell anyone – especially since the abuser is known to the family and the child may end up feeling blamed. However, it's really important to understand and let the child know that it's never the child’s fault for being sexually abused.

Types of sexual abuse:

1) Contact abuse – this includes the abuser making physical contact with the childlike

  • Sexual touching of the child’s body – clothed/unclothed

  • Penetrating/raping the child

  • Forcing the child to participate in sexual activities

  • Undressing the child

  • Kissing, touching, and engaging in oral sex

2) Non-contact abuse – where the child isn’t touched – can be online or in-person and includes

  • Exposing/Flashing

  • Showing pornography

  • Making the child masturbate

  • Engaging in sexual conversations online

  • Inappropriate language

Did you know that all abused children give out subtle signs of being abused?

Keeping a watch out for these signs can really help to rescue them from these ghastly acts.

Sexual Abuse
Sexual Abuse

Children exhibit emotional and behavioral signs like –

  • Avoiding being alone or scared of being left with some people

  • Sexual context in terms of language or behaviour you wouldn’t expect them to know

  • Having nightmares/bedwetting

  • Alcohol/drug abuse

  • Self-harm

  • Changes in eating patterns or developing an eating disorder

  • Feeling irritable and angry all the time

Physical signs would include-

  • Bruises

  • Bleeding, soreness, pain, or discharge in their genital/anal regions

  • Sexually transmitted diseases

  • Pregnancy

For children being abused online, they exhibit a lot of secrecy when talking or texting on their phones, they seem distant or angry – especially after using the internet or their phones, have lots of new phone numbers or email addresses.

Children might drop a lot of hints or clues about the abuse – being attentive will help prevent it from further damage.

What to do if the child reveals abuse?

If a child talks to you about sexual abuse, it's important to:

  • Listen carefully to what they're saying

  • Let them know they've done the right thing by telling you

  • Tell them it's not their fault

  • Say you will take them seriously and that you trust them

  • Don't confront the alleged abuser

  • Explain what you will do next

  • Report to the authorities what the child has told you as soon as possible

Prevent Sexual Abuse

Teaching children about healthy relationships and how to stay safe can prevent sexual exploitation these foundations can be laid from a very young age and as parents, we should openly talk about them. Look for helplines that can help you or the child to speak with trusted adults about their worries. Keep your child safe online by encouraging transparency in what your child is doing on the Internet full stars you can keep gaming devices and computers and laptops with webcams in the living room or family spaces. Using parental controls and keeping up to date on the apps and games children and are using can be helpful.

Talking about ‘good touch – bad touch’ early in life, teaching them body boundaries, telling them body secrets are not okay, being able to talk to a trusted adult if there’s a problem, assuring them they will never be in trouble if they share a body secret with you, reinforcing that these rules apply to everyone they know, including older children.

Prevent Sexual Abuse
Stop Sexual Abuse

Sometimes we have seen children who are abused by other people develop behaviors that can harm others or themselves. Children who are being sexually abused might not know what has happened to them is wrong - which makes them feel their sexual behavior towards others is okay. If your child has sexually abused or harmed another child, or you're worried about their behavior, it is important to get them the support they need. Various therapeutic centers that offer counseling to young children can be reached out too. If you're worried about your behavior reach out to a counselor yourself and seek help in order to be more helpful to your child as a parent.

Intuition! We all have it. When we have a gnawing feeling in the gut, don’t ignore it. Pay attention and listening to our inbuilt alarm system can help us be more aligned with our children’s safety from predators. Look out for people paying extra attention or showering gifts/compliments to your child. Red flags like grooming, tickling, wrestling, etc should be picked. While we “inadvertently increase our children’s vulnerability” to sexual abuse when we ignore our instincts, we also can choose to improve our children’s “off-limit” status as we listen to our intuition and honor its wisdom.

(sources: NSPCC UK and the internet)


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