Child Sexual Abuse
What is it?
Child sexual abuse consists of the sexual exploitation of a minor
who is somehow dependent on the offender. Abuse may take on
one of many different forms, ranging anywhere from kissing to oral,
genital, or anal sex - and it may not necessarily be forced upon the
victim. Since studies have shown that up to 30% of all children
have been sexually abused, it is absolutely vital for everyone to
keep an eye out for signs of abuse, since they may not be readily
What are its signs?
Children who have been abused may show obvious physical signs,
including bruising, bleeding, or pain in the anogenital region,
urinary tract infections, vaginal discharge, or gonococcal infections
in the throat or genitals. Children may also have difficulty walking or
In addition to the physical signs, emotional changes should also be
watched for. Younger children may suddenly show an aversion to
certain colors or food textures, or may begin to soil their pants or
wet the bed. They may even begin to behave as though they were
younger and become more whiny and clingy. Nightmares and
disrupted sleep are also signs. Older children may perform worse
in school, begin substance abuse, or exhibit low self-esteem.
Eating disorders, an aversion to home, and depression are other
signs. While it may seem counter-intuitive, older abused children
may become promiscuous.
How to Help
For an adult whom an abused child has approached, or who
suspects that a minor is being sexually abused, it is most
important to approach the situation appropriately. First and
foremost, do not deny that the child's experiences actually
happened; instead, keep an open mind and listen carefully to the
minor's story. Do not ask suggestive questions, but instead, allow
the child to explain things in his or her own way. Since talking
about being abused is no simple, pleasant task, offer to take up
the conversation at a future time if the child looks too distressed.
Reassure him or her that it is acceptable to talk about the situation
with a trusted adult, even if they were threatened not to do such a
thing by the offender. Some children may also need to hear that
what has happened to them does not make them bad people.
While lending an ear is a very important step, it is also necessary
to get the child out of the abusive situation. In some cases, it may
be appropriate to let the minor stay in a different household setting
until more permanent arrangements may be made. Otherwise, it is
best to contact state and local authorities in cases where abuse
has been suspected. Police and state child welfare departments
are good bets. Other options include the National Child Abuse
Hotline (1-800-422-2253), Parents Anonymous (1-800-423-0353),
or the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse
(312-663-3520). Above all, keep in mind that the worst thing to do
in the situation is nothing at all.