The issue of child sexual abuse has always been a challenging one due to the severe consequences that it usually has on the victim. It can take place in various settings, ranging from the family environment to schools. Based on the latest available data, which is quite outdated, an estimated 7.9% of males and 19.7% of females worldwide experienced sexual molestation before turning eighteen (Wihbey, 2011). The lack of consistent data on the issue is a challenge, and there needs to be more insight into the problem to provide consistent and up-to-date information. The topic to be further explored and ultimately resolved is concerned with a suspicion that a relative has sexually abused my six-year-old daughter. The problem is important to recognize and explore further because child sexual abuse is a crime that often occurs undetected as children may not be fully aware that they are being harmed. Being in the role of a parent, it is imperative to act quickly and make a positive difference in the life of one’s child.
Knowing the definition of child sexual abuse and available resources is helpful for acknowledging the issue and beginning to act accordingly. Child sexual abuse is defined as “a sexual activity with a child by an adult, adolescent, or older child. If any adult engages in sexual activity with a child, that is sexual abuse” (Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, 2021, para. 1). Being sexually abused in childhood is an adverse childhood experience (ACE) that has the potential to influence mental and physical health on a long-term basis (Kamenetz, 2020). The consequences can include unplanned pregnancies, depression and PTSD, chronic health conditions, substance abuse, and increased risks for suicide ideation and attempts (Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, 2021). At the moment, there are numerous resources for reporting child sexual abuse and getting information about the next steps. For example, Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is available round the clock by calling 1.800.411.4453 (Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 2021). The hotline can provide advice on crisis intervention, information, as well as referrals to social service, emergency, and other support resources (see Figure 1). When reporting suspected child sexual abuse, it is necessary to offer a complete and honest account of what has been observed that led to suspicions of child abuse occurrence. Importantly, anyone can report suspected child neglect or abuse as providing as much information as possible can help protect a child and get help for their family. After a report is made, a hotline is likely to refer the caller to child protective services (CPS), which receives the report, reviews the information, and decides on whether an investigation is needed. CPS workers may talk to the family, the child, and others to determine the next steps.
Due to the extensive adverse impact of child sexual abuse (CSA), it has been the topic of much research. CSA may have devastating consequences for children, with studies concluding that those who suffer an episode of CSA are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors and have further experiences of victimization in adolescence and adulthood (Clayton et al., 2018). Reviews on the available data on the prevalence rates of CSA indicate that it ranges between 5% and 18% in minors, depending on the geographical and cultural context of studies (Clayton et al., 2018, Senn et al., 2017). As for abusers who engage in criminal sexual activity with children, in around 85% of cases, they are made and usually between 30 and 40 years old (Pereda et al., 2016). It is imperative to note that abusers, especially when it comes to girls, come from the immediate friends or family environment and are people that young girls trust and love (Pereda et al., 2016). In contrast to other types of abuse, such as domestic violence, the economic level, either of the victim or the abuser, has no significant influence.
Victims who are the most likely to experience CSA are usually in the range between 6 and 12 years old, with girls being more than three times as likely as boys to be sexually abused. Notably, due to the social expectations of masculinity and the fear of being stigmatized or mocked, boys often do not admit to experiencing CSA, which entails that the rate of sexually victimized boys can be higher than reported (Pereda et al., 2016). Regardless of gender, having experienced sexual trauma in childhood has led to decreased psychological functioning, interpersonal issues, educational difficulties, and increased risks of drugs and alcohol intake. CSA entails a violation of privacy that may result in the distrust of others. In addition, CSA contributes to lower risk perception, which may further lead to risky sexual behaviors ranging from the lack of planning of sexual intercourse or the lack of skills to negotiate safe behaviors. Besides, victims of CSA are more likely to experience revictimization in their adolescence and early youth.
Resolving the Problem
Child sexual abuse is a severe public health issue and is relevant in any geographic or socioeconomic context. The focus of efforts to prevent CSA and promote sexual health entails teaching children from the earliest age how to identify the situations of possible SA intentions, promoting healthy sexuality, and educating in gender equality (Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 2021). However, once a child has been victimized, either by a friend or a close relative, there are steps parents must take to resolve the problem.
It is imperative that parents know about the signs of child sexual abuse. Specifically, there may be behavioral signs for which to look, such as staying away from physical contact or appearing threatened by it, exhibiting regressive behaviors such as thumb sucking, refusing to bathe, or wanting to wash excessively. Besides, children may have sleep disturbances or nightmares or exhibit age-inappropriate sexual behaviors. If there are behavioral signs that align with CSA, parents must talk to their children to make them open up. Importantly, it is necessary to choose a space and setting where their child feels comfortable, avoiding talking in front of people who may be causing harm. Minding the tone and avoiding blame and judgment is imperative for letting the child talk. For example, as a parent, I should ask direct questions and use words that are in their child’s vocabulary. For example, a parent may ask, “Has [Name] been touching you?” During such complicated conversations, it is necessary to be patient and reassure the child that they are not in trouble.
If the suspicions confirm after the conversation with the child, I should report sexual abuse. Before reporting, however, it is necessary to ensure that their child is in a safe place if there are concerns to their safety. Reporting agencies vary from one state to another, and RAINN’s State Law Database has complete information on where to report in each state. The abuse reporter can also call or text the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline, the volunteers of which will fully inform on the process of the report and what steps should be taken. It must be noted that the signs of an investigation may not be seen right away as some time is needed to implement it. As parents whose child may have been sexually abused, it is advised to stay calm and play a supportive part in the life of their child. Reporting sexual abuse can never be easy due to the multitude of factors that come into play, which is why it is imperative to practice self-care and maintain calm and trusting relationships with the children who have been victimized.
While speaking with a child who is suspected of experiencing SA and reporting it is the solution to the problem, it must be noted that prevention is critical. The main problem when working to address the challenge is that more research and the accurate reporting of statistics of CSA are needed. This is due to the available information being inconsistent and getting outdated quickly. Introducing sexual education from an early age is a must because body safety is something that is being taught until much older and sometimes too late. Parents must teach their children that some body parts are private and must not be seen or touched by others. By helping set privacy boundaries and teaching children how to get out of uncomfortable situations, parents set much more favorable environments for safety. Finally, building trust is crucial so that children feel safe reporting any sexual behaviors with adults to their parent or a caretaker, facilitating quick and effective problem resolution.
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline. (2021). Let’s talk. Web.
Clayton, E., Jones, C., Brown, J., & Taylor, J. (2018). The aetiology of child sexual abuse: A critical review of the empirical evidence. Child Abuse Review, 27(3), 181-197. Web.
Kamenetz, A. (2020). Child sexual abuse reports are on the rise amid lockdown orders. NPR. Web.
Pereda, N., Abad, J., & Guilera, G. (2016). Lifetime prevalence and characteristics of child sexual victimization in a community sample of Spanish adolescents. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 25(2), 142-158. Web.
Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. (2021). About child sexual abuse. Web.
Senn, T. E., Braksmajer, A., Urban, M. A., Coury-Doniger, P., & Carey, M. P. (2017). Pilot test of an integrated sexual risk reduction intervention for women with a history of childhood sexual abuse. AIDS and Behavior, 21(11), 3247–3259. Web.