Identifying Child Abuse Pt. 2 – Sexual Abuse
Research conducted by the Crimes Against Children Research Center suggests that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is victim of sexual abuse. Further, experts agree the rate of child sexual abuse is much greater that what is reported.
As such, it is our responsibility as parents, guardians, and communities to help ensure children who are currently being victimized or who have been victims of previous abuse are identified and their cases are reported.
What Constitutes Sexual Abuse?
At first the question of what constitutes sexual abuse may seem absurd – generally, we think of sexual abuse as inappropriate sexual contact with a child.
However, the national Center for Victims of Crime points out that not every case of sexual abuse involves physical contact. In fact, sexual child abuse is often broken into two categories: contact and non-contact.
Indecent exposure towards a child, voyeurism, exposure to pornography, and indecent exposure of a child are all examples of non-contact sexual abuse. Further, exposure to sexual talk or comments and sexually intrusive questions are also considered non-contact sexual abuse.
Who Commits Child Abuse?
Most often, acts of sexual abuse are perpetrated by a person close to the child. In fact, a 2003 study by the National Institute of Justice determined that 3 out of every 4 children who had been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that about 30 percent of child abuse perpetrators are relatives of the child, and 60 percent are non-family members who know the child, such as babysitters, teachers, neighbors, and family friends.
The U.S. Department of Justice also warns that the perpetrator is not always an adult, noting that 23 percent of reported cases of sexual abuse were perpetrated by people under the age of 18.
How Do I Identify Sexual Abuse?
Contact sexual child abuse can result in physical indicators. These include:
- Traumas to the genital or anal area
- Self-mutilation such as cutting
- Trouble sitting
- Blood in the child’s underwear
- Symptoms of genital infections or a sexually transmitted disease
However, most often physical sexual abuse does not always leave physical trace. Research cited by the National District Attorneys Association shows that even in cases in which there exists credible evidence that a child has been penetrated, only between 5 and 15 percent of the children involved have genital injuries consistent with sexual abuse.
Therefore, people must also be aware of non-physical indicators. These include:
- Aggressive behavior
- Bed wetting
- Loss of appetite
- Fear of a certain person or place; reluctance to be alone with a particular person.
- Displaying sophisticated sexual behavior
- Asking unusual questions about sexuality