Child Sexual Abuse

Click here to read the 2017 Report from the Missouri Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children 

Frequently Asked Questions:
What is child sexual abuse?
What is the scope of the problem?

How do perpetrators gain the trust of child victims?
What are there signs that a child is being sexually abused?
What do I do if my child has been sexually abused?
How might one feel as a parent of an abused child?
How can I lessen the impact of child sexual abuse?
What should I know as a caregiver?

What is Child Sexual Abuse?

 The exploitation of a child to meet the sexual or emotional needs of an adult or older child. Child sexual abuse is when a child is exposed to sexual information that they are too young to understand. It is rare that a child is abused by a stranger; usually a child is abused by someone they know. Child sexual abuse can take place across a continuum of offenses, however active forms of abuse may seem more obvious. Active sexual abuse is when someone uses their power to coerce or control someone else to do something that benefits themselves that is intentionally hurtful to the child.  

Touching offenses may include:

  • Fondling
  • Vaginal, oral or anal intercourse or attempted intercourse
  • Touching of the genitals
  • Incest
  • Prostitution  

Non-touching offenses may include:

  • Exposure to pornography
  • Obscene telephone calls
  • Exhibitionism or voyeurism

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What is the scope of the problem?

Unfortunately, national statistics report that one out of every four girls and one out of every six boys will be sexually abused by the age of 18. Children with disabilities are far more likely to be abused than the average child.

People who sexually abuse children are likely to be people we know, and could even be people we care about. A common misconception is that strangers present the greatest risk; however in 85% of reports, child sexual abuse is committed by relatives, close family friends or an adult that the child knows and trusts. Child sexual abuse happens every day across the country, with little regard for social classes, racial or ethnic groups, religious affiliations, or sexual orientation.    

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How do perpetrators gain the trust of child victims?

Grooming is a very common technique perpetrators use; generally a person starts a relationship with a child or teenager with the intention of sexually abusing them. Often times, the abuser entices the victim with the simple pleasures of just being noticed and in a relationship with an adult where that adult is giving the child a lot of positive attention. The person in power may give the child/teenager gifts; they may begin asking the person to keep secrets about small things with the intention of preparing the young person to then keep a larger secret. Also the touching may start in a way that feels vaguely confusing for a child like tickling or hugging. This is why it is especially important to teach your child the difference between secrecy and privacy. Secrets need to be limited to birthday and Christmas presents while privacy has to do with the child’s right to have time alone in the bathroom and to keep things in their room like journals that they can be assured no one will look at or read. These practices teach good personal boundaries that empower children to resist people who might hurt them. It is also helpful to teach a child a good feelings vocabulary and to be respectful of children’s feelings.

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What do I do if my child has been sexually abused?

The most important thing is to believe him or her. Children rarely lie about abuse. There is little evidence that children make false allegations of abuse; what is more common is a child denying that abuse happened when it did. Children have different ways of talking about their lives and remember details differently than adults do. If a child reports sexual abuse that has not actually occurred, it is still a very serious cry for help and it will be important to seek professional support.

Click the following links to download helpful tip sheets for guiding you in responding to disclosures of sexual abuse.

Responding to Disclosures: Tip Sheet for Adults and Parents
Responding to Disclosures: Tip Sheet for School Professionals
Reporting Sexual Abuse Tip Sheet 

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How might one feel as a parent of an abused child?

Blame, disbelief, fear, guilt and anger are all common responses of parents of abused children. It is important to remember that the abuse your child has experienced is neither their fault nor yours. You are not to blame for the abuse that has happened and it is important to remember that you are their best hope for the future. You are their most important advocate, support and resource!

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What should I know as a caregiver?

  • Every child is vulnerable to sexual abuse regardless of cultural background or income level.
  • It can happen right under your nose and you may never know — less than 1 in 10 victims will tell.
  • Young victims may not recognize their victimization as sexual abuse.
  • Often there are no physical signs of sexual abuse.
  • Many cases of child sexual abuse go unreported because the child is afraid or ashamed to tell — there is little evidence that children make false allegations of sexual abuse.
  • The offender may have threatened to hurt a family member, or the child feels that she/he is to blame for the abuse.
  • The child is never to blame for the abuse; children cannot prevent abuse, only the offender can.
  • Children need to feel loved, valued and protected.
  • Children are best protected by giving them the knowledge and skills necessary for their safety and well-being.

Click the following links to download more information from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC).

A Guide for Friends and Family of Sexual Violence Survivors
An Overview of Healthy Childhood Sexual Development

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What are the signs a child is being sexually abused?

The following is a partial list of indicators that do not necessarily indicate sexual abuse, but may indicate a serious problem deserving more attention. For children who are non-verbal, or who have difficulty communicating, these indicators will often appear as a change in the child’s behavior.

Behavior Indicators:

  • Abrupt changes in behavior.
  • Sexual behaviors with classmates.
  • Refusal to undress for physical education.
  • Reluctance to go home.
  • Report of sexual involvement with an adult or child.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Wearing many layers of clothing regardless of the weather.
  • Recurrent nightmares or disturbed sleep patterns and fear of the dark.
  • Regression to more infantile behavior like bed-wetting, thumb-sucking or excessive crying.
  • Unusual interest in, or knowledge of, sexual matters.
  • Poor peer relationships.
  • Eating disturbances.
  • Negative coping skills, such as substance abuse and/or self-harm.

Physical Indicators:

  • Sexually transmitted disease.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Complaints of pain or itching in the genital area.
  • Difficulty in walking or sitting.
  • Repeated unusual injuries.
  • Pain during elimination.
  • Frequent yeast infections.
  • Pain, swelling, or itching in genital area.

Click to download the Indicators of Sexual Abuse Tip Sheet

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