1 is 2 Many: Protecting Your Children From Sexual Abuse

May is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and in this article we’re going to unpack some helpful information parents need to know.

What Parents Need to Know about Sexual Abuse

Here are some stats parents should be aware of:

  • According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey in 2010 nearly 1 out of 5 women and 1 out of 21 men have been raped, sexually assaulted, or sexually coerced in their lifetime.
  • A 2000 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement found the following:
      • 67% of all reported cases of sexual assault were victims under the age of 18.  And, more than half of all juvenile cases were children under the age of 12.
      • 1 out of 7 victims of sexual assault were under age 6.

    • Victims of rape, sexual assault and coercion are primarily females but a growing number of males are being abused as well.  The 2000 report found that “Females were more than six times as likely as males to be the victims of sexual assaults… More specifically, 86% of all victims of sexual assault were female,” (p. 4).
    • 77% of sexual assaults for young children occur in a residence.
    • For children 11 years and younger there is an almost 50% likelihood that the offender is a family member.
    • Acquaintances make up an additional 48-50% of offenders.
    • For children 11 years and younger the perpetrator is a stranger less than 5% of the time.
    • This profile shifts significantly when kids become older.  For individuals 18-24 years old an acquaintance is the perpetrator 66% of the time, a stranger 23% and a family member 10%.
  • Rape, sexual assault, and sexual coercion is primarily a male problem with approximately 98% of all female victims reporting their perpetrator was male.  Male victims reported approximately 93%their perpetrators were male  (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010, p. 24).  This is not to minimize that females abuse kids as well.

The 2010 Survey also indicates health consequences for survivors of sexual abuse.  These include frequent headaches, activity limitations, effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, difficulty sleeping, chronic pain, and poor physical and mental health compared with women and men who have not experienced this type of violence.

Where are children most vulnerable?  At home or within one mile of home.  Our society focuses on “stranger-danger” but the reality is that victims know their abuser and only 5% are assaulted by strangers.   With a 50% chance the perpetrator is a family member and 93-98% chance it is a male it is not difficult to conclude that this means fathers, brothers, step relatives, uncles, grandfathers, and boyfriends.

Signs Parents Need to be Aware of

These are helpful indicators and can be found at Children’s Advocacy Center Texas

  • Unexplained injuries
  • Changes in emotional behavior
  • Returning to less mature/younger behaviors
  • Fear of going home
  • Changes in eating
  • Changes to sleep patterns
  • Changes in school performance or attendance
  • Lack of personal care in hygiene
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviors

What Parents Can Do

First and foremost is prevention.  Some questions parents can explore include:  Who has access to your child?  How aware are you of what goes on between your child and those who have access to her or him?  When your child is at a friend or relative’s home – who else is there?

I have worked as a volunteer intern counselor at the Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County and provided therapy for several child and teen clients that were survivors of sexual abuse as well as continuing to see child and adult survivors in my private practice.  People who sexually abuse children are, like the common term, predators.  Predators are not just adults, they can also be other children older or bigger than their victim.  Like a predator, they look for weaknesses in the safety nets of a community or family and exploit that weakness.  Once a pattern can be established predators use power and control over the victim which include threats, shame, and manipulation.

How are your safety nets in your family?  In your community?

Second, establish a strong relationship with your child.  It is typical for child victims of sexual abuse to wait 2-6 years before making an outcry of their abuse.  Kids can unexpectedly tell a teacher, counselor, family member, or neighbor.  Having good communication assures your child they can talk with you about their feelings and experiences which they need to be able to disclose abuse.

Third, be involved in your child’s life.  Being too busy is an excuse.  Re-build your priorities.  Your children should be above career or lifestyle choices.  Go to their school programs, sports games, and have regular family meals together with all electronics turned off.

What Parents Can Do if a Child Makes an Outcry

For a helpful link on what to do click here.  Your local Children’s Advocacy Center will not only provide help to a victim but also often offer support groups for the parents.  These are tremendously helpful in educating parents about sexual abuse and providing support while their child receives free therapy.  For more information, see the resources below.

 

Resources

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010 CDC NISVS 2010 Survey

Bureau of Justice Statistics Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network RAIIN

Children’s Advocacy Center Denton County

Children’s Advocacy Center Collin County

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