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Sexual Abuse - Children and Teenagers PDF Print E-mail

Sexual abuse involves forcing, tricking, threatening or pressuring a child into sexual awareness or activity. Sexual abuse can be physical, verbal or emotional, and occurs when an older or more knowledgeable child or adult uses a child for sexual pleasure. The abuse often begins gradually and increases over time. It can include sexual touching and fondling or exposing children to adult sexual activity including pornographic movies and photographs.

Incest is defined as sexual relations of any kind perpetrated by a biologically or non-biologically related person functioning in the role of a family member. Other trusted adults could also sexually abuse children and teenagers. These include parents, uncles, aunts, siblings, stepparents, grandparents, coaches, baby sitters, clergy and teachers.

The use of physical force, known as sexual assualt is rarely necessary to engage a child in sexual activity because children are trusting and dependent. Children are taught not to question authority and they believe that adults are always right. Perpetrators of child sexual abuse know this, and take advantage of these vulnerabilities in children. Sexual abuse is an abuse of power over a child and a violation of a child's right to normal, healthy, trusting relationships.

Incest and sexual abuse are at epidemic proportions. Statistics from RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National network), state 15 percent of sexual assault and rape cases occur in children under the age of 12, with 93 percent of juvenile sexual assault perpetuated by someone they know. Of those assaults, 34.2 percent of attackers were family members, 58.7 percent were acquaintances and only 7 percent were complete strangers.

Symptoms
Because most children cannot or do not tell about being sexually abused, it is up to concerned adults or friends to recognize signs of abuse. Physical evidence of abuse is rare. Therefore, we must look for behavioral signs.

The following are general behavior changes that may occur in children and teens who have been sexually abused:

. Depression
. Eating Disorders
. Sleep disturbances
. School problems
. Withdrawal from family, friends, or usual activities
. Excessive bathing or poor hygiene
. Anxiety
. Running away
. Low self-esteem
. Self-destructive behavior
. Hostility or aggression
. Drug or alcohol problems
. Sexual activity or pregnancy at an early age; promiscuity
. Suicide attempts

Click here for more symptoms.

Additional Symptoms
Children and teens who have been sexually abused frequently have more specific symptoms:

. Copying adult sexual behavior
. Sexual play with other children, themselves, toys or pets
. Displaying sexual knowledge, through language or behavior, beyond what is normal for their age
. Unexplained pain, swelling, bleeding or irritation of the mouth, genital or anal area
. Urinary infections
. Sexually transmitted diseases
. Hints, indirect comments or statements about the abuse

Treatment
Often children and teens do not tell anyone about sexual abuse because they:

• Are too young to put what has happened into words
• Were threatened or bribed by the abuser to keep the abuse a secret
• Feel confused by the attention and feelings that accompany the abuse
• Fear that no one will believe them
• Blame themselves or believe the abuse is punishment for being "bad"
• Feel too ashamed or embarrassed to tell
• Worry about getting into trouble or getting a loved one into trouble

A small percentage of kids who are victims of abuse or incest find the courage to tell someone. These disclosures can be as painful as the incest itself; the child believing he or she is telling on someone he or she loves and reliving the horrible experience. They don't want to cause problems, they just want it to stop. No one really knows what makes one child disclose and another not. We do know that it is incredibly important for a disclosure to be heard respectfully and to be believed.

Often when a child discloses incest, he doesn't have words to answer all the questions adults ask. They simply don't understand what is happening. Adults who are already uncomfortable, get frustrated and the whole thing gets dismissed. Oftentimes adults react with denial, and decide that the child was "making it up" or "fantasizing." Just remember... if a child is not believed, it is most likely that he or she won't ever tell again.

Children and teens who have been sexually abused feel many different and overwhelming) emotions, like fear, anger, sadness, guilt and confusion.

Ask Your Counselor/Teacher/Parent
Every child is vulnerable to sexual abuse. Since one out of four females is sexually abused by the time she reaches age 18.that could include you, a friend or a sibling. Today's teenagers and children must face the possibility that someone may hurt or take advantage of them. Almost all of these children will be abused by someone they know and trust: a relative, a family friend, or a caretaker.

It happens--and not just to other people. Children of every race, religion and economic status are abused. What makes this problem even worse is that the effects of abuse and incest don't stop when the abuse stops. They stay with the child as he or she grows through adolescence and into adulthood. Self-hatred, alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, eating disorders, the inability to trust and suicide are common results of incest and sexual abuse.

If you were ever sexually abused, even if it was years ago, it is okay to tell a trusted teacher, school nurse, guidance counselor or friend.