“Survivors are damaged to different degrees by their experiences. This does not depend on what happened physically. A Survivor who has been raped will not necessarily be more damaged than a Survivor who has been touched. The degree of damage depend on the degree of traumatic sexualization, stigmatization, betrayal and powerlessness, the child has experienced.
ALERT: Signs & Symptoms of Abuse in Children
This in turn depends on a number of factors such as:
STRIVE TO BE AN EXPERT ON THE CHILDREN IN YOUR LIFE
Many adults make the assumption that a child would tell if they were being abused – WRONG.
We can do as much as we can to educate our children on what is right/wrong acceptable/unacceptable but we cannot guarantee that their abuser will not coerce, confuse, or scare them into keeping their abuse a secret. We cannot 100% empower our child to not feel guilt, shame, embarrassment, or fear that this happened to them – especially if the abuser is a family member, friend, or someone of authority/respect.
“Never forget that young children are developmentally incapable of protecting themselves from a skilled pedophile. Even the best classroom-based prevention programs in the world are useless unless adults in the community recognize the dynamics of sexual abuse of children in general and pedophiles in particular.” – Dr. Janet Rosenzweig “The Sex-Wise Parent”
Why Children Don’t Tell
There are a myriad of reasons why children don’t tell, almost always, an abuser must mentally and emotionally brainwash a child in order to perpetrate. It can be heartbreaking to learn what abusers say and make children think during the abuse:
Identifying Possible Signs of Abuse
Children cannot be held responsible for their safety
Childhood should be about so many amazing things. Sure there will be trials and tribulations that they will work through, but sexual abuse should not be one of them.
It is our responsibility to educate ourselves to better identify possible abuse. Often the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse are also associated with other issues that may affect a child during different phases of life.
The important thing is to not rule out sexual abuse when we notice a change in behavior, and to not be afraid to ask, even if everything seems fine.
There are usually no physical signs of sexual abuse that are visible to those other than the victim. Often physical signs would only be noticed on the youngest victims – infants.
However, you or your doctor may notice or a child may complain of:
Physical Signs For Older Children:
If the sexual abuse is causing anxiety for the victim, they may begin to complain of headaches, stomach aches. These symptoms are often over-looked and a child may be thought to be faking or pretending, or it may just be considered a chronic ailment.
Changes in Behavior
Signs of Sex Trafficking
The average age that a child is forced into sex trafficking in the United States is 12-14 years old. Many of these children may still be living at home and/or going to school while they are forced into prostitution.
Signs of Trafficking May Include:
Even if there are no signs – ask.
Some children show no signs of abuse. Most children will not tell. It is good parenting to check-in with our children and ask if anything inappropriate has ever happened to them. Remind them that no matter what has happened, what anyone has ever said or made them feel, it is never their fault, and that it is always the right thing to tell. Just like we tell our children that we love them, even if we “know that they know” – it’s important that we remind them it is OK to tell. Some survivors of abuse often say they wish that someone had just asked them, when they themselves didn’t have the power to tell.
A warning for single parents
“I cannot say enough words of caution to single women with children: do not allow the men you are dating to have access to your children…It is hard to think that your new-found romantic interest is actually not as interested in you as in seeking access to your children, but it can be absolute reality.” Claire Reeves, “Childhood: It Should Not Hurt”
Not only romantic partners, but also those that any parent may depend on to help care for their child – even for that hour that you may need to run an errand or someone that is transporting your child as a favor, all an abuser needs is: opportunity.
Special caution required for children with disabilities
The pattern of targeting and grooming is of particular importance in relation to disabled children and as mainstream services become more vigilant, perpetrators may move into other less attentive services, such as voluntary agencies that serve disabled children and young people, in order to access potential victims.
Any visible disabilities might mark a child out as vulnerable, and if they are protecting children from sexual violence isolated from their peer group, have communication difficulties and less information about what to expect from adults and to whom they could report abuse, then they are more likely to be seen as targets.Disabled children and young people who have a negative self-image may also be particularly susceptible to grooming and deception, and to “tricks or treats”.
– “Sexual Abuse of Children With Disabilities”
Professor Hilary Brown, Canterbury Christ Church University, United Kingdom
Depression, low self-esteem, previous abuse
When interviewed, convicted child sex-offenders admitted to being very particular about the children they chose to abuse. They looked for children that were loners or seemed less-confident and in need of attention/affection/love. They exploited this need, showing interest, making the child feel loved, and in turn used that emotional connection to perpetrate their bodies. The children were less-likely to tell because they did not want to sacrifice the relationship or because they had less respect for their bodies.
Even worse, when known, a perpetrator may target a child known to have been abused previously. Even with therapy, it is not a guarantee that the child has overcome the mental and emotional damage from the previous abuse, and may be more likely to not defend themselves against the advances of a new perpetrator.
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