Being sexually abused or assaulted is one of the most difficult experiences a person can suffer through. This can be especially traumatizing when committed against a child by an adult that was responsible for them and that they trusted, such as a school teacher, minister, or even a parent. Unfortunately, most cases of Child Sexual Assault (CSA) go unreported, so statistics can be hard to compile. However, studies by the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, David Finkelhor, found that:
- 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse;
- Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident;
- During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
- Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
- Children are most vulnerable to CSA between the ages of 7 and 13.
Warning signs of abuse
Most often, sexual abuse against minors is committed by those in a position of authority over them. The abuser will often reward, coerce, threaten, or otherwise convince the victim to avoid telling anyone about the abuse, thereby perpetuating their suffering. Therefore, it may be useful to watch for any signs a child may be suffering from abuse. Some of these warning signs are:
- New development of nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation
- Seemingly distracted or distant at odd times
- A sudden change in eating habits
- A sudden increase in money, toys, or other gifts without reason
- Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty, or bad
- Trouble swallowing
- Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity, or withdrawal
- Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues
- Development of new or unusual fear of certain people or places
Additionally, adolescents and teens may exhibit other signs:
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Sexual promiscuity
- Fear of intimacy
- Depression or suicide attempts
What can I do?
If you believe a child may be the victim of sexual abuse, sexual assault, or molestation, there are many steps you can take to help. First, you need to be aware of the warning signs. If you truly believe that the child may be a victim, then it is important to further investigate.
Secondly, talk to the child. Be sure to pick your time and place carefully so the child feels relaxed, safe, and unthreatened. Ask them where they’d like to talk. Be careful to use a casual, calm tone of voice to avoid scaring the child into giving you the answer you want to hear instead of the truth. Allow the child to speak freely, and then follow up when they pause instead of interrupting to ask questions. Use “I” statements to avoid placing blame on the child. Finally, be patient. You may have to reassure the child that they are not in trouble, and it may take some time for them to open up.
Finally, report the abuse. Before you report, be sure to tell the child that you are going to tell someone who can help. However, be sure that you are not asking the child for their permission. If you are concerned for the child’s safety should the perpetrator find out about the investigation, ensure that the child is in a safe place before reporting and communicate to the authorities. Prepare your thoughts before calling, as you may be asked identifying information about yourself, your relationship with the child, and the nature of the abuse.
When you are ready to report, contact the authorities. In Missouri, call the Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline (1-800-392-3738 if in Missouri, 573-751-3448 when out of state.) The report may also be made to any law enforcement agency or juvenile office.
Advocates for the abused
Being sexually assaulted or molested by an adult you trust is one of the most difficult and painful experiences a child can endure. These children deserve to be heard, protected and advocated for. Holding abusers accountable for their actions can help the healing process and protect other children from becoming victims. We at Monsees & Mayer, P.C. take sexual abuse cases seriously. We have won many significant cases on behalf of abused children. If you or someone you know are looking for an experienced sexual abuse attorney, contact us for a free, confidential consultation.