Child sexual abuse is more common than most people realize or care to think about. These ten facts will empower you to protect children as much as you can, and inform you of what to do if you or someone you know has already experienced this common type of trauma.
1. 5-12% of children in grades 9-12 report sexual abuse
l2% of girls and 5% of boys in grades 9-12 report sexual abuse, and the true statistics are likely even higher than RAINN (the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network) reports. This is because most children who experience child sexual abuse do not feel comfortable telling anyone.
2. If your child tells someone that they have been abused, then they have
Children’s minds are imaginative and creative, but typically not warped enough to imagine the atrocity of Child sexual abuse. Unfortunately, 80% of parents and caregivers do not believe the child’s account. Please refer to the U.S. Department of Justice Statistics for more information, and to Wendy Maltz’s therapeutic book “The Sexual Healing Journal” (which is more accurate than a government report, because many Child sexual abuse cases go unreported).
There are some widely reported cases of college-age girls who have lied about being sexually assaulted, discrediting the many true victims of rape and assault. In reality, those who experience trauma in later years do not often lie about their experiences either. In order to try and make the pain of the event disappear, however, some people retract their statements for their own survival.
3. 93% of children know their attacker
The reason that at least 90% of caregivers do not believe their child’s account of sexual assault is that most of these attacks happen inside the family. Family friends and babysitters are also among these statistics, likely artificially lowering the reported statistics further. Who can the child turn to if the person they go to for protection is the perpetrator?
4. Most children do not understand what is happening to them
An ignorant person once told me, “If I was attacked by someone as a kid, then I’d just scream and run away!” This almost never happens. Perpetrators tend to take advantage of their power and time alone with children, whether they are religious figures like priests or trusted people like babysitters and relatives. Since authority figures can take advantage of their position, it is incredibly important to place children in the care of someone you trust.
Most incidents are referred to as “attacks.” However, child sexual abuse does not always come across as aggressive. The attacker may seem like they are showing affection in some manner that the child does not understand, which can greatly affect children later in life as they struggle to label and define what happened to them at a young age.
5. It can easily lead to questions about sexual orientation
Back in the 1970s and ‘80s around the political era of Harvey Milk and the White Night Riots, many political extremists equated homosexuality with child molestation, but this despicable accusation against the gay community seems to have diminished. However, Wendy Maltz highlights a different link between sexual orientation and abuse.
Specifically, a child whose body naturally responds to a physical stimulus during abuse perpetrated by a member of the same sex may feel confused about what this means for their sexuality. Those who feel troubled by these sorts of questions in later life can benefit greatly from learning about the difference between automatic bodily responses and a genuine, generalizable preference for the same sex.
6. There are life event trends experienced by survivors
Many survivors do not realize that they are more likely to experience rape and even unwanted pregnancy than non-victims. Through no fault of their own, survivors learn different life skills and may be inclined to a distrust authority figure. This can be a healthy side effect, but it may cause problems when it seems impossible to know who to trust. People gravitate toward their version of normal, and problems can occur in later life if a survivor does not yet know the difference between love and perpetrators incapable of real love. This is why it is imperative for survivors to either consult a professional or learn about life skills from a trustworthy source.
7. There are future mental effects of child sexual abuse
As stated earlier, many survivors do not have anyone to turn to for support, and so remain in danger. Not being believed can easily lead to depression and a great lack of self-worth. According to RAINN, survivors are 3 times more likely to suffer from depression, 4 times more likely to consider suicide, six times more likely to suffer PTSD, and 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
8. There may be later signs that a child has been abused
If your child has not reported abuse but you have suspicions, look for certain signs (such as night terrors). Adolescence is one of the most challenging times for sexual child abuse survivors—increasing awareness of their sexuality brings about tough questions. If they do not have anyone to turn to, survivors can feel even more alone than they did as children. The best approach is always direct—talk to your child, but never use an accusatory tone and always be the protector.
Survivors may not have learned about respectful, safe relationships and when they enter adulthood they are therefore in danger of choosing a partner who does not show forms of real love and respect. Your partner should contribute to your safety and happiness, not put it in question, so survivors benefit from working to heal as much as possible before choosing a life partner.
9. Child molesters often prep
Oprah Winfrey was raped at an extremely early age and chose to confront four convicted child molesters on her show in the hopes of preventing further abuse by raising awareness. This brave act brought to light a disturbing fact about child molesters—they prepare first, testing boundaries to see how a child responds and what they can get away with. The education of young children about Child sexual abuse remains disturbing, as it seems like you are taking away some of their innocence just by telling them of the dangers. However, if you discuss it openly and then something questionable occurs, you and your child may be able to prevent a terrible action from ever occurring.
10. There are ways to heal
There are not enough resources for survivors of child sexual abuse. However, Maltz’s book focuses on the healing process and even how to learn about healthy and comfortable sexual interactions with a partner or spouse, and Oprah’s interview with the four perpetrators is incredibly informative. If you do not yet feel ready to listen to these felons speak, try reading through the show’s transcript below the video: http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Oprah-and-a-No-Holds-Barred-Conversation-with-Child-Molesters_1. If you were abused, seek out a therapist who already has experience with other survivors—a life coach without credentials can actually set you back, and you of all people deserve the best.
Rape Abuse & Incest National Network. Statistics. https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims.