Updated: Nov 10
The history of child sexual abuse is as old as the history of humankind. Children have been used and abused for sexual purposes for thousands of years. Child sexual abuse is not a new problem, nor has there been a dramatic increase in the number of sexually abused children. Rather, it is only recently that we as a nation have begun to recognize the existence of this tragic problem and decided to do something about it. Such concern is long overdue.
Why have we only recently begun to see how serious a problem child sexual abuse is in
America? There are many reasons why child sexual abuse went largely unnoticed for so long.
One reason is the ability of families to keep secrets. The feeling often is, “What goes on in this
family is nobody else’s business.” A second reason is that many children hide the fact that they
have been sexually abused. They have innocently aided child sexual abusers through their
silence. A third reason has to do with the responsibility of professionals and other adults to report suspected child sexual abuse. The feeling often is, “It’s none of my business,” or “I don’t want to get involved.” These and many other reasons have concealed child sexual abuse. The minds and bodies of countless children have paid the cost of such ignorance.
Reports of suspected child sexual abuse are on the rise. Parents, professionals and concerned
citizens are becoming better educated about the problem and more involved in stopping it.
Children have learned through educational programs that they can stop sexual abuse by reporting it. For example, Julie, a teenager, told a teacher that her stepfather had been sexually abusing her for years. Although she felt loyal to her family, she could no longer tolerate her stepfather’s sexual advances. The teacher contacted Child Protective Services. The agency removed Julie from the sexually abusive situation and investigated the case. Julie and her family underwent family therapy to assist in her return home. The stepfather entered a program designed to change his sexually abusive behavior. Child Protective Services monitored Julie and her family until it was felt that she was out of danger of further sexual abuse. Although this kind of crisis is difficult for the child and the family, it is certainly much better than continuing the sexually abusive situation.
In another case, Nathan, a six-year-old, told his mother that a 15-year-old babysitter had asked to touch his private body parts. He also had asked Nathan to play “tickle games.” Nathan was very uncomfortable about discussing the experience with his mother because the sitter had become his “friend.” When his mother questioned him further, Nathan admitted that the sitter had made sexual contact with him. The mother called Child Protective Services. They investigated the case. The babysitter received juvenile probation and attended counseling sessions. Nathan underwent a psychological evaluation. He was encouraged to talk about the experience with his mother. She answered his questions and tried to impress upon him that he did nothing wrong. Many sexually abused children feel they are in some way at fault.
Julie and Nathan are just two of the millions of child sexual abuse victims. It is fortunate that
both Julie’s teacher and Nathan’s mother reported the sexual abuse. They were the critical
difference in helping to end each child’s continued sexual abuse.
Child sexual abuse is a social problem that requires our full attention. Although the long-term
effects are not yet fully understood, indications are that children who are sexually abused
develop problems that may take years to work through. If you suspect child sexual abuse, it is
your duty to report it. Your concerned involvement CAN make an important difference in the life of a child. Reporting suspected child sexual abuse may be the most effective means of putting a stop to this national tragedy!
Preventing Child Sexual Abuse
Because adults teach children to respect older persons, preventing child sexual abuse can be
difficult. However, there are ways to lessen the possibility of child sexual abuse. The following
is a list of methods that have proven effective in preventing child sexual abuse. Perhaps the most important information to remember is that most child sexual abuse occurs with family members or persons familiar to the family or the child.
Teach children that it is okay to say NO to an older person if the child does not feel right about what the older person has asked him or her to do (including relatives)
Develop a trusting relationship with the child so that the child knows you will believe him or her if he/she comes to you with information about being approached sexually
Keep the child away from situations where she or he may be around questionable persons and away from situations where a questionable person may be alone with the child
Check out any person who may care for the child before leaving the child with that person
Watch for warning signs such as gifts or favors given to the child by an older person
Teacher the child NEVER to accept rides, gifts or favors from strangers
Explain to the child the importance of coming straight home from school or the bus stop
Develop a “report-in” policy with the child that keeps you or other adult family members aware of the child’s whereabouts at all times
Let the child know that child sexual abuse can and does occur and that children have the right to stop it before it begins
Develop child sexual abuse awareness programs in the community and in the schools so that parents and children will be better prepared to identify, stop and report suspected child sexual abuse before it begins
Agencies to Contact About Child Abuse & Neglect
National Child Abuse Hotline – The National Child Abuse Hotline is a toll-free number that
can be called from anywhere in the United States and is available around the clock.
Police Department – Most police departments have at least one officer responsible for juvenile
matters or an officer who investigates crimes against persons.
Telephone # 911
Child Protective Services – CPS is a special unit in each state and local Department of Human Services responsible for investigating suspected child abuse and neglect.
Telephone # Check your local phone book*
*Adapted from our book, Emotional Abuse & Child Neglect: Why Parents Abuse Their