This week we are headed to the Coalition for a Community Without Violence wrap up party for Family Fun Day. One of the things we really reach out to raise awareness of is Child Abuse, and for me of course that means childhood sexual abuse. I would like to take a minute to go over warning signs, and then get down to how we really, as a community, go about preventing it.
First, the Warning Signs in Children: (Taken with permission from www.stopitnow.org)
Please keep in mind that these are warning signs that sometimes are symptoms of other stressors, such as divorce, grief, other trauma. If your child is displaying symptoms, seek professional help as soon as possible to find the root cause.
Behavior you may see in a child or adolescent
- Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation
- Seems distracted or distant at odd times
- Has a sudden change in eating habits
- Refuses to eat
- Loses or drastically increases appetite
- Has trouble swallowing.
- Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal
- Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues
- Writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual or frightening images
- Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places
- Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child
- Talks about a new older friend
- Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason
- Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad
Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge
Signs more typical of younger children
- An older child behaving like a younger child (such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking)
- Has new words for private body parts
- Resists removing clothes when appropriate times (bath, bed, toileting, diapering)
- Asks other children to behave sexually or play sexual games
- Mimics adult-like sexual behaviors with toys or stuffed animal
- Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training
Signs more typical in adolescents
- Self-injury (cutting, burning)
- Inadequate personal hygiene
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Sexual promiscuity
- Running away from home
- Depression, anxiety
- Suicide attempts
- Fear of intimacy or closeness
- Compulsive eating or dieting
Physical warning signs
Physical signs of sexual abuse are rare. If you see these signs, bring your child to a doctor. Your doctor can help you understand what may be happening and test for sexually transmitted diseases.
Pain, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus or mouth
Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements
Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training
Now, how to prevent child sexual abuse. First, start with talking with your kids. Make sure they understand appropriate boundries and can identify trusted adults, for more info go to http://gethelp.stopitnow.org/dont_wait_everyday_prevention.
Child sexual abuse is not, however, the responsibility of children. The only person responsible for abuse is the abuser. We need to educate ourselves on warning signs of abusers, and how to intervene before abuse begins.
We need to look at the behavior of adults who may be at risk to be perpetrators. The first and foremost, is not to ignore discomfort in the way an adult is looking at or behaving toward a child.
When asked to identify someone who once “creeped them out” by the way they acted towards children, every single person in my last training class could. The problem is that we have a tendency to keep our own kids away from this person, but never address our concerns.
Lets take a look at things that may be warning signs of an abuser. Someone who wants to spend time alone with children, keeps secrets, engages in adult/personal conversations with kids, buys inappropriate gifts, ignores or invades privacy, unaware of or ignores personal space boundaries, overly physical play(tickling or wresting when child does not want to), sexually aggressive language (whore, slut), allows children to get away with inappropriate behavior, sees teens in a sexual manner, curious about teen sexual behavior, or involved in viewing child pornography.
If someone is displaying warning signs of an abuser, speak up! You do not have to be aggressive, but you should not look the other way. Let the person know that you have seen some things you are not comfortable with and would like them to take a look at their own behavior.
Direct them to a website like www.stopitnow.org, or one of the following resources:
The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA)
A national professional association of specialists in the field of sexual abuseritreatment. For a referral contact them by phone or email. No identifying information required.
Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute
National directory available on line of sex-specific therapists offering evaluation and treatment of adults and youth.
Safer Society Foundation Referral Desk
A national non-profit specializing in sexual abuse prevention and treatment. Referrals can be requested by phone or on-line. No identifying information required.