If only the topic of sexual abuse of children did not have to be discussed! Unfortunately, though, open and honest discussions of this criminal behavior is necessary for parents (and other family members), teachers, coaches, scout leaders, church officials, law enforcement and others to be able to recognize potential perpetrators of abuse and to protect the children upon whom they prey. If we do not discuss this terribly destructive behavior, inform our children about the possibility of being a victim and how to recognize the signs, as well as encourage those who’ve been abused to come forward and report the abuse, this does nothing but leave the perpetrator free of criminal charges and living among us, preying on more innocent victims. We have to talk about it with our children!
There are currently approximately forty-two million adult victims/survivors of child sexual abuse in America and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women and one in six men were victims of sexual abuse before they reached the age of eighteen years. Another disturbing fact is that approximately seventy-three percent of victims of child sexual abuse don’t tell anyone about it for at least a year, forty-five percent wait as long as five years and some victims never tell anyone about it. Also, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, juveniles are more frequently victims of sexual assault than adults.
While most child sexual abusers are males, a smaller number of females also commit sexually related crimes against children. Very often, perpetrators of child sexual abuse were abused themselves as children. Sexual abusers of children include people from every socioeconomic class of all races and age groups. Many offenders hold highly respected positions of authority in organizations like community clubs, churches and schools. In fact, more often than not, “stranger danger” is not the source of most child sexual abuse and, instead, the children are familiar with and have established relationships with the abuser in whom they have gained great confidence and trust.
This is no coincidence, inasmuch as many offenders attempt to establish trusting relationships with, not only the children, but also their family members and friends. Child sexual abusers take advantage of this familiarity and close proximity by using progressively inappropriate language and/or touching behaviors that are so sublime that they go unnoticed by the abused child until the situation has escalated into outright sexual abuse, at which time the abuser will employ a variety of means to maintain compliance of their victims.
Convicted perpetrators of child sexual abuse admit that they usually seek children who seem lonely, quiet, troubled or those who live in broken homes or single-parent households. They’ve also admitted that they will employ excessive attention and privileges, purchasing material things for the child, violence against the child or their loved ones (or threats thereof), as well as misrepresenting socially acceptable things to the child in order to continue abusing them. They will also attempt to make the child feel complicit in and responsible for the sexual abuse, which contributes to the fact that many victims wait long periods of time to report the abuse, if ever.
In order to avoid opportunities for abusers to sexually assault children, we need to be aware of the circumstances under which they usually perpetrate the abuse. Most child sexual abuse takes place in the home of the perpetrator or the home of the child; in fact, eighty-four percent of abuse of children under the age of twelve occurs in someone’s home or other place of residence. Seventy-one percent of incidents of abuse of older children between the ages of twelve and seventeen also occur in a residential setting.
Also, sexual assault of young children usually occurs between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. and older children are commonly assaulted late in the evening. When the abuser is a juvenile, the sexual abuse often occurs after school on weekdays between the hours of 3:00 and 7:00 p.m., not coincidentally when many parents are away from home at work.
Children living in homes where both biological parents also reside are the least likely kids to be victimized by child sexual abusers. Incidents of abuse are twenty times more prevalent when the child lives in a single-parent home or one that involves a stepparent or live-in partner and ten times more likely for those children living in foster care.
While no child is immune from the possibility of sexual abuse, young girls are more likely to be abused than boys and both are most vulnerable between the ages of seven and thirteen. The median age of abused children is nine years, but approximately twenty percent are victimized before the age of eight.
Another factor that contributes to child sexual abuse is ethnicity and/or race. African American kids are twice as likely to be sexually abused and those who are Hispanic are also at greater risk than white children. Also, the possibility of abuse triples for kids whose parents are unemployed and children who suffer from physical or mental disabilities are also at greater risk, as are kids living in rural areas or those who have witnessed or been victims of any type of crime.
As a parent, you should be aware that many physical signs of abuse heal rapidly and you should immediately investigate and seek treatment for any genital irritation in a child, as well as infections or painful bowel movements. Changes in behavior are more frequently noticed and can include nightmares, night sweats, bed-wetting, anxiety, anger, depression, loss of interest in activities, abusing drugs (including alcohol), fear of certain people or places and thoughts of hurting themselves or suicide. You should also watch for language that is not age-appropriate or sexual “acting out.”
Children and adult victims of child sexual abuse experience a tremendous amount of negative consequences after being sexually abused, not the least of which is damage to their psyche and mental health. Child sexual abuse lies at the root of many problems in society and is also a major contributor to teenage pregnancies, over sexualized behavior and the occurrence of sexually transmitted diseases.
Knowledge of these facts is essential in order to identify child sexual predators and their modes of predation, as well as those children who are vulnerable or have already been victimized by these disturbed individuals. Together, we can put an end to this criminal, inhumane behavior and protect our precious children from predators.