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Some Disclosures about Child Sexual Abuse

Battering is not the only kind of child abuse. Children can be victims of neglect, or sexual or emotional abuse. Up to over 300,000 times a year, (over 80,000 confirmed cases), child sexual abuse is reported but unreported instances are far greater, because the children are ashamed or afraid to tell anyone what has happened, and the legal procedure can be very difficult for the victim and in validation of abuse instances. In all kinds of child abuse, the child and the family can benefit from the care of a qualified counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist. Long-term emotional and psychological effects can be devastating. Child sexual abuse can take place within the family, by a parent, step-parent, sibling or other relative; or outside the home, like a neighbor, child care person, or teacher.

No child is psychologically prepared to cope with repeated sexual stimulation. Even a small toddler, who doesn't know the sexual activity is "wrong," will develop problems resulting from the inability to cope with the overstimulation. The child of five or older who knows and cares for the abuser feels trapped between affection or loyalty for the person, and the sense that the sexual activities are terribly wrong. If the child tries to leave the sexual relationship, the abuser could threaten the child with loss of love or violent acts against them or their siblings. Psycological harm can consist of feelings of pain, panic, devastation, betrayal, shame, fear, guilt, and vulnerability that may persist throughout the victim's life. When sexual abuse occurs within the family, the child may fear the anger, jealousy or shame of other family members, or be afraid the family will break up if the secret is told. A child who is the victim of prolonged sexual abuse usually develops low self- esteem, a feeling of worthlessness and an abnormal perspective on sexuality. If abuse victims are young enough and in life threatning situations repeatedly even their personality cohesion is at risk for dissociation disorders. Others live in complete denial that it has affected their lives for many years.

The sheer number of sexual abuse cases in Canada and the U.S.A. are staggering. (Although statistics are widely debated because of a disagreement of the definition of sexual abuse.) According to a large study concluding in July 1998, conservatively, one in six boys is sexually abused before age 16. Studies since 1994 in the U.S. estimate that 27% (greater than one in four), girls are sexually abused before age 18. One out of every four girls! And most never report the abuse. Among rape victims less than 12 years of age, 90% of the children knew the offender, according to police-recorded incident data. The closer the relationship between the victim/ abuser, the more likely it is that the abuse will not be remembered until later in life. Convicted rape and sexual assault offenders serving time in state prisons report that two-thirds of their victims were under the age of 18.

Disclosure of Abuse

If a child trusts you enough to tell you about an incident of sexual abuse, you can offer positive support, the following are a few suggestions to help the child make sense of what happened.
- Keep calm. Don't be angry with the child, but instead at what happened. Children might interpret the anger as being focused at them instead of the situation.
- Believe the child. In most circumstances children do not lie about sexual abuse.
- Say something positive like "I'm proud of you for telling."
- Explain to the child that he or she is not to blame for what happened.
- Listen to and answer the child's questions honestly.
- Respect the child's privacy. Everyone does not need to know what happened.
- Be Responsible. Report the incident to authorities.
- Assure the child if they need medical assistance you will accompany them.
- Get the child and/or family some professional counseling even a few visits are better than none.
Things NOT to do:
- Don't Panic or overreact when the child tries to tell you. Children need help and support to reveal this incident.
- Try not to Pressure the child to talk or avoid talking about the abuse. Silencing the child might ease your conscious but will not make the victim forget. Forcing can be harmful.
- Don't take on the offender in the child's presence. This can be very detremental to a child.

Who is most likely to abuse?

The old addage "Don't Talk to Strangers" is completely negated where child sexual abuse is concerned. Most abusers are family or close to the family. In order, the reported incidents of abuse occur most with step-fathers, fathers, uncles, brothers, grandfathers, mothers/neighbors, teachers/leaders or others in authority positions, and lastly, strangers. In fact in 95% of all reported cases, abusers are known to the victim. And remember most abuse is never even reported, especially in family situations. Its is estimated that over 60 million Americans are sexual abuse survivors.