This series in April has focused on childhood sexual abuse, what it is, and how it affects its victims long-term. Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is an insidious blight on our world and destroys the future of our country, our children.

This article will focus on how to prevent childhood sexual abuse through education and to get involved.

Meet the Victims of CSA

The term child sexual abuse (CSA) means an event where a child’s physical or emotional self is violated through sexual actions ranging from showing a child pornographic material, indecent exposure, fondling, intercourse, lewd comments, or talking sexually to a child.

It is vital to understand that sexual abuse includes any sexual contact and does not always include penetration of the child or forcing a male child to perform sexually with an adult.

It is also crucial to keep in mind that CSA occurs when the victim is under 18, regardless of the age of the perpetrator or the relationship between them.

Children of all ages, even shortly after birth, can become victims of CSA.

Children are innocent and have little ability to escape a sexual predator, and the harm done to them will last a lifetime.

It is not just little girls who are abused as boys and girls are almost equally abused, leaving deep scars on both.

Meet the Perpetrators of CSA

Perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse are not who people believe them to be. You cannot look at a person and see by the way they dress, their mannerisms, or their sexual orientation that they are indeed sexual predators.

Sexual predators are neighbors, good friends, pastors, priests, rabbis, scout leaders of both sexes and all sizes. They are found in areas where they are in a leadership position but not always, and if you are not watching, can abuse your children right under your noses (Beauregard & Rossmo 2008).

A person who commits child sexual abuse refers to a person who sexually abuses minors but may or may not mean they are a pedophile as the two terms are not mutually exclusive.

The term pedophile is used to describe those who meet the clinical diagnosis by a mental health professional who is sixteen or older and has exclusive or non-exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children (kids under 13). The diagnostic criteria for pedophilia have long been under fire because the criterion for a pedophile is too narrow (American Psychological Association 2000).

Childhood sexual predators are male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, are in a group or act alone, and from any ethnic background. They are also rich, poor, or middle class (Hall & Hall 2009).

Please, remember too that sometimes CSA is perpetrated by other children who act out either what they are experiencing or because it can feel good. The children are still innocent, but knowing this bit of information may make you more aware when your child exhibits signs of sexual assault.

Although the motives of child sexual predators are different, child sexual abusers do share some personal characteristics, which are included below.

  • Poor social skills
  • Strained relationships with other adults
  • Emotional attachment problems
  • Sexual problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Devalues themselves
  • Loneliness
  • Feelings of powerless
  • Feelings of humiliation

While the above characteristics cover some of those of child sexual predators, they do not cover all, and not everyone who has these characteristics is a perpetrator of sexual violence against children.

We Must Take Responsibility for Our Children

Preventing child sexual abuse requires that all adults take responsibility for the children around them, including the children of others, whether they are related or not. Adults are responsible for ensuring that children are safe and have a stable and nurturing relationship with adequate housing and care.

Unfortunately for all of us, resources to prevent child sexual abuse are used to treat children who are already victims and on the criminal cases of their abusers, leaving little resources to prevent the abuse in the first place. Larger allocations of money and other resources are needed to combat child abuse by focusing on prevention, but society needs to become aware of the problem first.

Historically, society has hidden its head in the sand when it comes to preventing and treating child sexual abuse. We have lived in denial for so long that getting people to release the grip they have on their pocketbooks and hearts is hard-earned.

In the meantime, our children continue to suffer in silence.

There are several things that we adults can do to help children:

Educate Yourself. Read, listen, and watch videos about CSA. Learn all you can about it and learn how you can help.

Speak up. Bringing childhood sexual abuse out of the hush-hush shadows will help push it into the light where it can be seen and treated. If we learn to recognize early that a child is in trouble, we can stop or prevent sexual abuse from happening.

Contact Your State and Federal Legislators. Tell them through letters, phone calls, and testimonies that childhood sexual abuse is a problem they must not ignore. Advocate for more money and resources to be allocated to prevent and treat CSA.

Open Your Pocketbook. Be cautious but generous to open your purse to share your money supporting research, shelters, and other vital resources.

Teach Your Kids To Tell

 

The best time to treat childhood sexual abuse is before it happens, and while we don’t want children to be terrified of the world, we need them to be cautious. Children are easy marks for adult perpetrators because they see adults, and rightly so, as authority figures. Sometimes kids are made to feel special and receive special treatment in exchange for sexual assault.

The first line of defense in preventing childhood sexual abuse is to teach our children to talk. Silence is the childhood perpetrator’s best friend, so if we can keep the lines of communication open between our children and ourselves, it is less likely that a sexual predator will be able to abuse our kids.

Second, we must learn the typical behaviors of our children and remain vigilant for changes outside the normal scope. For instance, if a normally outgoing child suddenly becomes sullen and withdrawn, it might be a sign that they are sexually abused.

If God forbid, your suspicions are proven to be correct, act swiftly and decisively.

First, alert the authorities and then turn all your attention to your child. Remain calm because your child will look to you for clues that they will be okay. Always believe what your child is telling you and begin to restore their sense of safety. Help your child understand that the person who harmed them has done something wrong and help them to see that they did nothing wrong.

A child who discloses sexual abuse has had their world turned upside down, and they will likely believe they are responsible for what happened to them. Reassure the child that they are not to blame for causing it, nor are they responsible for not making it stop. Tell them how proud you are of them for telling you. Seek out counseling for your child after sexual abuse because the most common responses to it are arduous to overcome.

Teach Your Child Skills to Prevent CSA

There are skills that you as a parent can teach your children so that they will not become CSA victims. While there are many such skills, I will outline five below.

  1. Teach your child that their body is theirs and that boundaries surround them that no one should cross. Teach them that no one should ask to be touched on their private body parts, and no one should touch theirs.
  2. Perpetrators often use manipulation to keep their victims coming back for more. Teach your children not to keep secrets from you no matter who told them to do so or how they are threatened.
  3. Teach your child how to get away from uncomfortable situations with a perpetrator. Teach them it is okay to say no if they feel what is happening is wrong and give them the words they need. Also, give your child advice on leaving a scary situation such as telling their would-be perpetrator that they can’t stay because they must leave to go home immediately or tell the abuser that they need to go to the potty. The first scenario allows the child to get away right away, but if they feel trapped, the second gives them a chance to hide in the bathroom with the door locked.
  4. Establish a code word they can use if they feel uncomfortable in a situation such as a sleepover or a scout camp out.
  5. Tell your child they will never be in trouble for telling if something happens. This is vital because perpetrators will tell their victims that the child has done something wrong, and their parents will be angry. Reaffirm that if they tell you when something terrible happens, they will never get in trouble.

By being honest with our children about sexual abuse without terrifying them, we can prevent them from becoming victims and save them from a lifetime of problems.

Present and Future Developments Will Help

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is very involved in the prevention of childhood sexual abuse. One way they have done so to identify gaps in research needed to increase the understanding of CSA and its causes.

These gaps include the following:

  • Improve surveillance systems and data collection for keeping track of child sexual abuse
  • We need to strengthen existing and develop new evidence-based programs, policies, and practices
  • Increase our understanding of risk and protective factors for the perpetration of CSA and victimization

Childhood sexual abuse needs to be treated as a national public health crisis and receive the same and better recognition as cigarette smoking, a well-known campaign for prevention. Children are our future, and until CSA is treated as a plague, like COVID 19, and receives the attention, it deserves our children will continue to suffer, and we, as a society, will continue to weaken.

“One person of integrity can make a difference.” ~ Elie Wiesel

“If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.” ~ Carl Jung

Resources

Below are listed a few of the resources you can find on the childwelfare.gov website. Please check out this link for more information.

RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline: Available 24/7 for support.

Call: 800-656-4673

Chat: online.RAINN.org

Child Molestation Research & Prevention Institute

1151 Harbor Bay Parkway

Suite 121

Alameda, California 94502

Phone: (510) 740-1410

Email: [email protected]

https://childmolestationprevention.org/(opens in new window)

https://childmolestationprevention.org/contact-us/

The Child Molestation, Research & Prevention Institute, is a national science-based nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse through research, education, and family support. Its focus is on providing information to professionals and families about the early warning signs of a problem and the availability of early diagnosis and effective treatment.

Child Welfare Information Gateway

Children’s Bureau/ACYF

330 C Street, S.W

Washington, District of Columbia 20201

Toll-Free: (800) 394-3366

Email: [email protected]

https://www.childwelfare.gov/

Child Welfare Information Gateway connects professionals and the general public to information and resources targeted to children and families’ safety, permanency, and well-being.

The CDC has developed technical packages to help communities utilize the best available to prevent sexual violence.

Sexual violencepdf icon.

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/p1105-prevent-aces.html

CDC Technical Packages to Prevent Violence

References

American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text revision). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Beauregard, E. and Rossmo, K. (2008). Geographic profiling and analysis of the hunting process used by serial sex offenders. In M. St-Yves and M. Tanguay, eds., The Psychology of Criminal Investigations: The Search for the Truth (pp. 529-554). Toronto: Carswell.

Centers for Disease Control. Stop SV: A Technical Package to Prevent Sexual Violence. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/SV-Prevention-Technical-Package.pdf

Hall, R.C.W. and Hall, R.C.W. (2009). A profile of pedophilia: Definition, characteristics of offenders, recidivism, treatment outcomes, and forensic issues. Focus: The Journal of Lifelong Learning in Psychiatry, 7(4): 522-537.

 

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