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  • Writer's pictureNatasha Patiño

Sexual Abuse- Risk Factors, Signs of Sexual Abuse, and More.

Hi everyone, Natasha here again.


This blog is one that many will find uncomfortable to read or even think about, but it is something that everyone should be aware of. Throughout my years working as a therapist, sexual abuse has been a common occurrence that comes up in sessions. It's often not the reason a client comes to therapy, but with time we find out that this abuse is directly connected to the problems a person is currently struggling with.





Studies done by David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, (Child Sexual Abuse Statistics – The National Center for Victims of Crime), show that, "1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.” This number is very high, especially in girls, and shows the need for more psychoeducation to prevent young children from being victimized. These numbers are the ones reported, so the more accurate number is probably much higher due to the ones we do not know about.


An important note here, is that the same report showed that “3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well” (victimsofcrime.org). This includes family members, older siblings/cousins, grandparents, uncles/aunts, neighbors, friends, youth workers, and more. That is a very scary thought to have. So just because they’re family, does NOT automatically make them safe adults.



WHAT IS SEXUAL ABUSE?


Let’s start with the basics, what is sexual abuse? A great resource, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) (Sexual Abuse | The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (nctsn.org), defines sexual abuse as this:


“Child sexual abuse is any interaction between a child and an adult (or another child) in which the child is used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator or an observer. Sexual abuse can include both touching and non-touching behaviors. Non-touching behaviors can include voyeurism (trying to look at a child’s naked body), exhibitionism, or exposing the child to pornography. Children of all ages, races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds may experience sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse affects both girls and boys in all kinds of neighborhoods and communities.”

In simpler terms, it’s when someone older makes a younger child engage in some type of sexual behavior. It can be an adult or older child/teen that takes advantage of the younger child. It can be penetration, touching, exposing the child to sexual images, and more.

A common thing I hear is that a person does not think it was sexual abuse since there was no penetration. Even if there is no penetration, it can still be considered abuse! Below is some information that I hope will help families prevent the chance of sexual abuse by focusing on two important areas when it comes to this topic: risk factors and possible signs of abuse.







RISK FACTORS FOR SEXUAL ABUSE


According to defendeinnocence.org, below are listed factors that increase a child’s chance of being victimized. The more of these factors a child meets, the higher the potential for becoming a victim of abuse. Below the risk factors are a few tips to help:

  1. Stressful Home Environment

  2. Low Self-Esteem

  3. Unmonitored Access to Technology

  4. Poor Communication

  5. Loneliness

  6. Kids who Identify as LGBTQ+

  7. Single-parent homes

  8. Separation/divorce in the home

  9. Blended Families

  10. Domestic Violence



POSSIBLE SIGNS OF SEXUAL ABUSE


According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (nctsn.org), "Children who have been sexually abused may display a range of emotional and behavioral reactions, many of which are characteristic of children who have experienced other types of traumas.” If you see these, don’t freak out but it may be a good opportunity to start talking to your child.

These reactions include:

  • An increase in nightmares and/or other sleeping difficulties

  • Withdrawn behavior

  • Angry outbursts

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Not wanting to be left alone with a particular individual(s)

  • Sexual knowledge, language, and/or behaviors that are inappropriate for the child’s age (for example, playing out sexually inappropriate behaviors with their baby dolls)





PARENT TIPS


Being a parent is hard enough, and now add this extra stressor of protecting your child from possible perpetrators. These tips below help decrease the chances of your child being taken advantage of. Talk with other close adult caregivers you trust, to help them also work on keeping an eye on your children:


- Talk to your kids about boundaries and safe touch. Even role-play and have them

practice saying ‘no’ and asking people to respect their personal space.


- Remind your kids that they can talk to you about anything, and your role is to keep them safe. Often perpetrators will scare the child into keeping the abuse a secret.


- Monitor your children’s social media and phone access. THIS ONE IS SO IMPORTANT! This would include having passwords and having the kids leave the phones in the parents’ bedroom at night.


- Teach your kids that there is safety in numbers. If your child wants to go to the bathroom at a park or restaurant, teach them to go with their older sibling/friend versus going alone. If they want to help the youth director set-up for an event, have them go with friends versus go alone.


- If you’re having a party, especially if it will include a lot of drinking, have your kids sleep in the same room versus alone. Or even better, have them have a sleepover with trusted caregivers, like grandparents.


- Be an involved parent!! Get to know the coaches, go to their gymnastics practice, get to know the parents of their friends. The more involved you are, the less risk.


- Connect your child (and/or yourself) to a therapist that can help them navigate tough challenges in their lives, like separation/divorce, grief, and/or blended families.




LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF SEXUAL ABUSE


Long-term effects of sexual abuse can greatly impact a person’s connection with others and how they feel about themselves. Here is a list of problems clients often have due to being victims of sexual abuse:




  • Develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Hard time trusting others

  • Have a push and pull relationship with others (one second are super sweet and loving, but the next they are very mean and push you away)

  • Engage in high-risk behaviors like experimenting with drugs and alcohol

  • Self-cutting or suicidal behaviors

  • Low self-esteem, thinking their body is ‘dirty.’

  • Sexually inappropriate behaviors for their age and/or avoid anything sexual when older.




JULIE VALENTINE CENTER


The Julie Valentine Center (JVC) is our local rape crisis center. They are just an amazing organization that has a lot of great resources and services for victims of crime. They advocate for these families and work hard to make sure their needs are met. They are a blessing to our community, and I have been a witness to all the good work they do. They also have a bilingual advocate, Brenda Mancilla, that is great at what she does and really works hard to help the Spanish-speaking families.

If you suspect sexual abuse, reach out to your local police department, as well as the JVC. Do not be scared to report this. Their job is to help protect and serve the community.


I hope that with this blog will help families be more educated on what to look out for, take very active steps to help prevent their children from being victims of abuse, and know the steps if their child (or a child of someone they know) report sexual abuse.


Until next time…. stay safe and continue to be each other’s companions in healing!


KNOWLEDGE + HOPE = EMPOWERMENT












Resources:



Julie Valentine Center (julievalentinecenter.org)




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