The Bad Touch
How to prevent and recognize sexual abuse in your child
Dr. Amy Demner, LMHC
Licensed psychotherapist and sexologist
Correct information for both parents and children is one of the best ways to prevent sexual abuse, as education helps to alleviate fears and correct misconceptions.
For example, most people would be surprised by the true profile of a pedophile. Only 10 percent are "strangers".
Most offenders are heterosexual males. Another fact is that girls are sexually abused three times more frequently than boys.
Understanding the definition of sexual abuse and its long-term affect on people is a key aspect of the education phase. Sexual abuse takes on many different forms, from inappropriate touching by a music teacher to coercion by a family member or satanical sexual abuse. Despite the form, however, the impact can be life-long.
I’ve seen the damage first hand with many of my patients who have held secrets of sexual abuse for many years. They’ll discuss all kinds of intimate details of their lives over the course of months in therapy, then the secret about how a babysitter played touching games with them is embarrassingly revealed. The resulting damage can range from relationship difficulties and a negative self image to feelings of guilt, shame, abandonment or sexual confusion.
In most cases, the lack of education, tends to be at the very core of the issue. Perhaps the outcome would have been different if they had been taught specifically about the right and wrong kinds of touch, or even had broader discussions about sexual matters with their parents.
Parents can not or may not recognize the warning signs of sexual abuse; therefore, should instruct children about their bodies, the rights of owning their bodies, and how to say "no". Children also must be taught the necessity of telling their parents or a trusted adult if anything happens that doesn’t feel right.
Paying attention to what children say and do is key to recognizing child sexual abuse. Changes in attitude or behavior are often exhibited in children who have been abused.
Here are a few examples:
- Anxiety, without apparent cause, about being left in certain places or with certain people.
- An unusual discharge from the penis or vagina. Call your pediatrician for an evaluation, as this could be simply a reaction to a new soap or detergent or a sexually transmitted disease.
- Repeated touching of genitals in public, despite efforts to stop it. Be concerned if this goes beyond normal frequent touching.
- Trying to get other children or adults to touch the genitals, or repeatedly trying to touch others.
- Manually stimulating or having oral or genital contact with pets.
- Sophisticated sexual knowledge beyond age appropriate behavior.
- Frequently drawing pictures with the genitals as the primary focus.
- Any sex play involving an older or younger child or vaginal or anal penetration with fingers or other objects. Oral-genital sex with another child or simulating sex with a peer, even if the children are clothed, also are causes for alarm. Normal expected sex play between children typically involves undressing each other, playing doctor or "show me" games, all of which are harmless during the preschool years.
Any of these behaviors that might signal sexual abuse, but they could also be signs of other factors, such as exposure to an adult movie, TV or another distressing issue. Try not to panic if one of these behaviors is demonstrated. Be cautious and calm, and consult your pediatrician for an evaluation. Consider contacting a licensed mental health care counselor who specializes in child sexual abuse and assessment. Counseling and support for your family will be important if sexual abuse is involved.
If your child tells you about abuse, follow these steps:
- Believe the child and encourage him or her to talk freely.
- Be calm, do not panic so that you can investigate the situation without the clouding of emotion that could jeopardize handling the situation properly.
- Emphasize to the child that telling was the right thing to do and that he or she is not to blame.
- Try to avoid judgmental comments and offer the child protection. Take immediate steps to stop the abuse.
- Contact the police, as sexual abuse is a crime and must be reported.
- Seek professional help.
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