What is sexual abuse?
Many parents wonder if certain behaviors in their children could be a sign that their child is experiencing some type of abuse. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, "1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of sexual abuse". And as many as 935 of victims under the age of 18 know the perpetrator. However, these statistics are difficult to determine as many incidents of sexual abuse go unreported.
Before your child reaches an age where discussing sexual activity is developmentally appropriate, we at MCFT strongly advocate teaching your child about their private parts, who is allowed to touch them, and how to assert themselves if an adult is touching them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. For more information on creating a safety plan with your child, give us a call.
Here are some typical signs of sexual abuse in children & adolescents:
- Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation
- Seems distracted or distant at odd times
Has a sudden change in eating habits
- Refuses to eat
- Loses or drastically increases appetite
- Has trouble swallowing.
- Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal
- Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues
- Writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual or frightening images
- Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places
- Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child
- Talks about a new older friend
- Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason
- Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad
Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge
Signs more typical of younger children
- An older child behaving like a younger child (such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking)
- Has new words for private body parts
- Resists removing clothes when appropriate times (bath, bed, toileting, diapering)
- Asks other children to behave sexually or play sexual games
- Mimics adult-like sexual behaviors with toys or stuffed animal
Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training
Signs more typical in adolescents
- Self-injury (cutting, burning)
- Inadequate personal hygiene
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Sexual promiscuity
- Running away from home
- Depression, anxiety
- Suicide attempts
- Fear of intimacy or closeness
Compulsive eating or dieting
Physical warning signs
Physical signs of sexual abuse are rare. If you see these signs, bring your child to a doctor immediately.
- Pain, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus or mouth
- Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements
- Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training
IF you are seriously concerned about a possible occurance of sexual abuse in your child, we recommend removing the child from any contact with a possible perpetrator and seeking medical and professional help. If you need immediate assistance, here is an online help center provided by RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network).
Here are some next steps when you suspect sexual abuse:
- If you know or suspect that a child has been sexually assaulted or abused you can report these crimes to the proper authorities, such as Child Protective Services. Reporting agencies vary from state to state. To see where to report to in your state, visit RAINN’s State Law Database .
- Call the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline at 800.422.4453 to be connected with a trained volunteer. Childhelp Hotline crisis counselors can’t make the report for you, but they can walk you through the process and let you know what to expect.
How is Sexual Abuse Treated?
At MCFT, we use typically use Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or TFCBT to treat sexual abuse. However, depending on the age and level of resistance from your child, we also use play therapy techniques to allow the child a sense of control and safety in therapy.
The first step in mental health facet of treating sexual abuse is establishing a sense of safety.
Next, we work on helping a child understand what happened to them through psychoeducation. Psychoeducation typically involves:
- specific information about the traumatic events the child has experienced;
- body awareness/sex education in cases of physical or sexual maltreatment; and
- risk reduction skills to decrease the risk of future traumatization.
Then, we work on the trauma and disturbing memories and thoughts associated with the sexual abuse through stress management, cognitive coping skills, creating a trauma narrative & processing their story, behavior management training and parent-child sessions to re-establish safe, healthy relationships with adults.
Finally, we will conduct an evaluation at the end of our treatment to ensure all of your child's needs have been met in the therapeutic process.
For more on treatment for sexual abuse, give us a call today at 832-598-1734.