Childhood sexual abuse is a commonly occurring negative life event. One in four girls and one in six boys experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18. Many time children don’t tell their parents that they are being sexually abused. There are many reasons why children don’t tell. Some children are afraid to tell because they think they are to blame for the abuse or they fear they won’t be believed. Other children are afraid to tell because they fear the perpetrator of the abuse may be punished. Many times, the perpetrator of sexual abuse is someone the child knows and thus also has caring feelings towards. Finally, children don’t tell out of fear that their loved one will be harmed (many times they have been told this by their pepetrator).
Childhood sexual abuse is a very frightening and shameful experience and as a result, parents or those close to the chid victim of sexual abuse many notice changes that should serve as “red flags.” Some “red flags” are changes in behaviors, appearance and functioning such as:
- Not wanting to be left alone with a particular person
- Sleep difficulties
- Becoming more isolated/withdrawn
- Disturbances in mood (i.e., depression, anxiety)
- Disturbances in behaviors (i.e, oppositional and defiant behaviors, “angry outbursts”)
- Sexually reactive behaviors (i.e., excessive masturbation, acting out sexually with other children)
- Decrease in grades
- Loss in previously acquired developmental milestones (i.e., toilet trained but now having frequent toileting accidents)
- Covering up (i.e., wearing baggy clothing)
It is normal for parents to have many feelings when their child begins to tell about their abuse. However, regardless of their feelings, it is most important for parents to exhibit support to their child. Parents should:
- Try their best to remain calm
- Don’t interrogate their child
- Never blame their child
- Reassure their child
- Call for help right away
A responsive and supportive parent is the best indicator for recovery in a child who has been the victim of abuse.
Nicole A. Tefera, Psy.D.
Anxiety & Stress Center, P.C.