Sexual Abuse: Know the Signs

Would you know if your child was sexually abused?

"First of all, I'm super protective, so it could never happen to my child. Second of all, I would know…I know my child so I would definitely know." Sound familiar? If it does, you're not alone. Most parents have this mindset regarding their children and sexual abuse. Reality? Most of the time, even parents who have the best intentions and love their children deeply are shocked when they learn that their child is being, or has been, sexually abused.

Why? How can this happen? The answers are not as mysterious as you might imagine, and sexual predators are masterful at keeping victims silent. Experts estimate that approximately 90% of sexual abuse victims don't disclose….and even for the small percentage who do, it's typically not right away (in fact, for more than half of victims, disclosure doesn't take place for decades).

"But I have a great relationship with my child, we talk about everything….there's no way that they wouldn't come to me about this." Surprisingly, even the strongest parent-child bonds can be compromised by a sexual predator, especially if the predator has a relationship with the victim and/or the family.

"So you're telling me that my child could be sexually abused, and even though we've talked about this and I've told them that they should always come to me, they still might not?" Actually, that's exactly what the data supports.

"What can I do?" The best thing to do is continue to maintain an open, comfortable dialogue about sexual abuse. If a child is not learning about it elsewhere and they end up being victimized, then the only narrative they have is the one they hear from their abuser. That narrative often includes threats, lies, manipulation and fear.

The next best thing to do is look for ways your child may be telling you something is wrong without actually saying the words. If a child is sexually abused and then scared into silence by their abuser, they'll be afraid to say anything, but they won't be able to hide the physical and mental stress that accompanies the trauma. Watch for the signs that are often subtle and can easily be explained away. Many parents, after their child discloses, can look back with hindsight and see that the signs were there long before the disclosure took place. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Did your child suddenly decide to stop participating in an activity that they formerly enjoyed?

2. Did your child end a close friendship without explanation, and when pressed for a reason they share a questionable excuse? (sudden ending of a friendship could mean that the friend, or someone close to the friend, has committed abuse)

3. Does your child suddenly try to avoid spending time with an adult or teen who they used to love being with?

4. Is your child asking a lot of questions about death or getting arrested or going to jail? (these are some of the threats sexual predators commonly use)

5. Is your child experiencing physical symptoms of stress? Feeling sick to their stomach, wetting the bed, having angry outbursts, having nightmares or night terrors, etc.

Sometimes, these incidents are exactly as they appear, sometimes they are manifestations of trauma. You do know your child….and you know when your child's behavior or demeanor are "off"….that's when it's important to trust your gut and dig deeper. Children who are victims of sexual abuse want nothing more than to be freed, but they do not feel empowered to free themselves, they need you to help them overcome the fear and shame instilled by their abuser by making sure they know they are loved and safe.

If you're unsure about this conversation, take advantage of the resources and training programs offered by Revved Up Kids.

Questions? Contact us today!