ERIC Identifier: ED321843
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood
Education Urbana IL.
Child Sexual Abuse: What It Is and How To Prevent It.
Sexual abuse of children is a grim fact of life in our society. It is
more common than most people realize. Some surveys say that at least 1
out of 5 women and 1 out of 10 men recall sexual abuse in childhood.
Parents need not feel helpless about the problem. The American Academy
of Pediatrics provides the following information to help prevent child
WHAT IS CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE?
It is any sexual act with a child that is performed by an adult or an
older child. Such acts include fondling the child's genitals, getting the
child to fondle an adult's genitals, mouth to genital contact, rubbing
an adult's genitals on the child, or actually penetrating the child's vagina
Other, often overlooked, forms of abuse occur. These include an adult
showing his or her genitals to a child, showing the child obscene pictures
or videotapes, or using the child to make obscene materials.
COULD MY CHILD BE SEXUALLY ABUSED? BY WHOM?
Boys and girls are most often abused by adults or older children whom
they know and who can control them. The offender is known by the victim
in 8 out of 10 reported cases. The offender is often an authority figure
whom the child trusts or loves. Almost always the child is convinced to
engage in sex by means of persuasion, bribes or threats.
HOW WOULD I KNOW IF MY CHILD IS BEING SEXUALLY ABUSED?
You hope that if your child is abused, the child will tell you or someone
else about the abuse. Yet, children who are being abused often have been
convinced by the abuser that they must not tell anyone about it. A child's
first statements about abuse may be sketchy and incomplete. He may only
hint about the problem. Some abused children may tell friends about the
abuse. A child who is told about or sees abuse in another child may tell
Parents need to be aware of behavioral changes that may signal this
problem. The following symptoms may suggest sexual abuse:
--striking, exceptional fear of a person or certain places,
--an uncalled-for response from a child when the child is asked if he
has been touched by someone,
--unreasonable fear of a physical exam,
--drawings that are scary or use a lot of black and red,
--abrupt change in conduct of any sort,
--sudden awareness of genitals and sexual acts and words, and
--attempts to get other children to perform sexual acts.
Physical signs of abuse include sexually transmitted diseases, such
as gonorrhea or herpes. In an exam, a doctor may notice genital or anal
changes indicative of abuse.
IF MY CHILD REVEALS SEXUAL ABUSE, WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Above all, take it seriously, but stay calm. Many children who report
abuse are not believed. When a child's plea is ignored, she may not risk
telling again. As a result, the child could be victimized for months or
years. Millions of children have had their lives torn apart by ongoing
Make sure you help your child understand that the abuse is not his or
her fault. Give lots of love and comfort. If you are angry, don't let your
child see it--you do not want the child to think the anger is aimed at
her. Let the child know how brave she was to tell you. This is most important
if the child has been abused by a close relative or a family friend. Then,
tell someone yourself. Get help. Talk to your child's doctor, a counselor,
a policeman, a child protective service worker, or a teacher.
CAN I DEAL WITH SEXUAL ABUSE IN MY FAMILY WITHOUT CONTACTING THE
It is difficult for parents to stop sexual abuse without help from experts.
The hard but healthy way to deal with the problem is:
1. Face the issue.
2. Take charge of the situation.
3. Work to avoid future abuse.
4. Discuss it with your pediatrician, who can provide support and counseling.
5. Report abuse to your local child protection service agency and ask
about crisis support help.
Talking about sexual abuse can be very hard for the child who has been
told not to tell by a trusted adult. It can be just as hard for adults
if the abuser is close to them. Still, the abuse should be reported to
your local child protection agency or your doctor. It is the best thing
to do for both the child and the family.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE CHILD AND THE OFFENDER IF SEXUAL ABUSE IS
Cases are checked by the police or a social service agency that looks
into reports of suspected child abuse. With the help of a doctor, the police
or social service will decide whether sexual abuse has taken place. Sometimes,
the police will let social services handle the case. This may occur if
the child is not physically abused and the abuser is a family member. When
a child is abused by a non-family member, the matter is usually handled
by the police.
After the case is reported, what happens depends on the circumstances.
The degree of risk of additional abuse to the child is of first concern
to the authorities. The offender or the entire family may be required to
attend a treatment program. In some cases, the offender may face criminal
charges. If the child's safety is in question, he may be removed from the
home. In any event, the child and family will need a great deal of support
from relatives and friends.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO TO PREVENT SEXUAL ABUSE?
Stay alert to sexual abuse and teach your children what it is. Tell
them they can and should say "No!" or "Stop!" to adults who threaten them
sexually. Make sure your children know that it's OK to tell you about any
attempt to molest them--no matter who the offender is.
The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages you to take the following
--See if your child's school has an abuse prevention program for teachers
and children. If it doesn't, get one started.
--Talk to your child about sexual abuse. A good time to do this is when
your child's school is sponsoring a sexual abuse program.
--Teach your child about the privacy of body parts.
--Listen when your child tries to tell you something, especially when
it seems hard for her to talk about it.
--Give your child enough of your time so that the child will not seek
attention from other adults.
--Know with whom your child is spending time. Be careful about letting
your child spend time in out-of-the-way places with other adults or older
children. Plan to visit your child's caregiver without notice.
--Tell someone in authority if you suspect that your child or someone
else's child is being abused.
Prevention measures to safeguard your children should begin early, since
a number of child abuse cases involve preschoolers. The following guidelines
offer age-appropriate topics to discuss with your children:
--18 months--Teach your child the proper names for body parts.
--3-5 years--Teach your child about private parts of the body and how
to say "no" to sexual advances. Give straightforward answers about sex.
--5-8 years--Discuss safety away from home and the difference between
"good touch" and "bad touch." Encourage your child to talk about scary
--8-12 years--Stress personal safety. Start to discuss rules of sexual
conduct that are accepted by the family.
--13-18 years--Stress personal safety. Discuss rape, date rape, sexually
transmitted diseases, and unintended pregnancy. Your child's teacher, school
counselor, or pediatrician can help you teach your child to avoid sexual
abuse. They know how this can be done without making your child unduly
upset or fearful. For further information on child sexual abuse and other
forms of abuse, write to the National Committee for Prevention of Child
Abuse, P.O. Box 2866, Chicago, IL 60690.
Your pediatrician understands the importance of communication between
parents and children. Your doctor is trained to detect the signs of child
sexual abuse. Ask your pediatrician for advice on ways to protect your
This ERIC digest was adapted from the flyer CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE: WHAT
IT IS AND HOW TO PREVENT IT, copyright 1988 American Academy of Pediatrics.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Heath, Kathleen C., and Donald W. Irvine. "What Educators Need to Know
about Child Abuse." 1988. ERIC Document number ED 303 728.
National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. "Study Findings: Study of
National Incidence and Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect." Washington,
DC, 1988. ERIC Document number ED 310 613.
Or contact the Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect and Family Violence,
P.O. Box 1182, Washington, DC 20013. Phone: 703-821-2086.