Child sexual abuse is the engagement of an underage person (any one who is below the age of 18) in a sexual activity, such as kissing, sexual intercourse (including oral and anal sex), touching a child’s private body parts, making a child to view pornographic materials or act in pornographic materials, engaging a child in sexually explicit conversations, indecent exposure to a child, making a child to strip or making a child to touch someone’s private body parts.
Who are the Perpetrators of Child Sexual Abuse?
About 90% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are people who are familiar to the child, such as relatives, friends of the family, neighbours, domestic assistants, peers, teachers, guardians and parents in some cases.
Every child is vulnerable to sexual abuse irrespective of their level of intelligence because children are ordinarily impressionable. Both boys and girls can be sexually abused. Children can be sexually abused not only by people of the opposite sex but also by people of the same sex with them. Children can be sexually abused by their age mates. They can also be sexually abused by those who are younger than them, if the younger peers already have sexual knowledge or experience (through sexual abuse) and are able to influence or intimidate them to engage in sexual activities.
How do Perpetrators Achieve their Goals?
Perpetrators usually employ intimidation, sedation and sometimes grooming which involves the use of baits, false display of affection towards the child and gradual exposure of the child to sexual activities. Most sexually abused children do not disclose their abuse because the perpetrators usually compel them to keep the abuse secret, either by threatening to harm them or their loved ones or by making them to take an oath of secrecy.
How would a Parent know if a Child has been Sexually Abused?
Some of the indications that a child may have been sexually abused include unusual withdrawal, anger outbursts, depression, nightmares, possession of sex toys or contraceptives, injury especially around the genital area, contraction of sexually transmitted infections, display of age inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviour, possession of money or other valuables that the child cannot explain and unreasonable fear or avoidance of certain places or persons. However, these indications do not automatically mean that a child has been sexually abused, rather, they are danger signals that call for investigation.
The Effects of Child Sexual Abuse :
- Sexual abuse accounts for many social, health, emotional and psychological problems among young people. In 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared child sexual abuse as the major factor fueling the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) among young people and therefore declared it a “Silent Killer”. Other physical effects of sexual abuse include damage to the productive organs, unplanned pregnancy, abortion, eating disorders, psychosomatic Symptoms and vesico, vagina fistula (VVF).
The psychological and emotional consequences of sexual abuse on a child include anxiety attacks, depression, loneliness, feelings of humiliation, helplessness, loss of control, hostility, anger outburst, mood swings, self- pity, loss of enthusiasm, distorted body image and self- rejection, low self-esteem, phobia, insomnia, amnesia, emotional paralysis, grief, trauma, post -traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide ideation. Sexually abused children may develop maladaptive behaviours such as oppositional defiant disorder(ODD) and paranoid behaviour. Sexual abuse could awaken children’s sexual urge and make them sexually active at an early age. This early sexual activity could lead to addiction to sex, pornograhy and or masturbation. Consequently, they may also become abusers as they may introduce other children into sexual activities.
About (67%) of young people in treatment for substance abuse have been sexually abused (Childhelp, 2012).
The anxiety and loss of concentration which result from sexual abuse inhibit a victim’s learning, thereby inhibiting their academic achievement. (Hunt & Ellis, 2007; Scientific American, in Prevent Abuse Now, 2012). As earlier stated, most abused young persons keep silent about their abuse. This implies that they repress such a traumatizing experience. Meanwhile, researchers such as Whitefield (1987) lament that this repression of painful feelings blocks their mental, emotional and spiritual development.
Child sexual abuse affects the victim’s family. Depression, trauma and feelings of guilt are often reported among relatives of victims of child sexual abuse. When injury, a pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases result from sexual abuse, the victim’s family is confronted by an additional financial burden. When the perpetrator is a family member, the family has to deal with the embarrassment of incest. The society inevitably suffers from child sexual abuse. About 30% of sexually abused children also abuse other children sexually (Childhelp, 2012). Relatedly, Holmes (1998) opines that when sexually abused boys are not treated, the society must later deal with the resulting problems including suicide, drug abuse and more sexual abuse.
Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse:
Survivors of child sexual abuse, especially where sexual intercourse is involved, need medical and psychological treatments as well as legal intervention. The medical treatment helps to treat physical injury, test for or prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STD.s prophylaxis) and also helps with evidence for the perpetrator’s prosecution.
The psychological treatment is aimed at providing emotional support, providing a safe atmosphere for the victim to unburden, helping the child to cope with, heal and recover from trauma as well as facilitating reintegration. It is also important to equip sexually abused children with protective skills to enable them avoid revictimization.
Legal intervention also plays a vital role in the healing process of sexually abused children. This will be discussed in the second part of this discourse.
How can Parents Prevent Child Sexual Abuse?
In order to prevent child sexual abuse, young people should be informed about child sexual abuse and how to avoid it. It is important that children are adequately supervised, provided for and protected against situations that could increase their vulnerability to sexual abuse, such as child trafficking and child labour. Children should be taught that they have rights over their bodies and equipped with assertiveness skills to be able to assert such rights. They should be taught how to set personal boundaries, protect their private body parts and respect others’ private body parts. Teaching children to use proper names for private body parts makes it easy for them to report attempts of sexual abuse. Parents should set rules on body boundaries and communicate same to their children’s caregivers at home and at school- let them know how much body contact they can have with your child and what is not acceptable. It is essential for parents to encourage open communication with their children because it makes it easy for children to ask questions and express their perceptions on issues relating to sexuality and consequently access parental guidance. This enhances their protective skills.
Dr. Rosemary Oshiomah Ogedengbe.
Learn more from the book: How to Protect Young People Against Sexual Abuse and Risky Sexual Behaviours by Rosemary Oshiomah Ogedengbe.
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