Teen Angst

Helping adolescents deal with anger and other emotions effectively

Has Your Teen Been Sexually Assaulted?

The Psychological Signs of Sexual Abuse

The sexual allegations against Penn State's former defensive football coordinator Jerry Sandusky continue to surface. And what about the sexual abuse investigation of the former associate head basketball coach at Syracuse Bernie Fine?  Where did all of this come from?  If the allegations prove true, how did they go undetected, unreported, and under the radar for so long?  Didn't someone, anyone, see the signs?

Well, sad to say, it's not as uncommon as you may think for sexual abuse to go unnoticed. Did you know that sexual assaults are one of the most under reported crimes? According to Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) and The Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 1 out of 5 boys and 1 out of 3 girls will be sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday. Of those assaults, 34.3% were family members, 58.7% were acquaintances and only 7% were strangers. So, the vast majority of sexual assaults occur with people the teen knows and trusts. Scary isn't it?

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The National Crime Victimization Survey reported that in 2008 victims age 12 or older experienced about 203,830 rapes or sexual assaults. About 6.1% children and teens up to age 17 were victims of a sexual assault. Also approximately 28% of 14-17 year olds in the US had been sexually victimized. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these teens don't report it to an adult. Males are the least likely to report a sexual assault. So, why are these teens so reluctant to speak out? Remember, the majority of these crimes are committed by someone the teen knows and trusts. Plus, they may be ashamed, afraid they'll get into trouble, or they may have even been threatened.

So, how do you know if you're teen has been victimized? First and foremost, keep the lines of communication open and supportive. Let your teen know that they can tell you anything and that you will not judge them. Let them know that you're there to help. Establishing supportive communication early will help your teen feel comfortable letting you into their life. Second, be wary of any adult who hangs out with your teen more than you do. It's better to be suspicious and error on the side of caution, so don't be afraid to ask questions.  There are also some behavioral signs that your teen may exhibit.

These include but are not limited to:

Extreme agitation
Anger outbursts
Depression
Sleep problems
Problems in school
Withdrawal from friends and family
Disengagement in activities
Poor hygiene
Stress
Anxiety
Nightmares
Increased levels of fear
Decreased self-esteem

Also, sexual abuse may manifest itself in more risk taking behaviors. Many of these teens have shattered self esteem and they may engage in impulsive and dangerous behaviors. Sexually abused teens are at an increased risk of:
Drug/Alcohol Use
Pregnancy
Promiscuity
Sexually Transmitted Disease
Suicide Attempts
Eating Disorders
Running Away

If you suspect that your teen is a victim of a sexual crime reach out to your teen with love and support. Next, call the authorities and file a report. Lastly, get help immediately. The psychological damage that sexual crimes cause is monumental. Teens need to learn how to let go of the guilt that they may feel and learn to cope with the traumatic experience. Trained professionals can assist with this process. Additionally, parents may need some counseling as well to let go of the guilt for not knowing what happened and the anger they feel towards the perpetrator. There are directories that will assist you in locating a counselor in your area.


Additional Resources:

Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)
http://www.rainn.org

Safety Tips for Parents from Childhelp:
http://www.childhelp.org
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD®
Family Watchdog - use this free website to determine just how close you live to a registered sex offender.
http://www.familywatchdog.us 

Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, M.S., L.P.C., is the author of The Anger Workbook for Teens.

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