If there’s anything that gives parents sleepless nights, it’s the thought that their child might experience some form of abuse. The long-term emotional and psychological problems resulting from sexual abuse can be devastating and almost always require psychological treatment to undo the damage. What can you do if you suspect your child is being abused? And better yet, what can be done to prevent it from happening? These questions are addressed below.
What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse involves any sexual activity with a child where consent is not or cannot be given. This includes (a) sexual contact that is accomplished by force or threat of force, regardless of the age of the participants, and (b) all sexual contact between an adult and a child, regardless of whether or not the child understands the sexual nature of the activity. The sexually abusive acts may include sexual penetration, sexual touching, or noncontact sexual acts such as exposure or voyeurism (for example, ogling the child’s body or showing a child pornography).
How common is child sexual abuse?
Many people, including psychologists and psychiatrists, used to think that sexual abuse of children was quite rare. We now know that is not the case. Research summarized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates the following:
What about sexual abuse in youth sports?
As well-publicized events involving coaches suggest, parents and sport administrators must be vigilant because the tiny minority of abusers who find their way into youth sport positions can do untold damage.
What are some guidelines for parents?
1. Parents can reduce the likelihood of abuse by educating their children about what is and is not permissible adult behavior. Even young children can understand the “swim suit rule” that it’s never OK for an adult to touch the child in the areas covered by a swim suit.
2. Parents should be attentive to sudden changes in their child’s behavior that may reflect a traumatic event. This may include one or more of the following red flags:
3. If you suspect that abuse has occurred, or if your child tells you he or she has been sexually abused, take immediate action. How parents react is critical to resolving the problem and helping to heal the trauma of sexual abuse. The American Psychological Association provides the following guidelines:
4. Parents should consult with their family doctor or pediatrician. Your doctor may refer the child to a medical specialist in evaluating and treating sexual abuse. The specialist will conduct a physical examination and treat any physical damage from the abuse, gather evidence concerning the abuse, and provide reassurance to the child.
5. Parents should not take vengeance on the perpetrator. Instead, you should immediately report the situation to the local police or district attorney’s office. Reports (and the identity of those making them) are confidential and people who report possible or actual abuse in good faith are immune from prosecution. The agency will investigate the abuse and take action to protect your child and, given evidence of abuse, prosecute the offender.
Do you want to learn more about parenting young athletes?
The Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports is a research-based video that emphasizes skill development, achieving personal and team success, giving maximum effort, and having fun. To access the video, go to the Youth Enrichment in Sports website.