Recognizing and Reporting Sexual Abuse

This is super heavy content, but we must all play our part in keeping children safe. –Krystle K


by Jenna Anne | guest writer for The Snap Mom

In the United States, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused by the age of 18. NINE out of 10 children are abused by someone they know, and 68% of the time the abuser is a family member. The first confession a child close to me made about her sexual abuse was the hardest thing I have ever experienced. It took every ounce of courage I had to remain composed and show no emotions. I allowed her to talk to me like she was telling me a story. She, like most children, did not realize what was happening to her was abuse, but because of what she shared with me, she is now safe and her abuser is being brought to justice.

If you feel a child is a victim of abuse, it is hard to know what to do or how to respond. Child sexual abuse is a serious crime that often goes undetected. If you feel a child is being abused, you have the responsibility and power to make a difference in a child’s life.
Sexual abuse is classified as touching a child’s private parts, a child touching someone else’s genitals, sexual intercourse, watching sexual activity, showing pornography to a child, exposing genitals to a child, photographing a child in a sexual manner, or inappropriately watching a child undress or use the bathroom.

1. Recognize the signs

You may notice behavioral or physical changes that are a clue the child is being abused.
Behavioral signs: thumb sucking, refusing to bathe or bathing excessively, nightmares, acting out sexual behaviors, adult-like knowledge of sex, changes in eating habits, skipping school or running away, personality changes (a normally friendly or outgoing child may become shy and quiet), acting seductively toward peers, masturbating excessively, fearful of particular places or people, over aggressiveness, cries easily, low self worth.
Physical signs: Bruising or swelling in their private area, tears or blood on undergarments, complaints of pain, itching or irritation in the private area, difficulty walking or sitting, presence of an STD.

2. Talk to The Child

If you are concerned a child is being abused, talk to them.
Timing and Location: Do not talk to the child in front of the person who may be causing them harm, pick a non-threatening environment where the child may feel more comfortable opening up.
Approach: Do not use a serious tone that will scare the child. If the child feels threatened or like they are in trouble, they may only tell you what they think you want to hear. Keep the conversation casual, and ask open ended questions that will help the child explain details rather than yes/no questions. Avoid all judgements or blame, and make sure the child knows that they are not in trouble.

Patience is key: Talking about their abuse may be very scary. They may have been told by their abuser not to talk about this with anyone, or that it is a “secret.” The child’s may feel unsure and uncomfortable.

3. Report It

Reporting sexual abuse is the only way to protect the child.
Call your local police department or the Child Abuse Hotline in your area. If you are unsure who to call the Child Welfare Information Gateway will tell you how to make a report in your area (800) 422-4453

4. Things to remember

Make sure the child is in a safe place. If you have a concern for the child’s safety, be sure to let the authorities know when you make the report. If you feel the abuser will cause more harm to the child after learning they have been reported make sure you clearly communicate that to the police.
Be prepared to identify the child, address, relationship to the child and details about the abuse.
You may report anonymously, however, giving your information increases the chances the abuser will be prosecuted.

5. After you report

The most important thing to remember is that by reporting the abuse you are helping to keep a child safe. Investigations take time. You may receive an update or a call back depending on your location and state laws. If you are able, continue to support the child. Reporting abuse can be emotionally draining; you must also take care of yourself. Keep in mind that what you have reported is personal information that should not be shared with anyone else.

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