Saturday, April 14, 2007

What YOU Should Know About Sexual Abuse

Before anyone can help put a stop to childhood sexual abuse, we need to know exactly what it is. So here is some information about sexual abuse.

What is sexual abuse?
Any time an adult involves a child, adolescent or teenager in any sort of sexual activity, it is sexual abuse. Also, a teenager, adolescent or older child involving a younger child in a sexual activity can be sexual abuse.
Touching a child's genitals, anus, or breasts, (other than for a medical reason), or having a child touch someone else's genitals, anus, or breasts, is sexual abuse.
But sexual abuse doesn't have to include touching. It also includes showing pornography to a child, exposing oneself to a child, having a child watch someone else's sexual acts, or watching a child undress or use the bathroom without the child's permission. (For instance, helping a 5-year-old get undressed for a bath would not be abuse, but peeking at the child through the keyhole for one's own pleasure while the child undresses for a bath would be abuse.)
And using a child for prostitution purposes, or filming or photographic a child for pornographic purposes, is not only sexual abuse, but sexual exploitation as well.

Why would anyone sexually abuse a child?
There are people in this world who are sexually attracted to children. Some of these people never act on these feelings and never abuse a child. However, some do act on these feelings.

However, some people sexually abuse children not for sexual gratification, but for the feeling of power. They may have seemingly normal sexual relationships with adult partners, but long for a feeling of control, which they think they can have over children.

Some people who were sexually abused when they themselves were children will become perpetrators of sexual abuse themselves. But most children who were sexually abused do not grow up to be perpetrators.

And some people truly believe that what they are doing is OK, and that it is a way of showing their love for the children. Some even believe the children enjoy it.

What Types Of People Sexually Abuse Children?
Most perpetrators of sexual abuse are people who the abused children knows well. Parents, relatives, child care providers, coaches, even older children, can be sexual abusers. "Strangers" can also be abusers, of course, but if a person wants to sexually abuse a child, he or she can more easily access a child who already knows and trusts him or her, rather than a random child on the street. Sexual abusers are usually men, but can also be women. They can be gay or straight. A man who sexually abuses a boy is not necessarily gay, nor is a woman who abuses a girl.

Then, how can we tell whether to be suspicious of someone?
You don't have to be suspicious of everyone in your life. But there are definitely some red flags to look out for.
For instance, a person who does not seem to respect others' boundaries... say, a person who insists on hugging, kissing or tickling a child even if the child protests, or a person who manages to even make the adults in the room uncomfortable.
Certainly, a person who makes sexual jokes or tells sexual stories in front of children, or exposes children to sexual interactions. (Say, a man has sex with his girlfriend, with the door open, while his 9-year-old niece is watching TV in the next room.)
A person who spends a lot of inappropriate time with children or teenagers. For instance, an adult who invites teens over to his or her house and shares alcohol or drugs with them, a person who frequently emails, instant messages or text messages a child, etc.
A person who seems overly interested in a child's sexual maturation. For instance, a person who often talks about or points out an adolescent girl's budding breasts or wonders whether she's gotten her period yet, or a person who gets overly upset about a child having boyfriends or girlfriends of the child's own age.
A person who encourages children to keep secrets from other adults. Once in a while a person may say something like, "Don't tell your mom I let you have this ice cream cone before lunch!" but a person who frequently insists that a child keep secrets may be training a child to keep bigger secrets somewhere down the road.
Definitely, A person who looks at child pornography!
A person who has sexual fantasies about children and doesn't seem to know that that is inappropriate... or a person who asks his adult partner to dress or act like a child for sexual purposes!

Remember, most people are not sexual abusers! You do not have to become paranoid about letting anyone, including your best friend or your siblings, spend time with your children. But if you are armed with information about sexual abuse, when the situation arises or the wrong person does come along, you will know what to be aware of.

For more information on childhood sexual abuse, you can go to Stop It Now!

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