Sexual Abuse Resources


Sexual abuse: A hidden type of abuse

Sexual abuse is an especially complicated form of abuse because of its layers of guilt and shame. It's important to recognize that sexual abuse doesn't always involve bodily contact. Exposing a child to sexual situations or material is sexually abusive, whether or not touching is involved.

While news stories of sexual predators are scary, what is even more frightening is that sexual abuse usually occurs at the hands of someone the child knows and should be able to trust - most often close relatives. And contrary to what many believe, in's not just girls who are at risk. Boys and girls both suffer from sexual abuse. In fact, sexual abuse of boys may be underreported due to shame and stigma.

The problem of shame and guilt in sexual abuse

Aside from the physical damage that sexual abuse can cause, the emotional component is powerful and far-reaching. Sexually abused people are tormented by shame and guilt. They may feel that they are responsible for the abuse or somehow brought it upon themselves. This can lead to self-loathing and sexual problems as they grow older—often either excessive promiscuity or an inability to have intimate relations.

The shame of sexual abuse makes it very difficult for people to come forward. They may worry that others won't believe them, will be angry with them, or that it will split their family apart. Because of these difficulties, false accusations of sexual abuse are not common, so if a child confides in you, take him or her seriously. Don't turn a blind eye!

What Is Sexual Abuse?

There is no universal definition of child sexual abuse. However, a central characteristic of any abuse is the dominant position of an adult that allows him or her to force or coerce a child into sexual activity. Child sexual abuse may include fondling a child's genitals, masturbation, oral-genital contact, digital penetration, and vaginal and anal intercourse. Child sexual abuse is not solely restricted to physical contact; such abuse could include noncontact abuse, such as exposure, voyeurism, and child pornography. Abuse by peers also occurs.

The impact of sexual abuse can range from no apparent effects to very severe ones. Typically, children who experience the most serious types of abuse—abuse involving family members and high degrees of physical force—exhibit behavior problems ranging from separation anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder. However, children who are the victims of sexual abuse are also often exposed to a variety of other stressors and difficult circumstances in their lives, including parental substance abuse. The sexual abuse and its aftermath may be only part of the child's negative experiences and subsequent behaviors. Therefore, correctly diagnosing abuse is often complex. Conclusive physical evidence of sexual abuse is relatively rare in suspected cases. For all of these reasons, when abuse is suspected, an appropriately trained health professional should be consulted.


Behavioral Indicators of Sexual Abuse in Adolescents

1)   Sexualized behavior 

2)   Running away, especially in a child normally not a behavioral problem

3)   Drug and alcohol abuse

4)   Suicidal gestures or attempts

5)   Self-mutilation

6)   Extreme hositlity toward a parent or caretaker

7)   Parentified behavior (pseudo-mature, acts like a small parent)

8)   Self-conscious behavior

9)   Wearing multiple layers of clothing, especially to bed

10) Eating disorder 

11) Nightmares and other sleeping problems

12) Constant fear or anxiety

13) Delinquent behavior

14) School problems 

15) Defiance or compliance to an extreme

16) Friends tend to be older

Professionals and loved ones must calmly listen to anyone who shows signs of sexual abuse.  Most of all they need the safety and security that an atmosphere of quiet encouragement can foster.  When people sense that parents or helpers will react negatively to the truth, they will keep their "secrets" to themselves.