You can’t avoid the headlines about sexual assault, these days. Many women and men are coming forward to make their abuse known. But sexual assault is just as likely to happen to a child or adolescent.
Sexual assault is a broad term that can include inappropriate touching, unwanted sexual advances, rape, and a variety of situations that fall somewhere between those categories.
When it comes to children and adolescents, the American Psychological Association says, “most children are abused by someone they know and trust. An estimated 60% of perpetrators are known to the family members; family friends, babysitters, child care providers, and neighbors.”2 Children and adolescents can also be abused by peers.
Parents and caregivers must be alert to the warning signs that a child has been victimized. The signs and signals may be somewhat obvious, such as sudden poor performance in school, disinterest in activities once enjoyed, or a sudden dislike of a certain individual. 2
However, the signs may be much less conspicuous. Stopitnow.org, an organization working to stop the sexual abuse of children, lists the following behaviors as possible symptoms of child or adolescent sexual assault3:
Psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, author of "A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness,” says that, “… letting children know they can tell you [the parent] absolutely anything without worrying about getting in trouble” is paramount to preventing and stopping abuse.2 It is also important to let children know that assault is never their fault.
If you fear your child has been the victim of sexual assault, you can find help in a variety of ways. The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline has a 24-hour hotline (800-656-4673) that provides confidential access to a staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area, as well as information on a variety of services:
Assistance can also be found by visiting your primary care physician or going to an area emergency room.
It doesn’t matter which method you choose to report abuse and treat youth who have been victims of sexual assault, it’s just important to act quickly. Protecting your child and stopping the abuse is your first objective. Treating your youth for the trauma caused by abuse is important for long-term healing.