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What It Is and How To Prevent It

To report suspected child abuse, call the New York State Child Abuse Hotline at 800 342 3720.

Sexual abuse of children is a harsh fact of life in our society. It is more common than most people realize. Some surveys say at least 1 out of 5 adult women and 1 out of 10 adult men report having been sexually abused in childhood.

What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse is any sexual act with a child performed by an adult or an older child. This might be fondling the child's genitals; getting the child to fondle an adult's genitals; mouth to genital contact; rubbing an adult's genitals on the child; or actually penetrating the child's vagina or anus.

Other forms of abuse can also occur that are not as easy to detect. These include showing an adult's genitals to a child, showing the child pornographic or "dirty" pictures or videotapes, or using the child as a model to make pornographic materials.

Could my child be sexually abused? By whom?
Boys and girls are abused in this way most often by adults or older children who are known to them and who can exert power over them. The victim knows the offender in 8 out of 10 reported cases. The offender is often an authority figure whom the child trusts or loves. The offender persuades, bribes, tricks, or coerces the child to engage in sex or sexual acts.

How would I know if my child is being sexually abused?
You hope that your son or daughter would tell you or someone else about it. Yet, children who are being abused often have been convinced or threatened by the abuser that they must not tell anyone about it. A child's first statements about abuse may be vague and incomplete. He may just hint about the problem. Some abused children may tell their friends about it, who may then tell an adult. Many children tell about abuse after a personal safety program is held at their school. Sometimes parents may have suspicions about abuse. Parents need to be aware of the following behavioral changes in their child; these may signal sexual abuse:

Noticeable fear of a person or certain places
Unusual or unexpected response from the child when asked if she was touched by someone
Unreasonable fear of a physical exam
Drawings that show sexual acts
Abrupt changes in behavior, such as bedwetting or losing control of his bowels
Sudden awareness of genitals and sexual acts and words
Attempting to get other children to perform sexual acts

What should I do if my child tells me he/she is being sexually abused?
the most important point is to take what your child says seriously. Many children who report sexual abuse are not believed. When a child's plea for help is ignored, he may not risk telling again. As a result, the child could remain a victim of abuse for months or years.

Listen to your child's explanation for disclosing the abuse. Make sure you report the abuse and help your child to understand that the abuse is not his or her fault. Give lots of love, comfort, and reassurance. If you are angry, make sure you let your child know you're not angry with him. Let your child know how brave he was to tell you and that you understand how frightened and scared he feels. This is most important if the child has been abused by a close relative or family friend. Then, tell someone yourself and get help. Talk to your child's pediatrician, a counselor, a police officer, a child protective service worker, or a teacher.

Can I try to stop the sexual abuse myself? Do I have to contact the authorities?
If the abuser is a friend or family member, you may be tempted to try and solve the problem yourself. However, when parents try to stop sexual abuse themselves, they will almost always be unsuccessful. The hard but healthy way to deal with this problem is:

Face the issue
Take charge of the situation
Work to avoid future abuse
Discuss it with your pediatrician, who can provide support and counseling
Report abuse to your local child protection service agency and ask about crisis support help

Talking about sexual abuse can be very hard for the child who has been told not to tell by a trusted adult. It can be just as hard for adults if the abuser is close to them. Still, the abuse should be reported to your local child protection agency or your doctor. It is the best thing to do for both the child and the family.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics online medical library at: http://www.medem.com/MedLB/article_detaillb.cfm?article_ID=ZZZ1LW3YA7C&sub_cat=348 http://www.medem.com/MedLB/article_detaillb.cfm?article_ID=ZZZ7PP1YA7C&sub_cat=355