24 Hour Crisis Resource Hotline 334.263.0218

Addressing Child Sexual Abuse: Recognizing, Responding, and Healing

As parents, guardians, and caregivers, our responsibility is to safeguard our children, creating a world where they feel safe, nurtured, and loved. Yet, despite our best efforts, the grim reality persists: 1 in 10 children will experience sexual abuse before they reach the age of 18. In the United States alone, over 700,000 children are victims of sexual assault each year. These numbers are not just statistics; they represent real children whose lives are forever altered by the trauma they endure.

Even more heartbreaking is that the greatest risk to our children often comes from within our circle of trust. Approximately 90% of sexually abused children know their abuser, and even more distressing, 30% of these victims suffer at the hands of a family member. To echo the poignant words of The Offspring: “The kids are not alright.”

How do I recognize if my child has been sexually abused?

Recognizing the signs of child sexual abuse can be challenging. Children and teenagers often struggle to disclose their abuse due to fear, shame, or confusion. Depending on their age, they may not fully understand what has happened to them or may lack the vocabulary to accurately detail their experiences. However, there are some common emotional and behavioral reactions that children who have experienced trauma may have. These include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • An increase in nightmares and/or other sleeping difficulties
  • Change in eating habits.
    Increased anger or aggression
  • Not wanting to be left alone with a particular individual(s)
  • Sexual knowledge, language, and/or behaviors that are inappropriate for the child’s age
  • Sudden reactivity to physical touch
  • Persistent or recurring pain during urination or bowel movements
  • Wetting or soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training
How should I respond if my child tells me they have (or are currently being) sexually abused?

The most important thing that you, as a parent, can do for your child is to create a safe and supportive environment where they can feel comfortable discussing their feelings and experiences without fear of judgment or retaliation. Believing your child is the key; their faith in disclosing the abuse to you should be taken seriously and without any hesitation.

Make sure your child knows that they did the right thing by disclosing the abuse to you and place responsibility for it on the perpetrator. If the abuser is someone you know or are close to, your child may feel guilty about revealing the abuse, or they may fear that their abuser will hurt you or other members of your family as punishment. Reassure your child that you will take all the steps necessary to keep them and other family members safe from any retaliation.

As uncomfortable as it may make them, your child will need medical attention and counseling services to address the physical and emotional trauma they have endured. If left untreated, the abuse can have a long-term negative effect on your child’s health and wellbeing, including chronic health problems, PTSD, mental health issues, and substance misuse in adulthood. It can also negatively impact education and job opportunities.

As parents and caregivers, it’s also important to take care of ourselves during these challenging circumstances. Feelings of anger, fear, and guilt are common reactions, but seeking counseling and support can help us navigate these emotions and develop safety plans for our families.

Child sexual abuse is a heartbreaking reality for far too many children. By recognizing the signs, responding with compassion and determination, and prioritizing the wellbeing of our children above all else, we can create safer environments where they can flourish without fear. Let us stand together, ensuring that every child knows they are believed, cherished, and empowered to speak out against abuse.

If you are concerned that your child has suffered from sexual abuse, help is available through our 24/7 Crisis Resource Hotline at 334.263.0218 or 800.650.6522. (Collect calls are accepted). There is never a cost to you for our services.

Click here to learn about the The CARES (Children Advancing Through Recovery and Empowerment Services) Project which provides counseling proven to effectively address symptoms of PTSD, depression, anxiety, sexualized behaviors, and feelings of shame and mistrust often displayed in children exposed to trauma.

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Need Help? Call us at 334.263.0218
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You can leave this website quickly by clicking the orange “click to escape” in the left right corner or by pressing the Escape key twice.

Family Sunshine Center wants you to know that your browser history may be monitored without your knowledge. Remember to clear your browser history after visiting this website.

Need Help? Call us at 334.263.0218
(collect calls accepted)