- Recognizing Sexual Abuse in Children
- And What to Do About it
- Excerpts from a presentation to
- August 28, 2001, Nassau, Bahamas
- Complied & Presented By Barrington
What is Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse is making someone do sexual things against their will,
physically attacking the sexual parts of a personís body, or treating
someone like a sex object.
Sexual abuse is any misuse of a child for sexual pleasure or gratification.
It has the potential to interfere with a childís normal, healthy
development, both emotionally and physically.
Sexual abuse is a violation perpetrated by a person who holds, or is
perceived to hold, power of someone who is vulnerable. They abuse may have
physical, verbal and emotional components. It includes sexual violations as
rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, incest, sexual molestation. The
person experiences sexual activity that is neither wanted nor agreed to.
Types of Sexual Abuse
Verbal Sexual Abuse Consists of remarks
including threats, innuendoes, comments about a personís body,
solicitation, harassment, coarse jesting, inappropriate sexual talking and
sexual name calling. Any verbal expression with intent to arouse or
Visual Sexual Abuse Includes
voyeurism, exhibitionism, viewing of pornographic material, of genitals, or of
any sexual activity such as masturbation or intercourse.
Physical Sexual Abuse Any inappropriate
form of touching from hugging to rape. Rubbing, holding, and kissing for the
purpose of sexual gratification are examples.
Incest Imposition of sexual
inappropriate acts, or acts with sexual overtones, by or any use of a minor
child to meet the sexual or sexual/emotional needs of one or more persons who
derive authority through ongoing emotional bonding with that child.
Which type of sexual abuse is more
prevalent in the Bahamas?
Broad Categories of Sexual Abuse
What Do I Look For?
Younger Children: Compulsive
masturbation, Bed-wetting, soiling, excessive curiosity about sex, altered sleep
patterns, learning problems, separation anxiety, overly compulsive behavior,
developing fears and phobias, sexual acting out with peers, becoming nonverbal,
developing tension symptoms - stomach aches, skin disorders, becoming
Early Teens: Stealing, running away,
starting fires, excessive bathing, being withdrawn and passive, girls pulling up
skirts, sexual inference in school artwork, teaching other how to masturbate,
becoming aggressive toward peers, succumbing to periods of deep depression.
Falling grades, alcohol or drug abuse.
Older Teenagers: Suicide attempts, early
marriage, running away, pregnancy, substances abuse, getting in trouble with the
Physical Indicators: Bruises or bleeding
in external genitalia, complains of pain or itching in genitalia, difficulty in
sitting or walking; torn, stained or blooding underclothing; sexually
transmitted diseases; pregnancy, especially in early adolescence.
The Counselorís Attitude
- Educate yourself
- Be alert - hyper vigilant
- Listen and believe
- Be professionally confidential
- Act quickly - do not forget, ignore, or minimize
- Use professional resources available - Agencies, videos, books,
What to Do If You Suspect Sexual Abuse
Health providers, teachers, school counselors can identify individuals who
have been victims of sexual abuse by including questions about abuse in health
If you suspect sexual abuse:
Provide an opportunity for the child to speak
Say in a calm, matter-of-fact manner something like:
"Is there something you want to tell me?"
"Are you having a problem and need help?"
"When something feels bad inside, it's okay to talk about it.í
If the student says "I have something to tell you but you have to
promise me not to tell anyone," your response could be:
"___________, since I care about you, I can only promise to help
you. I may have to ask someone else to help us."
Listen carefully; do not pressure
or prompt the child by asking questions. Allow him/her to speak at his/her
If the child chooses not to communicate after you have waited a
sufficient amount of time, you can say something like,
"_______________, I want you to be okay. If you ever want to
talk about anything, just let me know. Or, you may write me a note if
Do not express anger, shock, or disgust if a child tells you about
being molested because he or she may mistakenly interpret your emotions as
directed toward him/her.
Since a child rarely lies about sexual abuse, take the situation
Show acceptance support and caring, but do not touch the sexual abuse
victim unless you first ask permission
Commend the child for telling you about the abuse and offer reassurance
that he or she did the right thing.
Help the child know that it was not his/her fault. Say "Iím
sorry it happened, but remember, t was not your fault. . . ."
Reflect the feelings and information you hear, making sure your facial
expressions match what the child is saying. Here are examples:
"It was scary to have a bigger person threaten to hurt you or
"It was confusing to have someone you care about tell you to do
something that did not feel right."
"You tried to tell your mom, but she got mad and didnít
believe you, so you didnít think anyone else would believe you
Be truthful when responding to any question.
However, do not make promises you cannot keep. For example you could say:
"I am not sure what will happen, but I will be here for you at
Follow the school procedure based on our legal system standard for
reporting abuse. Tell the child the next step you will take. You can say:
"I will call a person whose job it is to keep abused children safe.
The person will come to listen to you. Then you will be asked some
questions. You must answer them truthfully. Can you do that?"
If the child says "Yes," reinforce the decision by saying,
"Good, That is exactly what you need to do to keep yourself
If you sense that the child is unsure, you could say,
"___________, you have been hurt and if you donít tell about what
happened, this person may hurt others. Do you think you can tell the truth
when you answer the questions?
As soon as possible report the conversation to
the appropriate authority.
Keep the meeting with the child confidential; do not mention it
to anyone who is not professionally involved
Treat the child normally at school, showing
the same respect and caring you show every student. Help the
child meet his/her basic psychological needs to feel accepted, safe,
secure, and sense of belonging. Validate the student by noticing and
commenting on her/his positive attributes.
Make sure there is follow through and that the
child receives support and assistance.
Complied by Barrington Brennen