9 Tips to Recognize Child Sexual Abuse
During the final weeks of school last year, my phone rang a lot. It seems a local teacher here in New York City had been arrested on charges of child pornography. Parents and the school administration were very concerned that a pedophile may have been in close proximity to their children. Unfortunately, as a specialist in child sexual abuse, I am often contacted after a problem arises. People have questions - How do I talk to my child about this? How do I know if something has happened to my child? In the wake of frightening headlines, it is difficult to have a discussion in a calm manner, one which won't be upsetting to your child. I advise parents to discuss body safety before there is an incident that causes alarm. If your child is 3-8 years old, the children's book I wrote, My Body Belongs to Me, can be a useful tool in having this discussion.
In the meantime, here is an excerpt provided by the Canadian Center for Child Protection to help you detect child sexual abuse. You should be aware that it is very common for a child not to exhibit outward signs of sexual abuse and this list should be used only as a guide.
What is concerning behavior?
(particularly regarding children 12 years and under)
It is important to pay attention to changes in a child's behavior - children communicate how they are feeling through their behavior. If you notice any of the behavior below from a child, do not automatically conclude s/he has been victimized - this may be one of several possibilities. Rather, provide support and assistance to help figure out what is causing the child's distressing symptoms.
1. Advanced sexual knowledge The child has sexual knowledge beyond her/his level of development. This may include information about certain smells, sounds, tastes, and/or visual details of sexual activity.
2. Sexualized behavior The child acts out explicit sexual behavior. This could be with toys, peers or adults. The child masturbates excessively, and does not respond to limits placed on her/his behavior.
3. Withdrawn/Depressed The child becomes increasingly withdrawn. S/he resists playing with usual friends and withdraws from activities previously enjoyed.
4. Decline in school performance The child's performance at school declines and her/his grades drop.
5. Distressed around a particular adult The child shows distress or resistance to spend time with a particular adult.
6. Excessively seeks time with a particular adult The child excessively seeks time with a specific adult, as s/he is given extra attention, gifts or privileges.
7. Aggressive The child seems agitated and acts out aggressively towards others (e.g. yelling, hitting, putting others down).
8. Self-destructive The child is physically harming her/himself and sharing feelings indicating a lack self-worth (e.g. I wish I was dead, I shouldn't be alive, what's the point in living?).
9. Physical symptoms The child shows physical signs of abuse in the genital region (e.g. pain, bleeding, discharge).
(Excerpt from www.protectchildren.ca/pdfs/itsyourbusiness_en.pdf)
Statistics show that 93% of all child sexual abuse occurs at the hands of someone known to a child. With so much abuse occurring in the home, it is important that schools are talking to children about body safety. This summer I was interviewed regarding this subject for The Metro UK. http://www.metro.co.uk/lifestyle/873921-finding-the-courage-to-spea...
Is your child's school providing these important lessons? Let us hear from you. Find out if your child's school has a program to teach child sexual abuse prevention and if so how comprehensive it is. Is it age appropriate? Email me at info@MyBodyBelongstoMe.com and let me know what you learn.
Jill Starishevsky is a mother of three and a prosecutor of child abuse and sex crimes in New York City. In October 2006, Jill launched HowsMyNanny.com to support parents and their children. HowsMyNanny.com is the first online nanny reporting service that works to keep children safe by enabling parents to receive positive or negative feedback on their child's caregiver. Jill is also the author of "My Body Belongs to Me", a children's book intended to prevent child sexual abuse by teaching children that their bodies are their own. http://www.MyBodyBelongstoMe.com