Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as abuse or exposure to violence can have significant and far-reaching impacts on children and adolescents, especially when the form of abuse is sexual in nature. In the state of Idaho, 23% of adults have had four or more ACEs, while 65% of adults have had at least one ACE. Of the various types of ACEs experienced by Idaho adults, 13.9% were touched sexually, 10% were made to touch someone else sexually, and 4.9% were forced to have sex. According to statistics based on confirmed reports, an American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds, and every 9 minutes the victim is a child. Unfortunately, many victims of sexual abuse do not disclose and research shows that it is a far more widespread issue than statistics can account for. In the US and Europe, 1/5-1/3 of females report having had a childhood sexual experience with a male adult.
What is Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse happens when sexual acts are carried out against the will of a child, or with the child’s consent, as children are unable to give consent for sex. This may be done using violence, tricking or manipulating the child. Sexual abuse also happens when there is a large age difference between a minor and an older person in a sexual relationship, or when the partner of the minor is in a position of authority over them, or a caretaker.
Half of all incidents of sexual abuse toward a female victim occur in the home, as do 10-20% of cases with boys. Typically, most offenders of reported cases of sexual abuse are males, with 14-40% of offenders being women abusing a boy, and 6% a woman abusing another female. 82% of sexual offenders are known by their victims. 57% of sexual abuse involves incest with a sibling while 90% of incest cases involving a nuclear family member involve siblings.
Males are far less likely to disclose sexual abuse than females due to the nature of their socialization. Many males are conditioned to feel appreciative, flattered, or happy to have sexual attention, or may fear losing some of their freedoms or independence. Those who are abused by a same-sex perpetrator may feel less inclined to speak out about it due to the fear of the stigma surrounding the abuse.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
It is not always possible to detect sexual abuse physically. Depending on the nature of the abuse, the duration of it, the frequency, and the resiliency of the victim, the impacts of it will vary from one individual to another.
- One of the biggest indicators that someone has experienced sexual abuse will be the inappropriate expression of sexual behavior, interest in, or knowledge of sex.
- Other signs of sexual abuse include low self-esteem, withdrawal from school or social activities, lack of interest in things once enjoyed, self-harm, and a sudden decline in academic performance.
- A victim may also engage in developmentally regressive behaviors such as wetting the bed or thumb sucking.
- Victims of sexual abuse are four times more likely to engage in self-harm and may also engage in risky sexual behaviors and/or exhibit cruel behavior toward animals.
Effects of Sexual Abuse
There are both short-term and long-term effects of sexual abuse. 51-79% of sexually abused kids will develop psychological issues. Those who are sexually abused tend to react in one of two ways; either by internalizing the abuse which presents with symptoms of mental distress or by externalizing the abuse and acting out toward another individual. For some cases of sexual abuse, the victim will dissociate and have amnesia surrounding the incidents of abuse. Males who are victims of sexual abuse are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system than the mental health system. The effects of sexual abuse include:
- Various learning and behavioral issues
- Dissociative patterns
- Conduct disorder
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
- Teen pregnancy
- Eating disorders
Sexual abuse typically accompanies other forms of abuse such as emotional, physical, and neglect. Due to this, the effects may be more widespread and can vary depending on the true nature of the abuse. The effects of sexual abuse are at a greater risk when a family member is involved, if intercourse or attempted intercourse occurs, and if threats or force are used. The level of harm may also vary due to the nature of the penetration, the duration and frequency of the abuse, and the use of force.
Child counseling is recommended should you suspect any incidents of sexual abuse. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a proven method of intervention that can help heal the wounds of sexual abuse in children, teens, and adults. Group, family, and individual therapy may be recommended to help your family get back on track after sexual abuse occurs.
Protecting Your Child from Sexual Abuse
The risk factors of sexual abuse in the home increase when a family member has been sexually abused, when there is discord or family stress, if there is poverty, lack of supervision in the home, etc. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to always protect children from sexual abuse, as trusted family friends and members of the church or community may be perpetrators. The best way to protect children from abuse or from the negative effects of it is by providing them with love and support. Those who have the support of family tend to overcome the impacts of abuse easier than those who do not. It’s also important to let your children know about the different types of touch that are okay between themselves and adults, and those that are not, when to tell someone “no,” and how to reach out for help.
If you suspect or know of sexual abuse in the state of Idaho, you are mandated by law to report it. Call 2-1-1 and state your intent to report child abuse or neglect. You can also call 1-855-552-KIDS or your local authorities.
If you are not located in Idaho, it’s still important to report suspected abuse. Call 1-800-4-A-CHILD for the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline or Prevent Child Abuse America at 1-800-CHILDREN.
If you are a victim of abuse or are seeking support for your child or teen, the skilled and caring team of mental health professionals at Idaho Youth Ranch would love to assist you and your family. You may also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.