How to Detect and Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

Children are one of the most vulnerable segments of society as they haven’t yet developed the physical and psychological capacities necessary to defend themselves. Worse yet, one of the most common and horrifying forms of abuse is sexual, often leaving lasting trauma on the victims. This means that it’s our duty to be prepared and protect our children from any such abuse. 

The first step to preventing child sexual abuse is learning how to detect it and the steps to take if you do. In this guide we share all of this and more. 

What is child sexual abuse? 

There are various types of child abuse, but one of the most damaging to the victims involves a sexual component. Since minors don’t have the capacity to consent to any type of sexual activity,  behaviors of this nature are considered child sexual abuse

It’s important to mention that child sexual abuse is not limited to actions that involve physical contact with the victim. Sexual assaults can occur in different ways, the most common include:

  • Exhibitionism 
  • Inappropriate touching
  • Penetrative sex (whether vaginal, anal, or oral)
  • Masturbating in front of a minor or inciting a minor to masturbate 
  • Conversations, phone calls, text messages, or any other type of communication of a sexual nature
  • Producing, possessing, or sharing any type of pornographic material that includes a minor
  • Human trafficking
  • Any other type of sexual action or activity that has a negative impact on the physical, emotional, or psychological well-being of a minor. 

Who can be a sex offender?

According to statistics, the vast majority of people who abuse minors are associated with the victim. For example, a study found that in 93% of child sexual abuse cases, the victim knew the aggressor. However, it’s important to note that child sexual abuse can also be perpetrated by strangers. 

That’s why it’s important to teach children that the only people who have the right to touch or see private parts of their bodies are their parents and doctors. Parents should do it only to check their physical well-being and take care of their hygiene. Doctors must always be accompanied by parents when doing a medical check-up.

How to prevent child sexual abuse? 

Establishing an environment of trust and open dialogue at home is the first step in protecting our children. When parents become involved in their children’s lives, the likelihood of detecting signs of child sexual abuse increases. In addition to this, we recommend that you take the following precautions into account: 

Show interest in their daily activities

Ask your children about the activities they do and who they do it with. This will allow you to identify red flags as soon as possible. 

Get acquainted with the people in their social circle 

Get to know the people your child is associated with, whether other children or adults. Ask them about their friends and families, as well as teachers and coaches. 

Be selective when choosing your caregivers 

This may go without saying but you should carefully choose the people you trust to care for your children; whether they’re teachers, babysitters, religious leaders, or any other type of person that can spend time alone with your child. 

Use the media to your advantage 

It’s common to find child sexual abuse stories in the media. Some people try to prevent their children from being exposed to this type of content, however, it is recommended that you use these stories as a tool to initiate a conversation with them. Ask them if they’ve heard similar stories and explain to them the importance of reporting these behaviors. This will encourage open communication with your children. 

Keep warning signs in mind

Many minors who are victims of child sexual abuse hide what happened due to shame or threats from the aggressor. It is of the utmost importance that you’re informed of the red flags that may indicate that something is wrong in this regard. 

Talk to your children about personal limits 

Teach your children that they are masters of their bodies and that no one has the right to touch them without their consent or make them feel uncomfortable. 

Use the correct terms when talking about their body 

If you normalize talking about body parts by their real name, children will have the tools to feel more confident to express any problems they have in this regard. 

Let them know that if something happens, it’s not their fault and they’re not in trouble 

Many aggressors threaten their victims by making them believe that if they report them, the minors will be the ones in trouble. Explain to the children that you will always be there to support them so that they feel confident to speak up in case something happens. 

    Signs or effects of sexual assault in minors

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    Maintaining open communication and being aware of the lives of our children is, as we mentioned earlier, the best way to protect them against child sexual abuse. However, even in homes with the best possible communication, the victim is likely to avoid talking about it, so it’s also extremely important to be on the lookout for some red flags that are common in abuse cases. The most common effects to watch out for in child sexual abuse are:

    • Fear of rejection of certain people 
    • Inability to trust
    • Anger or rejection of physical contact 
    • Inappropriate sexual behaviors
    • Depression 
    • Self-harm
    • Feelings of shame or guilt
    • Problems at school
    • Bodily problems (physical symptoms such as headache or stomach pains, among others)
    • Insomnia 
    • Eating problems
    • Unexplained bruises or scratches
    • Pregnancy
    • Aggressive behavior, among others 

    What to do if I suspect that a minor is being the victim of child sexual abuse? 

    In the event that you suspect that a minor is the victim of sexual abuse, the first step should be to speak with them in a safe and comfortable environment. We suggest you avoid being too serious and assure the child that they are not in trouble. Be patient, listen to everything they have to say, and try not to make the conversation awkward. 

    If you corroborate that there has been a case of child sexual abuse, report it! You can do this directly with your local police department or call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678. 

    Let’s help protect our boys and girls!