Child abuse comes in many different forms and can be physical or mental. Child sex abuse tends to be an adult encouraging a child to take part in sexual activities or encouraging them to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.
“Grooming” is a term that most people will have heard of. It is basically the act of befriending a child in order to lower their inhibitions and eventually sexually abuse or exploit the child in some way. It typically begins by the adult showering the child with presents and affection and then, when they have gained the child’s trust, moves on to try and turn the relationship into something more sexual.
As with most other forms of sexual abuse, only a small proportion of cases involve strangers. In most cases the child knows the perpetrator, as a relative, friend of the family, teacher or someone else in a position of authority. As they are known to the family this gives them the opportunity to have time alone with the child and it is in these situations where abuse does sometimes take place.
The effect on the child can be considerable and if you notice significant changes in your child’s behaviour, such as mood swings, self-harming, bed wetting, depression or anxiety then it just may be a sign that they are being abused.
Figures show that child sex abuse is an ongoing problem in the UK with charity Childline carrying out almost 16,000 counselling sessions with children and young people between 2011 and 2012. The majority of these children were between 12 and 15 years old and, as the figures indicated, both boys and girls can be the victims while the abusers can also be male or female.
As for what defines threatening behaviour, that largely depends upon the mind of the adult and what motives they have for watching the children; parental concern as for most, or something more sinister?
Everyone is different of course but there are common experiences suffered by those who have been sexually abused as a child. It is quite common to suffer panic attacks, phobias or flashbacks, while some experience long-standing depression and resort to self-harming. It is also quite common for victims to blame themselves.
It will be a help in the first instance, to understand that you have been badly affected and, if you are in denial, that you actually have been abused. Because so much of childhood sexual abuse is based on secrecy, speaking out and telling someone and acknowledging that the abuse has happened is often a first step towards getting the help required. Embarking on this what is termed the “stage of resolution” can take considerable time and is a lengthy process, but it is essential to get to this stage at some point.
It is not only men who are guilty of abuses of this type, though they are in the overwhelming number of cases. However, women, teenagers and other children can be guilty and it is certainly not a crime that can be linked solely to a particular class or background. Nine out of 10 victims know their abuser.
It can be difficult for those caring a child who has been subjected to sexual abuse and who refuses to talk about it. The parents or carers may know that something is up and there are changes to the child’s behaviour but are unable to pinpoint exactly what the problem is. Again, every child can vary but some behaviour changes such as problems sleeping, wetting the bed and problems at school may point to a wider issue.
Parents of those who fear their children may have been sexually abused should seek professional advice. You should discuss any concerns you may have with the NSPCC or contact the police or children’s services. Of course if you fear your child may be in imminent danger then you should always contact the emergency services immediately. See our case examples which will help you understand the time limits that apply for certain claims
Parents can take preventative measures to try and stop their child being affected by such problems in the future. So, talk to your children to try and help them understand their bodies and what is and is not acceptable behaviour from adults. Try and build trust with them and tell them how to respect themselves and others. Also teach them to use the internet safely and provide appropriate supervision.