Child sexual abuse knows no race, creed, gender or socioeconomic status. Children from any background could be victimized. According to the nonprofit advocacy group Darkness to Light, 1 in 10 people are sexually abused before they turn 18. That includes 1 in 7 girls, and 1 in 25 boys.
One of the reasons child sexual abuse is so rampant is because it’s often so hard to recognize. There are signs to look for when it comes to sexual abuse, but they can often go unnoticed, especially if the victim is going through puberty and is already experiencing emotional and behavioral changes. However, sudden changes in mood or behavior should never be ignored. Even if they aren’t linked to sexual abuse, they could be linked to other serious issues.
While it’s impossible to prevent sexual abuse on a grand scale, there are steps you can take to protect your child. It starts with knowing the facts about sexual abuse.Who’s Most Likely to Be Victimized?
As we mentioned before, young girls are much more likely to be sexually abused than young boys. However, any child can be victimized. There are other risk factors besides gender that can increase a child’s risk of being sexually abused:
- Their parent(s) aren’t in the workforce (risk is tripled)
- They are foster children (risk increases 10 times)
- They are in a low socioeconomic status household (risk is tripled)
- They are between the ages of 7 and 13 (20 percent of abused children are under 8 years old)
- The live in a rural area (risk is doubled)
- They are African American (risk is doubled compared to white children)
- They are the victim or witness or other crimes (risk increases significantly)
- They are Hispanic (risk increases slightly compared to white children)
- They live with a single parent or with stepparents (risk increases 20 times for a child with a single parent who has a live-in partner)
Who Are the Most Likely Perpetrators?
Perpetrators of child sexual abuse come from every background. There is no specific profile to watch out for. What many people don’t know is that children themselves are often the perpetrators. There are some common factors when it comes to sexual abusers:
- 90 percent of abused children know their abuser, whether they’re a family member or family friend. In fact, 30 percent of abusers are family members.
- 50 percent of victims under 6 years old are abused by family members. 23 percent of victims between 12 and 17 are abused by family members.
- 60 percent of victims are abused by people the family trusts.
- There is zero correlation between a person’s sexual orientation and their likelihood to sexually abuse a child.
In addition to adult perpetrators, 40 percent of victims are abused by an older or more powerful child.
- 43 percent of assaults on children under 6 years old are perpetrated by other adolescents. 14 percent of those perpetrators are under 12 years old.
- Juvenile offenders are more likely to work as a group to abuse other children, to offend at school, and to have younger victims and male victims.
- Ages 12 to 14 is the peak age for juvenile offenses against younger children.
- 93 percent of youth perpetrators are male.
- Most adolescent offenders to not appear to continue a pattern of sexual abuse as an adult, especially if they receive proper treatment.
Family and trusted individuals who sexually abuse children have reported they look for passive, quiet, troubled, lonely children from broken or single-parent homes. Moreover, perpetrators often look for trusting children, then build a relationship with them (and often their family) before abusing them.Can Children Be Protected from Sexual Abuse?
It’s the sad, unfortunate truth that all children are at risk for being sexually abused.But there are actions parents can take to lessen the risk, according to nonprofit advocacy group RAINN.
The most important thing parents can do is to be involved in their child’s life. This can help you more easily detect when something seems off with them. It can also help you identify certain risk factors while preventing others. For instance:
- Asking and showing interest in their day-to-day lives can help you pick up on any bullying or abusive issues at school or at other activities.
- Getting to know the people in your child’s life, including adults and children, and asking them questions openly can help give your child the courage to do the same, especially in a seedy situation.
- Choosing caregivers carefully, such as babysitters or afterschool program leaders, including looking up reviews and calling references, can help weed out potential abusers.
- Talking about the media, especially instances of sexual violence, can be a valuable tool to help start the conversation about what to do if your child is ever in a situation like that — and shows them they can talk to you about these issues.
Parents should also empower their children to speak up. Let them know you take their opinions and experiences seriously, and they can always talk to you if something is wrong. Here are a few tips about encouraging your child to speak up:
- Teach your child about boundaries, and let them set their own. Teach your child that no one has a right to touch them without their permission, including family members. They have control of their body, and no one should violate that. Moreover, teach your child that other people have that same power over their own bodies.
- Teach your child how to talk about their body. Children should know from an early age what their body parts are. That way, if an instance of sexual abuse comes up, they will know how to actually talk about it.
- Be ready and available to listen. Your child should know that they can always come to you with their problems, and if they do, they will have your undivided attention. It should never feel uncomfortable to them to ask questions or raise concerns, and that has to do with how you handle these situations.
- Let them know they are safe from trouble. It’s not uncommon for perpetrators to tell victims they’ll get in trouble if they speak up. Let your child know on a regular basis that they won’t get in trouble for talking to you, and follow through on that promise.
- Always leave room for new topics. Simple “yes or no” questions kill a conversation quickly. If you want to know if your child has any concerns or ideas, ask more open-ended questions. Something as simple as “Is there anything else you want to talk about?” can be effective.