By Marlene Mish, Executive Director, Child Advocacy Center of Jackson County
It’s important that, as a community, we take a hard look at the price our children pay for being victims of sex abuse.
Obviously, a child’s perception of abuse is dependent on the developmental stage of that child. A very young child may be told that certain types of sexual abuse are normal and that everyone does this. Since all children are at the absolute mercy of those who care for them, that exacerbates the situation. These small victims know their abusers, love their abusers, trust their abusers and it’s all they know. This betrayal of the child’s spirit as well as his/her body may be experienced differently by different children. This is not cookie cutter issue.
If a child sees the abuser as “bad,” then the child would have to absorb emotionally the fact that someone who is supposed to love them is hurting them, and that is a big concept to deal with. As children develop and know more of the world, the child may see that these activities are not in fact normal and experience great shame and even a sense of collusion with the perpetrator. How confusing for the children who must deal with this.
Even if a child cannot cognitively deal with the meaning or ramifications of child sex abuse, their wise bodies and unconscious do respond. That’s why we may see certain types of behaviors in children who are being sexually abused:
- Bed wetting or loss of bowel control.
- Nightmares and night tremors
- Developmental delays
- Sexual behaviors that they couldn’t/wouldn’t know about unless they had been sexually abused, witnessed behaviors of adults in the home or were exposed to pornography
- Excessive masturbation (often in public)
Elementary School Age Children:
- Failure in school
- Lack of attention or concentration
- Lack of social skills to make or maintain friends
- Acting out sexually
- Excessive masturbation (even in class)
- Inappropriate sexual talk
- Aggressive behaviors toward others
- Fighting with peers
Middle and High School Age Children:
- Poor school attendance
- Dropping out of school
- Getting in trouble with authority in and outside of school
- Self-mutilation (cutting, burning, etc.)
- Suicidal thoughts or gestures
- Fighting with peers
- Poor peer relationships
- School failure
- Drug and alcohol abuse
These are just a very few signs of abuse that may manifest in children who are being abused. Each age group may interpret the abuse differently, but abuse is abuse and it is a crime. If we see these signs, we need to report it immediately.
Studies have shown that the only group, other than victims of child abuse, that shows the severity of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, suicidal ideation and long-term mental health issues — and even a shorten lifespan — are soldiers returning from WAR.
Our defenseless children who are being abused are just like returning combat soldiers! But if we do nothing, we are in effect leaving them on the field of battle with no hope of rescue.