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Child Sexual Abuse

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What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse is the use of a child for sexual gratification by an older or more powerful person. The offender is usually an adult, but could also be a more powerful child. Both girls and boys are vulnerable. It is a crime punishable by law.


Types of Abuse

Child sexual abuse includes the following ‘touching’ and ‘non-touching’ behaviours, but are not limited only to these acts.

Touching behaviours

  • Fondling a child’s body for sexual pleasure

  • Kissing a child with sexual undertones/inclinations

  • Rubbing genitals against a child’s body

  • Sexually touching a child’s body, and specifically private parts (breasts and genitals). Includes encouraging or forcing a child to do likewise

  • Making a child touch someone else’s genitals, or playing sexual (“pants-down”) games

  • Encouraging or forcing a child to masturbate, with the child as either a participant or observer

  • Encouraging or forcing a child to perform oral sex (mouth-to-genital contact on or by the child)

  • Inserting objects or body parts (like fingers, tongue or penis) inside the vagina, mouth, or anus of a child; includes attempts of these acts

Non-touching behaviours

  • Encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts either in person or lowering the bars of privacy

  • Looking at a child sexually

  • Exposing one’s private body parts to a child (exhibitionism)

  • Watching a child in a state of nudity, such as while undressing, using the bathroom, with or without the child’s knowledge (voyeurism)

  • Making suggestive comments to the child that are sexual in nature

  • Commenting on the sexual development of a child

  • Encouraging or forcing a child to read/watch pornography, giving pornographic material or using the child in pornography

  • Making, viewing or downloading sexual images of children on the Internet


Warning Signs

Children often show us rather than tell us that something is upsetting them. There may be many reasons for changes in their behaviour, but if we notice a combination of worrying signs it may be time to call for help or advice.

Behavioral warning signs

  • Acting out in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects

  • Nightmares, sleeping problems

  • Becoming withdrawn or very clingy

  • Becoming unusually secretive

  • Sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings and seeming insecure

  • Regressing to younger behaviours, e.g. bedwetting

  • Unaccountable fear of particular places or people

  • Outburst of anger

  • Changes in eating habits

  • New adult words for body parts and no obvious source

  • Talk of a new, older friend and unexplained money or gifts

  • Self-harm (cutting, burning or other harmful activities)

  • Physical signs, such as unexplained soreness or bruises around genitals or mouth, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy

  • Running away

  • Not wanting to be alone with a particular child or young person or adult

Physical warning signs

Physical signs of sexual abuse are rare; however, if you see these signs, take your child to a doctor. Your doctor can help you understand what may be happening and can test for sexually transmitted diseases.

  • Pain, swelling, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus or mouth

  • Discomfort when walking

  • Bruises on the body

  • Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements

  • Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training


To Do in Cases of Sexual Assault on Children

Communicate with your child

  • Believe the child!

  • Behave normally and make the child feel comfortable.

  • Communicate to the child that it is not his/her fault.

  • Inform the child that you will not divulge what they have shared with you in confidence.

  • Inform your child that you might need to take action against the perpetrator, so as to ensure the child’s safety.

  • If the child reports the incident to you immediately, do not change the child’s clothes or give him/her a bath. This is important to follow so as to preserve any evidence.

Get help

  • Prepare the child for proceedings that might follow, such as a visit to the doctor or hospital for medical aid or an examination; visits from the police; sessions with a counsellor.

  • Take the child to the nearest hospital for a medical check-up and treatment.

  • Alert the nearest police station to the incident or the abuse. You need to register a complaint at the police station closest to where the child lives. After the complaint is filed, the police will take the child’s statement at the child’s home or in any place where the child feels safe. Even if the incident(s) has taken place more than 24 hours before you find out about it, you can still take legal action.

  • Take the child to a professional counsellor for help.