As a parent, a teacher, a coach or caregiver, your primary concern is for the children under your protection and guidance. Child sexual abuse happens in all communities and isn’t an issue that happens to “someone else.”
1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused by age 18. The best way to protect our children is to focus on awareness, detection and prevention.
When do children tell?
Many children do not tell when they have been sexually abused. For some, it takes months or even years before they disclose what happened. Some never tell.
Disclosure of child sexual abuse is a process, and often there are often no outward signs of sexual abuse. Our goal is to:
- Reduce the stigma, shame and suffering around child sexual abuse
- Provide a safe place for the child to share what happened, and
- Give you the resources needed to help the child recover.
Above all, always let the child know: “I believe you. You are resilient, and you are not defined by this experience.”
How do I tell if a child is being (or has been) sexually abused?
Children who have been sexually abused may display a range of reactions, many of which are characteristic of children who have experienced other types of trauma.
These reactions include:
- An increase in nightmares or other sleeping difficulties
- Withdrawn behavior
- Angry outbursts
- Not wanting to be left alone with a particular individual
- Sexual knowledge, language or behaviors that are inappropriate for the child’s age
Why is child sexual abuse so hard to detect?
Often children show no outward signs, and the signs vary by the child’s age and gender. But we do know these facts:
- Children of all ages, races, ethnicities and economic backgrounds are vulnerable to sexual abuse.
- Child sexual abuse affects both girls and boys in all neighborhoods, communities, and nations.
Reasons children do not disclose being sexually abused may include:
- Threats of bodily harm to the child or the child’s family by the abuser
- Fear of being removed from the home
- Fear of not being believed
- Shame or guilt
What can I do if I think a child I know is being abused?
If a child discloses abuse, it is critical to stay calm, listen carefully, and NEVER blame the child.
Thank the child for telling you and reassure him or her of your support. The message to the child should always be: “This is not your fault. You have done nothing wrong.”
If you think a child you know is being abused, you can help in the following ways:
- Document and report
It is important to notify your local authorities of the incident as soon as you become aware of it.
- Listen to the child
Let the child talk to you about his or her worries and concerns. Don’t ask a lot of questions.
- Believe the child
Children do not lie about sexual abuse.
- Support the child
Children may feel sexual abuse is their fault. Let them know they didn’t do anything wrong and thank them for telling.
- Stay calm
A child may not talk about abuse if he or she knows it makes you angry, worried or scared.
- Take action
Children who are being abused must rely on adults to keep them safe. Do not try to forget the problem or hope it will go away. It won’t. And do not confront the abuser on your own.
- Report your concerns to your local child welfare agency
A report is simply a request for an investigation. You do not have to know for sure that the abuse happened. By law, any person who knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been abused MUST report such knowledge or suspicion immediately. No one but the child welfare agency will know that you made the report. The toll-free number to call in Tennessee is (877) 237-0004.
Where do I report child sexual abuse?
If you need immediate assistance, call 911 or call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-ACHILD (1.800.422.4453).