It can often be difficult to broach the topic of child sexual abuse, but it is essential that adults learn the facts about it. We can help prevent children from becoming victims of sexual abuse if we have the tools to keep it from happening in the first place. And, we can protect and help children heal from trauma if we know how sexual abuse impacts children and the support they need to recover.
What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse is any interaction between a child and an adult (or another child) in which the child is used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator or an observer, which can include touching and non-touching behaviors. Abusers often form relationships with potential victims and their families prior to the abuse—referred to as grooming—and may include buying gifts or arranging special activities.
Who is at risk?
Children of all ages, across all races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds are vulnerable to sexual abuse. About one in 10 children in the United States will be sexually abused before they turn 18 and unfortunately many of those children will never disclose their abuse and get the help they may need.
What are the signs?
Children who have been sexually abused may display a range of emotional and behavioral reactions, many of which are similar to behaviors and emotions displayed by children who have experienced other types of trauma. Some signs are more typically seen in younger children (*) and some more typically in adolescents (^).
- An increase in nightmares and/or other sleeping difficulties
- Withdrawn behavior
- Angry outbursts
- Not wanting to be left along with particular individuals
- Sexual knowledge, language, and/or behaviors that are inappropriate for a child’s age*
- Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training*
- Self-harming or suicide attempts^
What can I do to help protect children from sexual abuse?
Whether you are a parent, caregiver, or person who works with children, everyone can help prevent child sexual abuse.
Learn the facts:
- Familiarize yourself with statistics and the realities surrounding child sexual abuse; and
- Understand the warning signs including child behaviors that may result from sexual abuse.
Minimize the opportunity for child sexual abuse by:
- Eliminate or reduce isolated, one-on-one situations between children and adults, and children and other youth;
- Monitor children’s internet use; and
- Ask questions about policies in place to protect children from sexual abuse when selecting programs for your child.
Talk about it:
- If you are a parent or guardian, make sure you have age-appropriate conversations about bodies, sex and boundaries;
- Talk to other adults to help raise awareness; and
- If you work with children, create safe environments and enact policies that prevent situations where abuse could occur.
- If a child tells you about experiencing sexual abuse or if you suspect it has occurred, don’t panic but instead seek help; and
- If you have witnessed a sexually abusive act, contact law enforcement immediately to receive help.
How do I report a suspected case of child abuse?
Call the toll-free Child Protection Hot Line at 1-877-KYSAFE1 (1-877-597-2331)
Or file a report online with the Kentucky Protective Services Reporting System.