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Effects of Child Sexual Abuse

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Effects of Child Sexual Abuse

As a clinician on the Saprea Clinical Intake team, I am often the first point of contact for anyone seeking one of our services. This gives me the opportunity to talk to many survivors of child sexual abuse. I’m often asked about specific effects of sexual abuse that the women I talk to are experiencing. The most common question is: Is this normal? The answer to that question is yes! While each person’s trauma history is unique to them, the effects are often similar.

Something that can be frustrating for survivors and their loved ones is the fact that the effects of child sexual abuse can last into adulthood. Our brains are amazing at keeping us safe, and when trauma occurs in childhood, our brains can get confused about what is considered “dangerous.” (See video about the effects of trauma on the brain.) Our brains may interpret something associated with the trauma (often called trauma triggers), like a song or a smell or a sound, and react as if we are still in that dangerous situation.

How Survivor's Brains React to Sexual Abuse

You may be asking yourself, “How do the effects of child sexual abuse like panic attacks, dissociation, or emotional numbness keep me safe?” Because our brains are experts at safety, a trauma trigger can move our brain into a survival response such as flight, fight, or freeze. For those who experience panic attacks, you may notice the desire to run away from a situation (flight) or defend yourself in an argument (fight). For those who experience dissociation or emotional numbness, you may notice a desire to check out of a situation or feel like you cannot move (freeze).

Another way our brain works to keep us safe is to lead us to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Therefore, some survivors may have effects of child sexual abuse that include unhealthy behaviors or unsustainable coping skills. Many survivors talk about engaging in behaviors such as overeating, excessive sleeping, or zoning out on a device to cope with uncomfortable feelings. The more someone uses these behaviors, the more our brain can come to rely on them for comfort and safety.

Our brain is amazing at caring for us, and while it can be frustrating that some of these effects of child sexual abuse occur, there is hope. There was a time we believed once the brain was fully developed, it could not be changed. We have since discovered this is untrue. Through a process called neuroplasticity, we can combat the effects of child sexual abuse. With patience, self-compassion, time, support of loved ones, and work, our brain can change and grow so we can feel more in control of our reactions.

How Saprea Can Help Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

At Saprea, our mission includes teaching others about the effects of child sexual abuse, how to create healthier behavioral patterns, and how to manage survival responses when they are not needed. Using the most up-to-date research, Saprea has created many resources for survivors of child sexual abuse and their supporters.

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Saprea Retreat

The Saprea Retreat is a free, 4-day clinically informed experience followed by a self-guided online course specifically designed for women who were sexually abused as children or teenagers. The retreat has three purposes:

  • One, to learn about how having a history of child sexual abuse can impact someone as an adult.
  • Two, the opportunity to apply healing tools.
  • Three, to build a community of support with other women who have have experienced something similar.

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Saprea Healing Webinar

The Saprea Healing Webinar is a free, 4.5-hour interactive, educational online experience designed to help women start their healing from home or for those unable to attend the retreat. Participants will have the opportunity to learn about the effects of child sexual abuse, engage in group discussions to begin building a community of support, and mindfully connect with their bodies.

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Saprea Support Groups

The Saprea Support Groups are groups led by survivors for survivors with the goals of offering emotional safety, ensuring confidentiality, and creating a community of support with other women who have been through similar experiences.

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Saprea Online Resources

The Saprea Online Resources offer an extensive library of resources available to help survivors better understand the effects of child sexual abuse and how to begin or continue a healing journey.

About the Author

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Sarah Burton, CMHC

Director of Clinical Outreach Services
Sarah earned her bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Utah State University and her master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of Phoenix. She has over 15 years of experience in the mental health field primarily working with women and adolescents. Sarah’s post-graduate training includes Motivational Interviewing, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Trauma-Focused Substance Abuse Treatment, and Psychodrama. Sarah has worked with women in a residential substance abuse treatment setting. This experience gave her the passion to assist women with acknowledging and honoring the healing power they have within themselves. She feels grateful and honored to be a part of Saprea’s mission.

Male Sexual Abuse

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Saprea > Blog > All Blogs > Male Sexual Abuse

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Male Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, or faith. Males who have been sexually abused may experience similar feelings and symptoms as other survivors, however because of social stigmas, there are often extra challenges to disclosure and seeking help.

Definition of Male Sexual Abuse:

Because laws vary from one location to another, there’s not a universal definition of male sexual abuse. However, at Saprea we define male sexual abuse as any situation where another person (adult or peer) forces or coerces a male into unwanted sexual activity that may or may not involve touch.

Statistics

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 13 boys in the US experience sexual abuse at some time in their childhood.1 And the American National Center for PTSD states that at least 1 in 10 men in our country will experience sexual assault at some point in their life.2 This means that sexual trauma can occur beyond childhood.

These numbers are worrisome because male victims often underreport being sexually abused and are also significantly less likely to ever disclose. On average, a male survivor will take longer to disclose sexual abuse than a female survivor, if they disclose at all.3

Stigma

Socialization and attitudes towards trauma have created stigmas and barriers for males to disclose abuse and seek help. Males are socialized not to identify as victims, not ask for help, and suppress emotions. These are seen as feminine practices. Males (consciously or unconsciously) may use shame as a tool to suppress behaviors and feelings associated with femininity. Men are also socialized to believe they always want sex, so when unwanted sexual activity occurs, it can be very confusing to them. There is even an attitude that trauma is “no big deal” as long as they don’t think about it or “let it control” them, they’ll be just fine.

The stigma has gotten so powerful that there is currently a push to replace the term “therapy” with words like consultation, meeting, coaching, or discussion for males just so they are more open to talking about their trauma.

Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

Though everyone is different, there are 3 warning signs of sexual abuse to look for: changes in their behavioral, physical, and/or emotional state.
Behavioral

Isolation, Engaging in risky behavior, Self-Harm, Out of Control Sexual Behaviors, Aggression

Physical

Pain in the genital area, Difficulty urinating, Abdominal pain

Emotional

Shame, Guilt, Powerlessness, Depression

Some of these signs might not be as obvious as others.

Resources for Male Survivors

The healing from sexual abuse section of our website offers healing activities such as paced breathing, other grounding techniques, and self-compassion exercises.

The following websites have resources that are tailored specifically toward male survivors:

1in6

1in6 is a nonprofit organization that provides online support groups, trainings, webinars, survivor stories, and resources for male survivors.

MaleSurvivor

MaleSurvivor is a nonprofit organization that provides a directory of therapists who specialize in male sexual trauma, support groups, healing events, and resources for parents and partners of male survivors.

MenHealing

MenHealing is a nonprofit organization that hosts healing retreats, podcasts, survivor stories, and online resources for male survivors.

Survivors and Mates Support Network

Survivors and Mates Support Network is a not-for-profit that provides individual and support counseling, peer support groups, peer support line, workshops, online meetings, and a podcast for male survivors, their families, and supporters.

Living Well

Living Well is an Australian service and resource that provides information, encouragement, and support to men who experienced childhood sexual abuse or adulthood sexual assault.
Crisis Hotline: If you or someone you know is struggling, or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Confidential chat is also available at 988lifeline.org 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Myths and Facts About Male Sexual Abuse

Myth: “It’s not rape if you liked it.”
Fact: Males can experience unwanted or unintentional arousal during a sexual assault. An erection and even ejaculation does not mean the abuse was welcome or enjoyable, as physiological reactions are often automatic responses.
Myth: “It’s okay as long as the male student was attracted to the teacher.”
Fact: Underage students cannot give consent to an adult. Even if a student is of consenting age, the teacher or professor is an authority figure and would be abusing their position of power. Though student-on-student sexual assault is more likely to occur, educator sexual abuse has been a more prominent topic in the media as of late.
Myth: “He’s gay because he was diddled (touched) as a kid.” 
Fact: Sexual abuse does not change nor determine your sexual orientation. About 86% of the time, the perpetrators of male sexual abuse are other males. Contrary to the popular belief that gay men are the perpetrators, the majority of male perpetrators identify as straight.2
Myth: “Males who were sexually abused will go on to become abusers themselves.”
Fact: It is reported that 30% of survivors of child sexual abuse will become perpetrators themselves. However, this risk is significantly reduced if the survivor receives help.
Myth: “A man can’t be raped by a woman.”
Fact: Yes, a man can be raped by a woman. Men can be forced or coerced into sexual activity without consent or against their will. This type of abuse is often underreported.

In conclusion, if you are a male survivor of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault, or sexual violence, you are not alone. Seeking help or disclosing abuse DOES NOT make you any “less of a man”. Even if you feel like you weren’t affected that much or at all, it’s okay to take the time to process what happened. You, a male survivor, can work through your traumatic experiences. Healing is possible.

About the Author

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Eric Rivas

SEO/Web Analyst
Eric joined Saprea at the end of 2021 as the SEO/Web Analyst. He received a BS in marketing, a Professional Sales Certificate, and an AS in university studies from Utah Valley University, where he is currently enrolled in the MBA program. Before making the jump to the nonprofit sector, he worked in start-up, agency, and corporate marketing positions. In his free time he enjoys traveling with his wife, reading, and volunteering in the community.

What to do if a Sex Offender Moves to Your Neighborhood?

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What to do if a Sex Offender Moves to Your Neighborhood?

You do everything you can to ensure that your kids are safe. But what do you do if a registered sex offender moves into your neighborhood? You may feel like you suddenly don’t have control over your child’s safety. A potential threat has come and you don’t know what to do. Here are some tips for managing what can feel like an overwhelming situation.

Stay Calm

It can be easy to assume that it’s only a matter of time before something bad happens. While the threat of reoffending should be acknowledged, it’s possible for sex offenders to become productive members of their communities, especially if they are supported and supervised. Of course you want to be vigilant in protecting your child, but don’t panic.

Get Information

Try to get as much accurate information as possible about the situation. You may hear rumors about the offender from people in your neighborhood, but everything you hear might not be true. There are a variety of reasons someone might be on the registry. The Department of Justice maintains the National Sex Offender Public Website, and you can go there to get specific information about the offender in your neighborhood. The information that is available varies from state to state, but the registry is a good starting point. You can contact law enforcement for more information, if necessary.

Talk to Your Kids and Neighbors

You can always be proactive as a parent and neighbor in discussing ways to reduce risk and protect children from sexual abuse. Be sensitive sharing information about the registered sex offender—you don’t want to spread rumors. The topic of sexual abuse will likely come up in your neighborhood, and you can share empowering and accurate information with people. At Saprea, we believe that education is one of the keys to prevention, and you can be a part of educating others. Check out our community resources for information you can share.

Provide a Supportive Community

Sex offenders who are being reintegrated into society generally want to be successful. They want to lead productive lives free from perpetrating, and the communities where they live can have an impact on their success. A study in the American Journal of Public Health observes that individuals with a criminal history reintegrate into society with more success when they have social support, housing, and employment. Understandably, you might want to isolate the offender in your neighborhood. You don’t need to interact in any way that makes you uncomfortable, but harassment and discrimination can make the risk of re-perpetrating worse instead of better. This person is a member of your community now, and your community will be healthier if all the members succeed.

Having a registered sex offender move in close by may not seem ideal, but don’t assume the worst about the situation. In all likelihood, the new person in your neighborhood wants the same things you do: a safe community filled with mutual respect. Be aware of the situation and sensitive to what’s going on, and you can feel confident that you’re doing what you can to keep your kids safe.

Before Letting Your Child Have a Sleepover

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Before Letting Your Child Have a Sleepover

Going to a sleepover may raise the risk for a child to be sexually abused. Educated parents are the best ones to decide if a sleepover is appropriate for their child. You can eliminate the risk by not allowing a sleepover. Or, if you choose to have sleepovers, there are some things you should think through.

Below is a checklist of things to consider. Some won’t apply to your situation, but all of them have their place.

THIS IS THE RIGHT CHOICE FOR YOUR CHILD.
Some children aren’t ready for sleepovers. Some aren’t comfortable with the idea of staying somewhere else, but feel pressure from their friends or don’t really understand what it means to have a sleepover. Make sure that this is the right thing for your child at their age-, comfort-, and maturity-level.
YOU KNOW THE OTHER PARENTS, HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH THEM, AND TRUST THEM.
This may seem obvious, but knowing who the adults are, and trusting them with your child, is an important aspect that you’ll want to have in place before you allow your child to sleep over at another person’s house.
YOU KNOW WHO ELSE WILL BE AT THE HOUSE WHERE THEY ARE STAYING.
Older siblings, family friends, an uncle from out of town – make sure that you know all the people who your child will come in contact with and, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, cancel or reschedule the sleepover.
THE INTERNET AND OTHER MEDIA FOLLOWS YOUR STANDARDS FOR YOUR CHILD.
Many kids are first exposed to sexually explicit movies or images at sleepovers. You’ll want to set clear expectations for the night your child will be there.
YOUR CHILD HAS A VOICE.
You’ve talked through what a sleepover is and some of the things they should expect. You’ve role-played possible scenarios they might come across and had them practice their answers. If necessary, you’ve come up with a code word for your child to use if they want to come home, but don’t want their friends to know. You’ve scheduled set phone call times and a pick up time, if appropriate.

Once you’ve gone through this checklist, it will make it a lot easier to determine if your child should go on a sleepover. And, if they do, you’ll know you’ve prepared them the best you possibly can to have fun, but be safe and protected while participating.

5 Ways to Respond to Unhealthy Sexual Behaviors

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5 Ways to Respond to Unhealthy Sexual Behaviors

Your child just asked you a question about an unhealthy or harmful sexual behavior, or they’ve exhibited an unhealthy or harmful sexual behavior, or they’re confessing that someone has been making them feel uncomfortable and they want to tell you all about it.

In any of these three scenarios, you want to respond and not react.

What’s the Difference and Why Does it Matter?

When you react you do so without thinking; you’ll say or do things based on the moment and the emotions you’re feeling and you may end up doing or saying something you regret. When you respond it leads to an open conversation and will cultivate trust between you and your child.

Here are five ways to respond to your child if they have questions about, or problems with, unhealthy sexual behaviors:

01

TAKE A DEEP BREATH.

It will give you a moment to pause, process what’s happening, and decide how you need to handle the situation.

02

PAY ATTENTION TO EMOTIONS.

Your child may be nervous or upset, be sensitive to that. Your own emotions may begin to run high, but you need to keep them in check. Responding in a controlled and kind way is important so that you do not shut your child down. The worst scenario is a highly emotional reaction that teaches your child not to talk with you next time there is a problem.

03

LISTEN.

It’s difficult to listen, especially if you’d rather not hear the things your child is saying or asking. Don’t interrupt them, let them talk as much as they want to before you respond.

04

VALIDATE THEM.

Recognize how hard it may be for them to talk to you. Let them know how much you appreciate their trust in you. Assure them that you are there to help.

05

SET OR REINFORCE EXPECTATIONS.

If you are trying to curb an unhealthy behavior, set up the parameters or reinforce your guidelines. If you are trying to limit their exposure to a certain thing, let them know about that change. If you are planning on keeping them away from the person who made them feel uncomfortable, be honest with them about it.
As you learn to respond instead of react to these types of conversations it will keep an ongoing dialogue with your child about healthy and unhealthy sexual behaviors. It’s one of the most important things you can do to keep your child safe from sexual abuse. It will also open the door for your children to come to you and trust you when they have questions about sex and not rely on others. These conversations may make you feel uncomfortable at first, but make sure you keep going! They’re important for your child, and for you, and will benefit you both.

11 Factors That Increase the Risk of Child Sexual Abuse

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11 Factors That Increase the Risk of Child Sexual Abuse

It can be overwhelming to navigate through all the risks and dangers that we need to be aware of to keep our children safe. Below you’ll find a list of 11 risk increasers for child sexual abuse, along with tips on how to minimize them. This list is not intended to cause you alarm but to equip you with tools to protect and empower your child.

Risk Increaser 1:

Stressful Home Environment

Children with low self-confidence in their surroundings, particularly at home, are vulnerable to an adult who promises stability and security, even if the stability comes with other unwanted behaviors. Children with a stressful home life may also feel that they cannot confide in a parent because the parent is already burdened with so many problems and may not respond well.

Tip:

It is impossible to avoid stress, especially as a parent. But being aware of how your stress affects your child and how you can manage it will go a long way. Continually assure your child that they can always confide in you, no matter how stressed you may appear. If your child does confide in you, follow through on those assurances you made. If you are in a situation or relationship that is unsafe for you and your child, get help immediately. It is important to remove a child (and yourself) from a harmful environment as soon as possible.

Risk Increaser 2:

Low Self-Esteem

Children with low self-esteem are especially vulnerable due to needs for affection, admiration, and acceptance. This is especially true for children who are targets of bullying or whose parents also display low self-esteem. Children with low self-esteem are more likely to be drawn to those who offer flattery, gifts, and special attention. Without feelings of self-worth, a child may not see the value in the boundaries, respect, and consent they are entitled to.

Tip:

You can help your child build their self-esteem by identifying a hobby, activity, or skill they enjoy. Examples may include sports, performing arts, academic teams, crafts, or other extracurricular activities. Engage in these activities with your child; encourage and praise their participation. Another useful technique is assigning your child responsibilities around the house and rewarding them when those responsibilities are carried out. This will reinforce your child’s identity as a valued and contributing member of the household. If you discover your child is being bullied, address the issue immediately. Also, try to be cognizant of how you talk about yourself around your child. You are your child’s number one example. If you model having a positive self-image and positive self-talk, your child will likely follow suit.

Risk Increaser 3:

Unmonitored Access to Technology

Technology provides limitless ways to nurture your child’s education, creativity, and communication. Unfortunately, technology is also a perpetrator’s playground. The internet provides them with significantly greater access to potential targets along with added anonymity and the ability to keep things secret. The phones, tablets, or laptops in your home can be gateways for interaction between a perpetrator and your child. Not only do these devices greatly expand a perpetrator’s reach, but they remove many barriers to perpetration (such as trying to isolate a child or being able to send inappropriate material).

Tip:

Keep tabs on your child’s computer access, emails, text messages, and social media platforms. Be mindful of every internet-enabled device under your roof, where they are, who is using them, and what sites are frequently viewed. You may also consider knowing your child’s passwords and restricting the use of internet-enabled devices in your child’s bedroom. You could also have a conversation with your child about navigating through images that portray sexuality, including how to recognize these images and what to do when they come across them.

Risk Increaser 4:

Poor Communication

Children who do not feel that they can be open with their parents may become distant, isolated, and insecure, and therefore more susceptible to a perpetrator’s grooming. They are less likely to confide in their parents about important topics such as the new adults in their life, inappropriate behavior they are witnessing or experiencing, or physical changes their body is going through. If or when sexual abuse begins, a child who has poor communication with their parents will likely keep it a secret. They may live in fear of getting in trouble, being judged or shamed, overburdening their parents, or being ignored.

Tip:

Communication is key to preventing child sexual abuse. You can make all the difference by initiating continuous, two-way, age-appropriate discussions with your child that fit their level of maturity and understanding. Ask open-ended questions about your child’s feelings, interactions, and day-to-day experiences. Answer whatever questions your child has with age-appropriate sensitivity, no matter how uncomfortable the conversation may be. If you establish this pattern of open communication with your child early, they will make it a habit of confiding in you for support when they need it most.

Risk Increaser 5:

Loneliness

Loneliness is a powerful emotion. It can lead to feelings of neglect, isolation, and alienation. A crucial step in a perpetrator’s grooming is isolating the child from their loved ones, both emotionally and physically. If a child is already feeling isolated, this step will be much easier for a perpetrator to achieve. Also, if a child is left alone or unsupervised on a frequent basis, a perpetrator has more opportunities to get close to that child.

Tip:

Loneliness stands little chance against a parent who is present and engaged. Be wary about leaving your child at home without adequate supervision from a trustworthy individual for extended periods of time. This may be difficult for single parents or in a household where both parents are working. If your situation does require you to be away from your child for long periods of time, ensure they are in the care of a trusted adult and communicate with your child through frequent check-ins. Express your care and involvement to reinforce that your child isn’t alone.

Risk Increaser 6:

Children Who Identify as LGBTQ+

Children who identify as LGBTQ+ or are in the process of understanding their sexual and/or gender identity can be at risk of feeling socially isolated and alienated from their peers. The fear, anxiety, and uncertainty they may experience could lead them to view themselves as an outsider with no emotional support. A perpetrator may pick up on this vulnerability and need for guidance and might seek to convince the child that they are the only one who understands and accepts them. The child may have heard the many myths surrounding sexual abuse and sexual orientation and become hesitant to disclose. When a child is afraid to open up to their parents about their sexuality, a perpetrator can use that secret against them to prevent the abuse from being disclosed.

Tip:

A major fear a child can have when accepting their sexual identity or gender identity is how their parents will respond to it. In fact, this fear may overshadow all others. To dissuade this fear, establish an environment where your child can feel safe discussing these topics. Encourage them to be open with you through continual, two-way communication. If your child does open up to you about their sexual orientation or gender identity, respond in a calm and loving manner. Ask questions and actively listen to show that their thoughts and feelings matter.

Risk Increaser 7:

Misunderstanding Boundaries

One of the most significant risk increasers for child sexual abuse is insufficient education or understanding about boundaries. Children who do not have a clear understanding of boundaries are highly unlikely to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. They may not understand when someone has violated their personal boundaries or when they have violated the boundaries of someone else. With an unclear understanding of what constitutes abuse, they are less likely to disclose any sexually abusive behavior they witness, experience, or hear about. They may also engage in or demonstrate inappropriate behavior that could draw the attention of potential perpetrators.

Tip:

Starting at an early age, teach your child about boundaries. This doesn’t necessarily mean discussing mature topics such as intercourse or sexual abuse with your toddler. Rather, it means teaching them their bodies are important, and certain parts of their bodies shouldn’t be touched by anyone without their permission (in the case of a doctor or a parent at bath time). It also means communicating right and wrong behaviors in how your child interacts with others. Clear and consistent boundaries will empower and protect your child with the knowledge and confidence they need to stay safe.
Your child needs boundaries in order to develop self-confidence and self-esteem. Within these boundaries, however, allowing your child certain age-appropriate freedom is vitally important.
—Joelle Casteix

Risk Increaser 8:

Disabilities

Children with a disability are at least three times more likely to be sexually abused. There are multiple reasons behind this statistic, including the child’s need for personal care, a desire for acceptance, a reliance on others, an inability to escape due to physical limitations, an inability to disclose abuse due to limitations in communication, and a lack of education on healthy sexuality and sexual abuse.

Tip:

If your child has a disability, teach them the importance of body privacy, appropriate boundaries, and the role of consent. Establish open communication habits by having ongoing discussions about healthy sexuality. For children with communication difficulties, provide a way they can report abuse that sufficiently meets their communication needs. If a child is displaying significant changes or new challenges in behavior, consider the possibility that they are responses to abuse. If sexual abuse does occur, report it immediately.

Risk Increaser 9:

Blended Families

In a blended family, communication and relationship dynamics are complicated. There may be disagreements among parents on how to educate about boundaries, conflict resolution, privacy, and healthy sexuality. Tension among family members and stepfamily members may lead to more conflict in the home, which may lead to children having lower confidence in their environment. Blended families also increase a child’s chances of encountering a perpetrator, be it an adult (a stepparent, a live-in partner) or a peer (a stepsibling).

Tip:

With more variables at play in a blended family, more effort may need to be put into consistent and open communication. To ensure consistency and clarity, all caretakers involved need to be on the same page regarding education on safe boundaries, appropriate behavior, and healthy sexuality. Be attentive and alert toward all family members and the new dynamics that develop. Ask your child open-ended questions about their experiences, feelings, and interactions with the rest of the family. If you notice any red flag behavior among family members, address it immediately.

Risk Increaser 10:

Domestic Abuse

In a home where various forms of abuse, neglect, and maltreatment are occurring, sexual abuse is likely a high risk as well. This is particularly the case in homes with physical abuse. Domestic violence fosters a home environment of instability, insecurity, poor communication, and mishandled aggression. It may also correlate with alcohol or substance abuse among one or more family members. Each of these factors increase the risk for child sexual abuse. According to researcher Danielle A. Black, the risk of intra-familial child sexual abuse is six times greater in a family where the mother is a victim of partner aggression.

Tip:

If you are in a domestic abuse relationship, get help immediately. Do what you can to remove your child from the dangerous environment as soon as possible. Likewise, if you have addiction issues with drugs or alcohol, seek help immediately. Resources are available at The Hotline, Crisis Text Line, and Alcohol Abuse Hotline. The longer your child is exposed to an unstable and threatening environment, the higher the risk of abuse will be. If possible, relocate your child to a safe space with an adult you trust.

Risk Increaser 11:

Prior Sexual Abuse

Children who have been victims of prior sexual abuse are at a higher risk of being abused again. This is known as revictimization. A child survivor who lacks the support network and tools to cope with their trauma may become more vulnerable to a recurrence of sexual abuse, whether in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. Also, a child who has been subjected to sexual abuse that has not been dealt with is likely still in an at-risk environment that allows the abuse to continue.

Tip:

If you discover that a child—whether your own or someone else’s—is being sexually abused, report the abuse immediately. Do everything in your power to prevent the abuse from continuing. Provide emotional support, patience, and empathy to the survivor to help strengthen their resilience and self-esteem, as well as providing them with access to therapy. A crucial element of this support is protecting the survivor against feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame. Your response may be the most important factor in your child’s healing journey, including the prevention of revictimization. In fact, research suggests that a family’s support may be more influential to a survivor’s recovery than the severity of the abuse that took place.
Parenting is never easy, but by utilizing this information, you can be empowered to improve your child’s safety and wellbeing. Ultimately, follow your instincts. No one knows your child and their situation better than you do. The most important thing is to be there for your child, let them know how much you love them, and to keep being the amazing parent you are.

About the author

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Breeann Allison

Research and Program Development Strategist
Breeann joined Saprea as an Education Coordinator at the end of 2018. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature with a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. Currently she works as a member of the Research and Program Development Team and a co-teacher for the Saprea Healing Webinar. She is also the author of Saprea's Reclaim Hope Workbook and co-author of Why Do I Still Feel This Way: Changing Your Relationship with the Trauma of Child Sexual Abuse. She has worked in publishing for seven years, first as a curriculum developer at Gibbs Smith Education and then as an editor at FranklinCovey. On the side she enjoys writing mediocre fiction, spoiling her nieces and nephews, and defending the sacredness of the Oxford comma.

Teachers Can Help Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

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Teachers Can Help Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

While a parent may have the biggest influence on a child’s life when it comes to educating about healthy sexual development and reducing the risk of sexual abuse, many adults also play an impactful role—especially teachers. They have the potential to be an important safety net for kids who are at high risk for sexual abuse at home.

In the United States, each state has laws that require certain professionals (like teachers) to report suspicions of child abuse. Learn the laws in your state and see what your responsibility is, legally speaking. These, in addition to your school’s policies, will give you a good baseline on what to do when you have concerns that a child is being abused.

But what else can you do? Are their ways that you can recognize sexual abuse? Can you create a classroom environment that reduces the risk? How do you know what to say or when to say it in order to help a child? Below are seven ways that you can help reduce the risk of sexual abuse for your students:

01

KNOW THE FACTS

There are a lot of myths about child sexual abuse, so it’s important that you know the facts. The majority of children and teens are most likely to be sexually abused by someone they know and trust. Too often the abuse happens within their own family. This means that school may be one of the only safe places for them, whether you realize it or not. Sexual abuse affects kids of all races, religions, socioeconomic levels, and ages. If you don’t think it’s happening to children who attend your school, you’re wrong. It’s also important for you to know the signs, including looking for the possibility that a child is engaging in harmful sexual behavior and may be at risk for becoming a perpetrator of sexual abuse.

Simply arming yourself with accurate information can make a big difference in your classroom and school. When you encounter misinformation, you can step in and correct the inaccuracy. This will also help you reduce the stigma surrounding this topic and make it an appropriate topic to address with your colleagues.

02

LEARN ABOUT AGE-APPROPRIATE SEXUAL DEVELOPMENT

Depending on the age and maturity of a child, you can be sensitive to patterns of healthy sexual development and what’s typical for students within the age you teach. This may help you recognize sexual abuse, since exhibiting unhealthy or harmful sexual behaviors is a sign the child may have been sexually abused. You can also reduce the risk of a child acting on harmful sexual behaviors if you can recognize the signs. Keep in mind that not all children will develop at the same pace and things like maturity, mental or physical disabilities, and the environment where they’re being raised may impact their development as well.

When you are armed with the knowledge of what’s age-appropriate for your students, it will make it all the easier to spot when someone is not at the same level. This in and of itself is not a sign of sexual abuse, but when it’s combined with other factors it may lead you to ask questions, report, or advocate for a child who is in need of your help.

03

ENCOURAGE EMOTIONAL REGULATION

There are certain risk factors that raise the possibility of a child being sexually abused. Several of these factors may be combatted if a child learns emotional regulation. Emotional regulation is the ability to respond to the emotions felt in any given situation in a healthy and socially acceptable way. As adults we practice this skill often, but it’s something that children need to practice in order to develop. Responses such as tantrums, shouting, or meltdowns are signals that a child is having difficulty regulating their emotions. Depending on the age of your students you can implement policies in your class to help them have the time and space to work through overwhelming feelings.

Some ideas are giving them “alone time” to think about what they’re feeling and how they can deal with those emotions in an appropriate way for the classroom (make sure this doesn’t feel like a punishment or it could exacerbate the problem). You could utilize our Wheel of Emotions and help them identify their feelings so they can talk about them, or you can ask them to write down what they’re feeling as an essay or a story, depending on their age.

Giving kids a safe way to experience and resolve their emotional responses is not only an important life skill, but research has also shown that it will help prevent them from being sexually abused or sexually abusing someone else.

04

ENCOURAGE AND SUPPORT SCHOOL POLICIES

Most schools have policies in place for things like sexual harassment between students as well as policies dictating interactions between teachers and students. Encourage open discussion and understanding of these policies so that everyone (both students and staff) knows and understands both their rights and ways to respect the rights of others. If your school doesn’t have these types of policies in place, see what you can do about getting them implemented.

Many places require teachers to go through training or receive additional education about sexual abuse. These can often be emotionally overwhelming and leave you feeling hopeless about being able to ever make a difference. One way you can supplement this training with more hopeful and actionable information is by utilizing our classes designed for community members.

05

ENCOURAGE PARENTS TO EDUCATE THEIR CHILDREN

Whether or not your school has a comprehensive sexual education program, at Saprea we believe that parents are the most important source of information for their children. Many parents may not be discussing healthy sexual development with their children simply because they don’t realize what an impact it can have. You can encourage them to have little talks about sexual development with their kids.

Letting them know the importance of teaching their child assertive communication could be a good place to start. Or the importance of modeling healthy relationships. You could even start with talking to them about raising their child’s self-esteem. Whenever possible, encourage them to talk to their children openly and honestly about healthy sexual development, which may make all the difference in reducing the risk that the child will be sexually abused or will sexually abuse others.

06

TRUST YOUR INTUITION AND REPORT PROBLEMS

Like the adage you hear when you’re waiting for a flight in the airport, “If you see something, say something.” If you see a coworker or student exhibiting behaviors that cause you to worry, speak up about it. This may be letting a fellow teacher know that their relationship with a student seems to be veering into dangerous territory or pulling a student aside to ask them if everything is okay. Your school may have policies in place of who you should report to and how; make sure you know what the protocol is when you see something.

If you know that sexual abuse is occurring, don’t hesitate to report it. There are many survivors of child sexual abuse who have a teacher to thank for stopping the abuse they were experiencing. If your intuition tells you that something is “off” with a situation or someone, the chances are it is and you should investigate further.

07

BE A TRUSTED ADULT

There may be kids in your classroom who don’t feel safe at home. No matter what their family looks like, no matter how much (or how little) money their parents make or how nice their neighborhood is, a child may be experiencing sexual abuse. You can create an atmosphere of safety in your classroom and be someone they trust. Let them know that if there are problems in their lives, they can talk to you about them. Stress to them that secrets won’t keep them safe.

Whether a student is being sexually abused or not, having an adult they feel safe with is important. Allowing them a space where they can be themselves and where they are encouraged to work through their emotions in a healthy way can make all the difference in their lives.

Together We're Better

Child sexual abuse is an epidemic that impacts far too many families and communities. Together parents, teachers, and community members can make a difference. As we make it safe to openly discuss this topic, we can lower the number of children abused every year. Learn what to look for and speak up about this topic. It could make all the difference in the world to your students.

The Myth of the Abused Becoming Abusers

Saprea > Blog > All Blogs > The Myth of the Abused Becoming Abusers

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The Myth of the Abused Becoming Abusers

As a young college student, I decided that I didn’t like golf. I learned that golf actually stood for “Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden” and my hatred for the sport was solidified. I spent years railing against golf and the sexist acronym behind it.

Except it wasn’t true. I learned a few weeks ago that it’s a common myth, something repeated because it seems true, even though it isn’t.

This is relatively harmless compared to some myths—like the one that most perpetrators of child sexual abuse were once abused themselves. Or, in other words, that if someone is sexually abused as a child they are more likely to become an abuser when they grow up.

Of course, there are sexual abusers who were abused as children, but it isn’t as frequent or common as most people, even therapists, believe. In her book Predators, Anna C. Salter talks about how most men convicted of child sexual abuse will simply say that they were abused as children because it affords them more sympathy. In reality, fewer than 10% of them actually were.

So, what does this mean to you, as a parent?

01
If your child is sexually abused it does NOT mean that they will grow up to perpetuate that abuse on others, especially if your child is given the help and care that they need after the abuse is discovered.
02
It harms survivors of childhood sexual abuse to have this stigma attached to them. In addition to the trauma they experienced, they are now saddled with the fear that they’ll grow up to harm someone in the way that they were harmed.
03
When you read about a perpetrator of child sexual abuse, don’t assume that he or she MUST have been abused as a child. The truth is, we don’t actually know why people become sexual abusers, but we do know that it isn’t just because they were or weren’t sexually abused when they were children.
Some myths are harmless, like believing that going outside with wet hair will give you a cold. Others can cause a lot more harm. Make sure that you’re not making assumptions about the sexual abuse survivors in your life, or the perpetrators you may hear about. Here are eight more myths about child sexual abuse you can take.

Referring to Sexual Abuse Victims as ‘Survivors’ 

Saprea > Blog > All Blogs > Referring to Sexual Abuse Victims as ‘Survivors’ 

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Referring to Sexual Abuse Victims as ‘Survivors’ 

At Saprea, whenever we discuss individuals who were victims of child sexual abuse, we refer to them as survivors. Understandably, there’s some debate about the use of this word (more on that to follow), and I hope to enter this discussion with respect and perspective. The purpose of this blog post is less about assigning labels or defending terms, but instead to provide information about child sexual abuse, to acknowledge the limitations of words, to offer hope that healing is possible, and to share information about Saprea’s free resources.

Definition of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can take many forms. In some cases, a child may have been sexually abused without knowing that’s what was happening. That’s why having a clear definition of what constitutes sexual abuse is so important.

At Saprea, we define sexual abuse as any situation where another person (adult or peer) forces or coerces a child or adolescent into sexual activity that may or may not involve touch.

Touch sexual abuse may include fondling, oral-genital contact, or any type of penetration. Non-touch sexual abuse may include unhealthy sexual exposure, voyeurism, sexting or other tech-facilitated sexual activity with a child, or the creation of child sexual abuse materials. Sexual abuse is a form of child exploitation and may be motivated by personal gratification and/or financial gain. Anyone who has experienced any of these traumas during childhood or adolescence is, by definition, part of the community that we refer to as survivors of child sexual abuse.

Effects of Sexual Abuse

Trauma impacts people in different ways, influenced in part by genetics, personality, availability of support, frequency of exposure, and the age at which the traumatic event(s) were experienced. However, there are a handful of effects (or symptoms) that are common among survivors:

  • Feelings of shame
  • Triggers or flashbacks
  • Sleep issues (i.e., nightmares, insomnia, etc.)
  • Substance use disorder
  • Mental health diagnoses/concerns (i.e., depression, anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD, etc.)
  • Physical health diagnoses/concerns (i.e., chronic pain, autoimmune diseases, etc.)
  • Relational challenges (i.e., loneliness, abusive relationships, boundaries, etc.)
  • Disconnection (i.e., emotional numbness, dissociation, disconnection from the body etc.)

Some of these effects can be experienced in childhood or adolescence, but they may become more disruptive and intrusive during adulthood. Many survivors of sexual abuse express feeling like they’re in a battle with themselves and may not even associate the challenges they are experiencing to the traumatic events of their youth. This is why understanding how trauma impacts the brain and body can be reassuring and empowering for survivors and the people who support them.

Child Sexual Abuse Statistics

The Centers for Disease Control reports that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys are victims of sexual abuse in the US;1 UNICEF reports a similar figure: 1 in 8 children worldwide are victims of sexual abuse.2 But there are complexities with sexual abuse prevalence statistics that make the true scale of the problem difficult to understand.

One meta-analysis determined that rates of sexual abuse may be up to 30x higher than what is reported,3 which is a frightening prospect. Most victims don’t disclose the sexual abuse until adulthood, and male victims are less likely to ever disclose being sexually abused.4 So, knowing what to watch for can be critical to intervening when a child needs help.

The unfortunate reality is that child sexual abuse is widely underreported. There are several reasons why this might be the case, including:

  • The shame associated with being a victim of sexual abuse.
  • Fears of retaliation.
  • Apprehension about not being believed.
  • The relationship of the victim to the perpetrator.
  • A lack of understanding around what constitutes sexual abuse.

Signs of Sexual Abuse

The main thing to watch for in a child is a worrisome change in their interactions. This can include withdrawal and isolation, outbursts, depression, and/or secrecy. Physical signs of sexual abuse are less common, but can include bruising or tenderness, or infections. Keep an eye out for physical, behavioral, and emotional warning signs in children and adolescents.

If you suspect that an adult in your life experienced sexual abuse as a child but they have not said anything about being a survivor, it’s important to not push or pry. Loss of control—over their own body, circumstances, reactions—is a sexual abuse victim’s lived experience. You can create safety by not pressuring them to share more than they are ready to. If you have concerns, share them. Offer support, ensure confidentiality, and be a safe space for others to share whatever they choose, be it much, or nothing at all. Sexual abuse survivors have the autonomy and the right to share their story in their own way, in their own time, and with their own terms. And whatever they decide to share, believe them.

Victim vs. Survivor

While I use the word survivor to refer to the larger community of individuals who experienced child sexual abuse, I know that term doesn’t always reflect the lived experience of every person. Some hate the label, feeling like it limits or defines them based on someone else’s actions. Others feel like survivor poorly describes the beautiful, meaningful lives they’ve built for themselves, and the strength they’ve exerted to do so. Some see it as a stage they have moved through, or are moving through, as they work on healing from sexual abuse. And still, others prefer the descriptor of victim because of the importance of clearly indicating the perpetrator’s responsibility and the gravity of what happened. Each of these feelings is valid and speaks to the complexity of childhood sexual abuse and how no one experiences trauma or heals in the same way.

The label of survivor is used by many to describe individuals who are part of a community that they didn’t choose to belong to.

Yet, when I think of a replacement to survivor, I can’t come up with a word that adequately captures all the connotations that I feel. I reflect on the challenges and struggles of my loved ones who experienced sexual abuse as children. I remember their struggles to overcome self-destructive habits and thoughts. And I acknowledge the characteristics they embody, like empathy, strength, and determination. I admire the authentic, vulnerable, beautiful souls they are. Often, they manage PTSD symptoms and negative self-talk all while raising kids, earning degrees, running successful businesses, and giving back to their communities in so many meaningful ways. So, I agree: the term survivor seems woefully inadequate to capture the resilient individuals who, on some days lead regular, uneventful lives, and on other days work to the point of exhaustion just to manage the impacts of the sexual abuse they experienced.

The term survivor seems woefully inadequate to capture the resilient individuals who, on some days lead regular, uneventful lives, and on other days work to the point of exhaustion just to manage the impacts of the sexual abuse they experienced.

I learned a few years back that a trauma-informed best practice is to mirror the verbiage I hear in conversations with others. I’ve seen how powerfully validating it can be to echo the words they use as they share about their past trauma. I still use the word survivor to refer to the larger community, but I fully embrace the opportunity to use the titles members of the that community call themselves. Such words include: advocate, warrior, thriver, truth-speaker, and—one of my favorites—simply, powerfully, Kate.

Perhaps as more experiences are shared, the dialogue around child sexual abuse will generate further support for those who have been victimized. Perhaps the survivor community will adopt a title that is more reflective of their collective strength, empathy, resilience, and grit. I look forward to that possibility. It will symbolize an empowerment that is so desperately needed among survivors, an empowerment that accelerated during the #metoo movement and has the strength to move far beyond that. In the meantime, there are many opportunities for advocacy, awareness, and support.

Helping Victims Heal

At Saprea, we talk about healing from childhood sexual abuse as a journey. It’s often a winding path with ups and downs, with times where you circle back to a spot you’ve seemingly been to before. The important thing to remember is that healing is possible. Many of the victims and survivors that I have worked with have shared that while healing is difficult, it’s worth the effort. In fact, many have described healing as a process that doesn’t take the pain away or erase the past, but instead changes their relationship to the trauma; being a survivor of child sexual abuse becomes part of the story instead of dictating the story. It’s powerful to see someone transform from feeling defined by what happened to them, to intentionally making things happen for them. And the support of loved ones can greatly accelerate this type of growth.

Are you looking for ways to support someone who was sexually abused as a child?

01
Learn about trauma and its impact on a victim’s brain and body.
02
Become familiar with some of the common symptoms experienced by survivors.
03
Talk to your loved one. Ask if there are ways you can support their healing. Allow them to share what they’re ready to share, but don’t push.
04
Above all, be a safe supporter by not judging their thoughts, actions, or coping mechanisms; it’s important to realize they are doing their best to cope with a life situation they didn’t ask for. Encourage them and help them recognize when they get closer to achieving the goals they have set for themselves.

You show love as you offer support and foster healing.

Healing Resources

Saprea is a nonprofit dedicated to liberating individuals and society from child sexual abuse and its lasting impacts. Our compassionate team of licensed clinicians and experts in child sexual abuse trauma recovery are dedicated to providing high quality effective programs and services. We serve communities of individuals throughout the world who, as children, were victims of sexual abuse. And, thanks to the generosity of our donors, the Saprea Retreat, the Saprea Healing Webinar, Saprea Support Groups, and Saprea Online Healing Resources are offered at no cost to those who receive them.

Healing is possible. Whether you identify as a survivor, victim, advocate, or Kate, please, never underestimate yourself and the things you can do.

About the Author

Image

Kolene Anderson

Research and Program Development Manager
Kolene joined Saprea in the spring of 2019. She received a BS in English and literature from Utah Valley University and an MA in rhetoric and composition from Northern Arizona University. Kolene cares about making a difference in the world, and she is honored to work for an organization that brings awareness to the issue of child sexual abuse. Prior to working at Saprea, she taught at the college level for many years, presented at numerous conferences, and served in leadership positions professionally and in the community. As a mother of six, Kolene also tries very hard to teach her children how to live their lives with intention, authenticity, and hope—something she feels she is learning to do herself one day at a time. In addition to working at Saprea, she loves to go for drives while she listens to music, and enjoys playing card and board games. Her kids would also tell you that Kolene loves to take bubble baths and drinks a lot of Coca-Cola.

5 Facts About Child on Child Sexual Abuse (COCSA)

Saprea > Blog > All Blogs > 5 Facts About Child on Child Sexual Abuse (COCSA)

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5 Facts About Child on Child Sexual Abuse (COCSA)

Many parents or caregivers often raise the questions concerning sexual abuse: “Do children sexually abuse other children?” and “Does it really happen?” One uncomfortable fact about child sexual abuse is that about 1/3 of all victimization occurs between people who are both under the age of 18, which means that child on child sexual abuse is a difficult reality that must be addressed.

What is Child On Child Sexual Abuse?

The term child-on-child sexual abuse (COCSA) is defined as sexual activity between children that occurs without consent, without equality (mentally, physically, or in age), or as a result of physical or emotional coercion. What this means is that a power difference exists between the two children, whether that is in age, size, or ability.

While the trauma for the victim is the same as if it had happened by an adult, this type of abuse often goes unreported—either because it’s dismissed by adults as “kids being kids” or for the fear of what will happen to one or both of the children to have the abuse known.

The truth is that both children need help in a situation like this. The child being abused certainly needs the appropriate care to avoid the weight of lifelong trauma that so many survivors of child sexual abuse experience, as well as the symptoms that go with it.

The child who has engaged in the harmful sexual behavior (HSB) needs help as well. If they are able to see a licensed medical/mental health professional to help them work through these age-inappropriate sexual behaviors, then they are less likely to engage in HSB again.

What Are the Facts?

01

AGES 12 TO 14 ARE THE PEAK AGES FOR AN ADOLESCENT TO ENGAGE IN HARMFUL SEXUAL BEHAVIORS.

This age-range experiences a lot of changes as puberty begins, and if they have a skewed view of sex, or a propensity toward HSB, they may target someone younger, smaller, or with cognitive or physical limitations.

02

70 PERCENT OF ALL ADULT PERPETRATORS HAVE BETWEEN 1 AND 9 VICTIMS.

This means that if a child or teen victimizes another child or teen, they need help immediately, so they will not go on to victimize others.

03

AS MANY AS 40 PERCENT OF CHILDREN WHO ARE SEXUALLY ABUSED ARE VICTIMIZED BY OLDER OR MORE POWERFUL CHILDREN.

It's important to look for ways to not only protect your child from sexual abuse, but also find ways to protect them from perpetrating abuse against others.

04

SEX OFFENSES ARE THE CRIMES LEAST LIKELY TO INVOLVE STRANGERS AS PERPETRATORS.

This can make it difficult to know what to do in this situation, but please know that reporting it is the best thing that you can do for BOTH children involved.

05

CHILDREN WHO DISCLOSE THEIR ABUSE WITHIN ONE MONTH ARE AT A REDUCED RISK FOR DEPRESSION.

If your child can talk about the abuse with you, then they are less likely to suffer from depression later in life related to the abuse. Believe them when they talk to you or disclose to you. One of the most important things you can do is LISTEN.

You Can Make a Difference

Sexual abuse can be hard to think about and harder to discuss, but it’s important to address these issues and educate yourself. This will empower you to reduce the risk of your child being sexually abused and/or engaging in HSB. If something has happened and you’re not sure what to do, please report it so that the children involved can get the help they need.