Frequently Asked Questions 

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Child sexual abuse

"If you have ever experienced sexual abuse, we hear and see you.  Taking the first step is challenging and it may take a lot to gather up the courage to speak and reach out for help, but if you are here reading this, you have taken the first step on your road to recovery or helping a loved one. Don’t lose hope, you are not alone in this!"

 

 

 

What is child sexual abuse?

 

Sexual Abuse occurs when a person forces a child to have any form of sexual contact or makes a child perform sexual acts. This involvement of a child in sexual activity cannot be fully comprehended by the child and is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent. This act of abuse may happen once or many times over a period of time.

 

Child sexual abuse can occur in many degrees, starting from non-touching behavior to touching behaviors- the main forms of child sexual abuse include, rape or genital contact,  fondling of genitals, genital stimulation, masturbation in the presence of the child, oral sex, using fingers, penis, or objects for vaginal/anal penetration, inappropriate sexual language, sexual harassment, voyeurism, exhibitionism; exposing oneself to a child, Obscene phone calls, text messages, or digital interaction or involving a child in pornography or prostitution and Any other sexual conduct that is harmful to a child's mental, emotional, or physical welfare.

 

 

 

 

How does sexual abuse affect me or someone I know?

 

Childhood experiences are an important part of our lives, some experiences are responsible for shaping who we become and how we understand the world around us. Experiencing sexual abuse can lead to significant problems in later life as they violate emotional and physical boundaries. This traumatic experience and related trauma may cause long-term and short-term effects on psychological function and physical health, immediately and when entering adulthood

 

We understand experiencing abuse can shatter your world, break your trust and confidence, but this is a reminder that you are not alone, and it is not your fault.

 

 

 

What is trauma?

 

Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing event that poses a threat on an individual or causes harm. Trauma from childhood sexual abuse may impact children’s bodies, emotions, behavior, and brain.  

 

The most common psychological difficulties that children may battle with immediately from this traumatic event is

 

  • Difficulties in emotional regulation

  • Guilt, shame, anger or self-blame

  • Loneliness and isolation

  • Repression or denial

  • Externalizing or internalizing behavioral problems

  • Relationship difficulties with parents, friends, or teachers

Childhood seuxal abuse has a huge long term impact on the brain development and functionality of children. A child’s brain is constantly adapting to survive, when a child grows up in an environment where neglect and abuse has occurred, most of these experiences start shaping the child’s brain, as the child struggles to survive in the adverse event, the specific changes in the brain puts them at a higher risk of developing mental health problems as they grow older.

 

Most of the time, children are abused by someone they look up to, someone they trusted and is around them. This factor leads to one of the most significant impacts on children may experience as an immediate impact such betrayal, guilt, shame, and self-blame. This array of emotions lays a foundation for how they start seeing the world and that in turn changes how they start to see themselves as well. This shift in one’s identity and perceptions about themselves and the world lingers on and impacts other domains of life. 

 

Given this significant impact on the child’s brain and life, sexual abuse has been correlated with higher levels of long-term impacts such as :


 

  • Depressive disorders

  • Anxiety related disorders

  • Eating disorders

  • Sexual dysfunctions

  • Interpersonal difficultie

  • Personality disorders 

  • Addiction related problems

  • Vulnerability to re-victimization

  • Socio-economic, career, education related difficulties

  • Attempts to suicide and self-harm

 

 

How do I know if someone is being abused?

 

It is difficult to know a loved one or a friend going through a turbulent period like this, but if you feel helpless in such situations, don’t lose hope, you can help, you can be there for someone. Let’s start paying attention, that will enable you to offer support and save a life.

 

You are here because you care.

 

Children and teens may not be able to tell you they are being abused. Most children and teenagers are afraid to disclose the abuse, for several reasons. Some may not fully comprehend what is happening to them, they may not find the appropriate words to express their trauma, the abuser may have made the children promise or threaten not to reveal anything.   Children, teenagers and adolescents all respond to trauma in their own different ways. Age, intensity of abuse, duration of abuse, differences in abuser are common factors that affect this difference in presentation.

 

Knowing that someone is being abused, and spotting certain signs maybe difficult at certain times. However, there may be a range of signs and some may be easier to identify.  Although some signs may not be visible in every context, pay attention to things they do during the day, how they play, changes in behaviors in children and teens, questions or worries they might bring to you. Another important area to pay attention to is signs and indications that may emerge during a child’s stressful times, such as death of a loved one, problems at school, separation, divorce or any other family related disputes.

 

Younger children may start telling you stories, express their dislike to certain people, do listen and start a conversation with them, our goal should be to create that space for them to express

What signs do I have to look out for if someone is being abused?

 

 

These are some more specific behavioral and psychical signs to look out for. Teenagers and children may present with different warning signs, but there may be some common ones both children and teenagers show

 

Children

 

  • Having problems with sleep; experiencing nightmares

  • Change in eating habits

  • Sudden, unexplained changes in mood, irritability, fussier and easily startled

  • Decline in school grades/ skipping classes

  • Difficulties with friends, more withdrawn and quiet

  • Distracted, unable to pay attention, hyperactivity at certain times

  • Complaints or concerns raised by teachers

  • Sexualized behavior (touching of genital at inappropriate times, playing with toys and dolls in a sexual way

  • Using sexual language that is inappropriate for their age, or having more sexual awareness that is over their development

  • Signs of trauma to the genital area, bleeding or bruising

                   

 

Teenagers

 

  • Isolated and does not engage in any play or interaction with friends and family

  • Sudden, unexplained changes in mood, irritability, fussier and easily startled

  • Having problems with sleep; experiencing nightmares

  • Self-harm or injury

  • Drug or alcohol use

  • Change in food intake patterns

  • Engaging in risky behaviors

  • Attempts of suicide

 

Trust your gut! If you do feel something is not okay, not ordinary, start paying close attention to that feeling you may have. If you do decide a child or a loved one is being abused for sure, start by tracking the changes in behavior and most importantly start a conversation.

 

 

How can we be there for a child who is trying to tell us about abuse?

 

 

All children are unique, their ability to tell us about the abuse, depends on several factors starting from age, personality, confidence they have in their support system, and most importantly sense of safety. Our emotions towards a child or a loved one who has undergone abuse is a very important factor. Reacting with rage, anger or blame may drive the child to feel more isolated and finally not open up about a concern they may have.

 

 

Provide safety, love , support and care! 

 

 Let’s try to keep these factors in mind if a child comes up to us about the abuse

 

Be aware of your emotions

 

It’s natural to feel uneasy, and intense fear, anger, or denial when a child tells you about it, however let’s try to be aware and instead first allow the child to express without taking that space from them.

 

Hold space for the conversation

 

Words of support will be great for the child at this time, even if it is difficult to communicate verbally, listen, make eye contact. Non – verbal communication can go a long way; it will make the child feel heard and supported.  Don’t force them to say everything in one go, give them the chance and freedom to speak about it at their own pace.

 

Reassure the child

 

They came to us because they want comfort and feels safe to speak, make sure you reassure the child you are there for them, normalize their feelings of fear or sadness, and explain to the child that it is not their fault this happened

 

Phrases you can tell the child to validate their emotions

 

“It is so brave of you to tell me, thank you for telling me”

“I believe you”.

“What you are going through is so scary and difficult”

“It’s okay to feel scared”

“it’s okay to feel angry”

“I am here for you; this is not your fault”

“You can tell me anything, I am here to protect you”

 

 

Offer comfort

 

They may be confused, scared and upset. Hold them, reach out for their hand. If they don’t seem to want that physical comfort, give them the space, and let’s respect their reaction.

 

Answer their questions

 

They may have many questions regarding why it happened, what will happen next, give simple answers if you are able to, however if you feel like you do not know what to say, do tell the child you will come back to them with it.

 

 

Most abuse happens in places the child usually feels safe in, done by individuals the child may have looked up to, their trust is already shattered, so let’s avoid asking or saying using phrases which may make the child feel at fault, alone leading to further confirming their beliefs that the world is an unsafe place.  

 

“Why did it happen?”

“Are you sure it happened?”

“Why did you let it happen?”

“Why didn’t you tell me all this time?”

 

 

Ask them what support they want, and what we can do for them  

 

Sometimes asking if the child needs help can go a long way. It also gives them the independence and freedom to say what they might need at the moment. 

 

 

 

 

 What do i do if the child “takes back their story” or say “it did not happen”

 

Children may do that for several reasons, some of which may be fear of the threat from the abuser, the child feels like you didn't believe them, felt less safe in their environment and they also may be  worried they may upset you. At times like that, continue to offer love and support, avoid getting angry and lashing out for not saying it, or taking the story back. Let's also not pressure the child to say it. We can instead use such phrases 

 

“It's okay, you must be so scared, do you want to take some time and come back?”

“I will protect you from what you are scared of, i am here for you”

“Its okay, you can take your time to tell me, i will be here for you”