Definition of Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse is any form of sexual activity with a child by an adult, or by another child where there is no consent or consent is not possible; or by another child who has power over child. By this definition, it is possible for a child to be sexually abused by another child who is younger than they are.
Sexual abuse includes, but is not limited to, showing a child pornographic materials, placing child's hand on another person's genitals, touching a child's genitals, and/or penetration of any orifice of a child's body (mouth, vagina, anus) with a penis, finger, or an object of any sort. Penetration does not have to occur for it to be sexual abuse.
Who are Perpetrators?
Perpetrators are most often someone child knows and trusts. As far as we know, perpetrators, are most often male relatives, including fathers, brothers, grandfathers, uncles and cousins; friends of family; or neighbours. Perpetrators can also be female, including mothers, sisters, aunts, babysitters, and grandmothers.
Usually perpetrator has easy access to child because s/he has sole responsibility for child, or takes care of or visits child, and is trusted by child's parents.
Where Does Sexual Abuse Occur?
Sexual abuse or incest can occur anywhere, at any time, including in front of other people who do not, or choose to not see. I have heard many stories of children being abused while other people were in next room, in a car with them, or sitting at a dinner table.
Who is Sexually Abused?
All children are vulnerable to sexual abuse. Sexual abuse and incest occur in every race, class, religion, culture, and country.
Once a child has been sexually abused, and has not received appropriate help, support, and understanding for what has happened, s/he can be particularly vulnerable to being sexually abused again by another perpetrator. This is not fault of child. This is due to fact that she has learned that sexual abuse is something that people will and can do to her/his body.
Children whose emotional needs are not met--who are emotionally deprived, or otherwise abused--can also be more vulnerable because they need attention and some perpetrators exploit that need. Again, this is not child's fault. The child did not create fact that her/his needs were not met, nor fact that someone exploited that need.
Homophobia puts lesbian and gay youth at risk of sexual abuse. Many gay youth are forced to go to adult clubs, bars and other settings in order to explore their sexuality and to meet other prople who are gay. By being in an adult setting they are more likely to be exploited (just as heterosexual girls would be at risk in an adult heterosexual setting). Also, it is unlikely that gay youth will tell anyone if they are abused because they would have to reveal that they were in a gay setting. With little or no access to information about gay sexuality, many youth misinterpret abuse experiences as representing what it means to be gay. This puts them at further risk.
Different Effects and Coping Strategies of Child Sexual Abuse
The effects of child sexual abuse are wide ranging, and vary from survivor to survivor depending on a number of different factors such as age of victim, duration of abuse, number of perpetrators, nature of relationship with perpetrator, and severity of assault.
I always hesitant to write that last one--the severity of assault--because all abuse is traumatic and harmful to victims. I have known women quite traumatized by their breasts being repeatedly grabbed when they were a child. While this may not be as severe as some other forms of abuse, it can have strong and long-lasting effects. It's important to remember that while being assaulted in a more violent manner does have its own specific effects, it in no way minimizes reality and experience of others who have not experienced that kind of violence.
Includes feelings of: confusion, powerlessness, helplessness, pain, betrayal, sadness, grief, loss, feeling dirty, shame, vulnerable, unsafe, scared, terrified, horrified, depressed, angry, numb from feelings and body, suspicious, untrusting, tortured, sensitive, emotional, hurt, panic, anxiety, and feeling miserable.
Beliefs About Self
Beliefs about one’s self include: "I am bad, no one loves me, no one could love me, I am unlovable, I am dirty, it's my fault, I'm stupid, I should have done something, I should have told someone, I hate myself, I must be bad, I must have wanted it, I must have done something, I'm being punished, I deserve to die, I don't want to be me, why do these things happen to me, I must have deserved it"
Survivors are confronted with overwhelming pain. In order to cope with extreme and intense emotions, details of what happened, and who hurt them, they may try to convince themselves "it wasn't so bad, it didn't really hurt them, others have been hurt much more" etc. This is a form of self-protection. It did hurt, it still hurts but it may be too hard or scary right now to face it all.
As a form of self-protection, minimizing may help slow process down which may be what survivor needs from time to time. As a constant way of coping however, minimization leads to self-blame and self-hatred which is not helpful and hurts a great deal.
Suvivors need to protect themselves from truth of situation, after all someone they trusted, and perhaps loved, hurt them very badly. Rationalization is when a survivor explains abusive behavior away--"he didn't know what he was doing, he was abused himself as a child, he thought he was showing me love, she was really messed up, she didn't mean to hurt me." The survivor is trying to protect her/himself from horrible truth of situation.