What is CSA?Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a crime. It’s any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors when one uses power over another. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s resources¹, CSA includes an adult or more powerful youth forcing, coercing, tricking, persuading a child into a sexual act, intercourse, touching, exploitation, indecent exposure or exhibitionism, non-touching offenses that can be equally devastating to a child’s well-being. It can include exposing children to pornographic material, masturbating in front of a child, the use of force or coercion, and any form of molestation.
How often does it happen?CSA is an epidemic. There are tens of millions of adult survivors in the US right now. It can happen to children no matter how old they are, whether they’re a boy or girl, where they live, how rich or poor they are, what grade they’re in, what their religion or race is or any other factor in their lives. It happens to every kind of child, and it happens too much.
Who does it happen to?CSA happens to individual children, but it also impacts everyone they’re close to – families, friends and people who love them. Children who experience CSA can be honor roll students, athletes, musicians, rich, poor, exuberant, shy, and every kind of kid. It happens to so many of us. And if it happens to you, you must know it’s not your fault. It’s the fault of the adult who committed the sexual abuse.
How does this affect victims? When CSA is perpetrated, it can have long lasting impacts. Victims of CSA are:
3 times more likely to suffer from depression
6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder
13 times more likely to abuse alcohol
26 times more likely to abuse drugs
4 times more likely to contemplate suicide²
Who does this to children?For most of us, imagining that someone would sexually abuse a child is impossible to understand. It’s hard to imagine who would do that. Statistically, offenders are most often people known by their victims. This isn’t about stranger danger – 86% of CSA victims know their abuser. They are family members including parents, grandparents, siblings, as well as coaches, family friends, teachers, babysitters or other trusted adults and youth. This does not mean that all adults are dangerous. It does mean that most perpetrators of CSA are not strangers.
What are the warning signs if someone is being abused?There are physical and emotional warning signs of CSA. Children often reveal their feelings through their behavior.³ Remember, stress of all kinds or life transitions can cause children to act out or experience changes in their behavior. One sign or another may not mean a child has been or is being sexually abused, but multiple signs may mean that you should start asking questions or seek professional help.
What Should You Look for If You Suspect Sexual Abuse? 4Children who are sexually abused may exhibit behavioral changes, based on their age.
Children up to age 3 may exhibit:
- Fear or excessive crying
- Feeding problems
- Bowel problems
- Sleep disturbances
- Failure to thrive
Children ages 2 to 9 may exhibit:
- Fear of particular people, places or activities
- Regression to earlier behaviors such as bed wetting or stranger anxiety
- Victimization of others
- Excessive masturbation
- Feelings of shame or guilt
- Nightmares or sleep disturbances
- Withdrawal from family or friends
- Fear of attack recurring
- Eating disturbances
Symptoms of sexual abuse in older children and adolescents include:
- Nightmares or sleep disturbances
- Poor school performance
- Substance abuse
- Running away from home
- Fear of attack recurring
- Eating disturbances
- Early pregnancy or marriage
- Suicidal gestures
- Anger about being forced into situation beyond one’s control
Is there hope?Absolutely YES! Researchers, clinicians and support people in many fields work every day to help and support survivors of CSA and their loved ones. We can work together towards prevention so that not one more child is victimized. The biggest source of hope is you. By committing to end CSA, you are re-writing the story for children everywhere, and helping to ensure SAFE communities.
Here are five things you can do today5:
Silence about CSA doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t promote change. And it encourages offenders to think that no one will stop them. Now that you’re an informed member of SAFE’s movement against CSA, join the cause by calling your friends and family to action. Talk about it. Make sure all your friends and followers know that they can visit www.wersafe.org to get informed. Talking about CSA is something to feel empowered about.
When you’re talking, be direct with your language. Use the proper names of body parts especially genitals with your children ‒don’t be afraid to use the words vagina, penis, anus. Let them know it’s ok to say these words. This gives children and adults a shared and appropriate language to express themselves in healthy moments and inappropriate situations.
Talk about and model boundaries. Explain to your children that they are in charge of their bodies. No one has the right to touch them or ever make them feel uncomfortable. Teach them to say, “No.” It’s ok to decline a hug, kiss, tickle or any physical contact from anyone including family members or friends. It’s also important to remind children that they don’t have the right to touch someone who doesn’t want to be touched. Model this behavior for your children. If you ask them for a hug and they say, “No,” respect their boundaries.
Don’t keep secrets. Remind children that they should never keep secrets from you, and no one should ever ask them to keep secrets from you. if someone tells children to keep secrets, tell them to tell an adult. They can have “surprises” like birthday presents, but no secrets.¹
Talking is important and so is leaving space for others to speak. Be a living safe space for friends and loved ones. Be an active listener to everything your children have to say, and keep the lines of communication open. If someone reaches out to you because they know you’re passionate about ending CSA, be a compassionate resource and help them connect with the organizations listed on our resource page so they can get help and support.
3. Learn more
Join our mailing list, follow us on Twitter and contact us if you’d like to work with our advisory boards, local projects and training courses. Education is a huge part of shifting our culture’s attitudes about CSA. Practice awareness and take notice of people who show an interest in your children. Understand what the process of grooming is – it’s when someone establishes an emotional connection with a child to build trust for the purpose of sexual abuse and/or exploitation. This process can happen by a trusted loved one or friend or by a stranger. It can also happen in person or online. It can happen quickly or over a long period of time. Be aware of anyone showing an interest in your child.
Once you’re informed and involved, find ways to help change the conversation. Encourage your school, faith community, athletic clubs, and more to conduct Stewards of Children trainings for all adults in your community. Stay up to date on the latest legislation that impacts CSA survivors and don’t be afraid to call your representatives and let them know what you think about the need for prevention and support.
Your contributions to SAFE in support of $5 for 1 in 5, and more, will go directly into facilitating trainings, spreading education, supporting research and changing the way we make the world a SAFE place for children everywhere.
1. American Humane Association, based on U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families. (2007). Child maltreatment 2005. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
3. To learn more about the ways CSA victimhood manifests in children, read this from the American Humane Organization, based on U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families. (2007). Child maltreatment 2005. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
4. Physical signs that a child may have been sexually abused can be confusing and overwhelming. Check out U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2005 study on Child maltreatment to understand more, and always consult your physician.
5. These tips and more available here, and on our resource page.