- In the United States, childhood sexual abuse has been reported up
to 160,000 times per year. Although this figure appears high, such
abuse is dramatically under-reported because children are afraid to
tell and because the legal process is difficult. Statistics vary, but
actual abuse, whether reported or not, may occur with as many as one-third
of girls and one-fourth of all boys.
- Once sexual abuse has been identified, the child should receive professional
help. The long-term psychological effects can be devastating for children
who have been sexually abused (see item 3).
- "Red flags," or symptoms that may help identify children
who have been sexually abused, can include unusually increased or decreased
interest in sexual matters, sleep problems, school avoidance, self-harming
or aggressive behaviors, seductiveness, and enactments
of molestations in play.
- Children who have experienced repeated incest may become passive
and seemingly accepting of these acts over time, a process known as "the
accommodation syndrome." They usually have low self-esteem and
an abnormal perspective on sexuality.
- Children who care for their abuser are often trapped between feelings
of loyalty to that person and the sense that the sexual activities
are wrong. Incest also affects a child's relationship with all other
- Sexual abuse of boys is seriously under-reported. Like girls, boys
are more commonly abused by men; these boys may experience confusion
about their sexual identity and fears of homosexuality at the time
of the abuse or later.
- Children and adolescents who have been sexually abused are more likely
to engage in dangerous risk-taking behaviors during adolescence, including
coercive sex (as either the aggressor or the victim), unprotected sexual
activity, and self-harming behaviors such as cutting, driving while
intoxicated, and even suicide attempts.
- Parents and other adults need to educate themselves about both normative
and unhealthy childhood sexual behavior and promote good communication
with children. As a part of this, adults need to alert children to
the potential of adults touching their bodies and encourage the children
to tell them if this happens.
- Adults need to encourage professional prevention programs in the
- Parents and other adults need to pay attention to their own attitudes
and behaviors around sexuality, including participation in dangerous
patterns, neglect of sexuality as a healthy aspect of life, or forced
sex. Children are watching and imitating, whether they acknowledge
this or not.
Main Article: Teenagers and Sexuality at
Originally published in the 2000 September/October
issue of Camping