Child Sexual Abuse Response Plan

What Is Child Sexual Abuse? Recognize the signs of abuse and the profile of abusers.

By Richard R. Hammar

Being able to recognize the signs of child sexual abuse is the first step in being able to take action and respond to the abuse. In this article, you’ll gain insights on what to look for in children, as well as what to beware of in suspicious adults.

The precise legal definition of child sexual abuse or molestation varies from state to state, but in general includes any form of sexual contact or exploitation in which a minor is being used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator. In a more general sense, child sexual abuse is:

Any sexual activity with a child—whether in the home by a caretaker, in a day care situation, a foster/ residential setting, or in any other setting, including on the street by a person unknown to the child. The abuser may be an adult, an adolescent, or another child, provided the child is four years older than the victim (National Resource Center on Child Sexual Abuse).

Child sexual abuse may be violent or non-violent. All child sexual abuse is an exploitation of a child’s vulnerability and powerlessness in which the abuser is fully responsible for the actions. Child sexual abuse is criminal behavior that involves children in sexual behaviors for which they are not personally, socially, and developmentally ready. Child sexual abuse includes behaviors that involve touching and non-touching aspects.

Types of abuse that involve touching include: • Fondling • Oral, genital, and anal penetration • Intercourse • Forcible rape

Types of sexual abuse that do not involve touching include:

• Verbal comments • Pornographic videos • Obscene phone calls • Exhibitionism • Allowing children to witness sexual activity

The full extent of child sexual abuse in our country is not known. Conservative estimates suggest that from 500,000 to over 1.5 million children are sexually abused each year. The possibility that the number is higher is likely because the greatest percentage of these cases go unreported. A national retrospective study on the prevalence of child sexual abuse found that 27 percent of adult women and 16 percent of men claimed to have experienced some form of child sexual victimization. Over 25 percent indicated this occurred before the age of nine (Finkelhor, Hotaling, Lewis, and Smith, 1990). More recently, the American Psychological Association estimates 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.

Child sexual abuse occurs in all demographic, racial, ethnic, socio-economic, and religious groups. Strangers account for less than 20 percent of the abusers. Estimates indicate that when a known assailant commits the abuse, half of the time it is a father or stepfather, and the rest of the time it is a trusted adult who misuses his or her authority over children.

Symptoms of Molestation Church workers and staff members should be alert to the physical signs of abuse and molestation, as well as to behavioral and verbal signs that a victim


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