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FAQs About Child Sexual Abuse

What should I do if I am concerned that a child or teen may sexually abuse another child?

Act now, if you are worried that your son or daughter or another child may be sexually harming another child.

Get help from a professional therapist immediately and develop a family safety plan to address the concerning behaviors. By taking action, you will reduce the risk that other children in your community or family will be sexually abused. And, prompt intervention can get a child with sexual behavior problems the treatment he or she needs to grow into a productive member of our community. Healing from child sexual abuse is possible with treatment and support. There are resources throughout the country that can help a family through this difficult situation.

For information, guidance and resources, visit our Online Help Center.

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Can therapy help a child who has been sexually abused recover?

YES. The lives of children who have been sexually abused are forever changed. But many adults have healed from childhood sexual abuse and are living caring and productive lives.

Some children may be ready to talk about their abuse and deal with it soon after it happens. Others may need to move more slowly, gradually testing the safety of addressing the issues that arise. Children do best with a combination of love from caregivers, and support from a counselor who has special training to work with children who have experienced sexual trauma. Children and youth frequently respond best to specialized, sex-specific treatment when it is offered early and with the support of trusted adults.

Since child sexual abuse affects all members of a family or group, everyone including the adults is likely to need support. There are resources throughout the country that can help a child and its family through this difficult situation.

For more information, guidance and resources, visit our Online Help Center.

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What should I do if I know a child has been abused?

Believe the child—children are rarely mistaken about what happened. One of the most important things a parent or adult can do when a child tells about sexual abuse is to respond to the child in a calm and matter-of-fact manner. Take a deep breath. Let the child know that no matter what happened or what he/she says, you will still love him/her.

If the child has been abused, take the time to reassure the child that he/she has done nothing wrong. Let the child know that you will do whatever you can to keep him/her safe. Let the child know you are someone he/she can safely talk to about this issue. Listen carefully to the responses without suggesting answers. It may be useful to practice with someone else first and get support to help keep your own emotions in check. Recognize that confusion, guilt, and shame about abuse can make the conversation difficult, both for you and for the child. Acknowledge the child’s discomfort and offer praise for their courage to talk about a confusing experience. Remember that if it’s difficult for you to discuss your concerns, it is likely to be much more difficult for the child.

Next, get help. The sexual abuse of children is against the law. It is important to seek professional help and not confront this alone. By taking action you may reduce the risk of others in your community or family from being sexually abused. Healing from child sexual abuse is possible with specialized treatment and support. There are resources throughout the country that can help a family through this difficult situation.

Reporting the abuse to authorities is an upsetting prospect for many families. Yet, filing a report can be a first step to accessing support services. Children who are abused and their families need help to recover from their trauma. Anyone who is harming a child sexually also needs help and support to stop the behavior.

For more information, guidance and resources, email or call the Helpline or visit our Online Help Center.

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Is viewing child pornography child sexual abuse?

Yes. Child pornography is illegal because it is evidence of a crime and harms all children. Some people refer to child pornography images as “crime scene photographs” to make the point that taking such pictures and behaving sexually with a child are crimes. Viewing child pornography perpetuates an industry which harms children. Some adults may justify their viewing of child pornography by saying to themselves or others that they would never behave sexually with a child in person. You can remind them that it is still illegal.

People can get in trouble before they even realize it. When it is so easy to access sexually explicit materials on the Internet, users can find themselves acting on curiosities they didn’t have before. Some people find themselves losing control over their use of pornography, for example by spending more and more time viewing it and, for some, looking for new and different types of pornography, including images of children. Some people accidentally find sexual images of children and are curious or aroused by them. They may justify their behavior by saying they weren’t looking for the pictures, they just “stumbled across” them, etc. If you find what you believe to be sexual images of children on the Internet, report this immediately to authorities by contacting Cybertipline. If someone you know is concerned about their Internet activity, seek the help of professionals who specialize in this area.

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FAQs on Prevention for Children with Disabilities

These FAQ were compiled in partnership with the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center and with the expert review of Dr. Scott Modell, Deputy Commissioner Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.

  1. What is the risk of child sexual abuse for a child with disabilities?
  2. Does a child who has a disability need to be taught about sex?
  3. What is the best way to communicate information about sexuality to a child who has limited expressive communication?

1. What is the risk of child sexual abuse for a child with disabilities?

Children with disabilities are almost three times more likely to be sexually abused than non-disabled children, according to a review commissioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability.

One of the biggest factors contributing to this increased risk is the reluctance of adults to provide sexuality education to children with disabilities. Additional factors placing children at higher risk for sexual abuse include the need for assistance with daily living activities such as hygiene help, lack of social supports for themselves and their caregivers, misunderstanding about children’s sexual behaviors, and overall stigma and discrimination.

In specific, children with intellectual and developmental disabilities can also be more vulnerable as social skills, decision making skills and overall judgment may be impacted by the disability. Children with disabilities who reside in institutions are also at an increased risk for abuse for reasons that include 1:1 personal care situations, communication barriers and lack of information about normal sex development situations. In all settings, communication impairments directly impact the ability of a child to disclose and/or ask for help.

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2. Does a child who has a disability need to be taught about sex?

Regardless of developmental level, education regarding the development of healthy relationships is encouraged, which includes “sexuality education” rather than “sex education.” There are many aspects to sexuality education that are broader than education about “sex.”

Children with developmental disabilities may have trouble with social rules and norms, such as distinguishing between appropriate private vs. public behaviors. This can increase their risk of sexual abuse. Teaching these concepts in a developmentally appropriate manner will help your child to develop the skills necessary for self-protection and safety, and to reduce the likelihood of engaging in behaviors, including those of a sexual nature, that are potentially harmful or offensive to others.

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3. What is the best way to communicate information about sexuality to a child who has limited expressive communication?

Children may have different levels of understanding messages or receptive language that may not match their expressive language, including speech, sign and alternative or augmentative forms (voiced devices, typing, gesture, pictures, etc.). A combination of communication methods such as the use of body part words and some gesture to show different body parts and strategies for hygiene with children who have limited expressive communication may be most useful.

Parents and the child’s teacher/team member should review for themselves, and with the child, basic safety rules about the appropriate level of help needed in toileting and other activities of daily living with each other and the child. If words and gestures for body parts are reviewed, as well as what level of hands-on help is needed, it is possible that a child who has limited expressive communication, with cognitive disabilities, can indicate or “tell” when an inappropriate touch has occurred.

Support teams should review available health and safety materials and these should be available to the child in whatever communication format he or she uses. At least one safety goal should be on the child’s Individual Education Plan.

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FAQs on Sexual Safety in Sports

  1. How can parents prevent a volunteer coach from harming their children?
  2. What do parents need to know prior to enrolling their child in a youth sports program?
  3. Are there any characteristics displayed by coaches that parents should be on the lookout for?
  4. Why do many parents still have this false sense of security that their child’s coach is too nice to commit abuse?

1. How can parents prevent a volunteer coach from harming their children?

Even when parents can’t be at every practice or game, they should make a point of introducing themselves to the coach and learning more about them. You might ask the coach why they are coaching this particular team? Do they have a child on the team? If not, how did they get involved in coaching? How long have they been a coach? Do they coach other sports? Do they coach other genders and age groups? Most coaches will welcome these questions and will be happy to share their coaching history and philosophy with you. If you sense hesitancy or you feel the coach is uncomfortable with your interest in their coaching history, you may want to pay more attention.

Work with other parents. For example, you might agree to take turns with another parent being at practices or games and keeping an eye on things for each other. Or, if you aren’t able to attend many practices or games and there is another parent who is able to, talk with them and ask if they would help you out by keeping an eye on your child and sharing any concerns they may have with you. Then, let the coach know that there are other adults watching your child when you’re not there.

As children get older and they don’t want parents to be as present, every once in a while show up early unexpectedly and observe how practice is going. Observe how the coach interacts with the youth.  Talk with your child about what goes on in practice. Ask if the coach seems to have favorites and how they show they favor one child over another.

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2. What do parents need to know prior to enrolling their child in a youth sports program?

Parents need to be knowledgeable about what policies and practices responsible youth serving organizations need to create safe environments for children. Specifically, these organizations need comprehensive policies and practices instead of relying on one or two policies like criminal background checks. The sad fact is that up to 90% of sexual abuse is never reported to authorities and, even when it is reported it doesn’t always end with a criminal conviction so the vast majority of people who have sexually abused children can pass a criminal background check.

Parents should ask how volunteers and employees are screened during the hiring process. Does the organization require references and do they actually speak with references? Are they knowledgeable about who sexually abuses children and do they use that information to screen out people whose behaviors are concerning?

Parents should ask if the organization has policies about whether and in what circumstances volunteers and employees can be alone with a child or can be in contact with a child outside of the program. These are both risky situations so you want to know whether the organization has planned for ways to reduce this risk.

Parents should ask what training the organization provides for staff on preventing child sexual abuse. Most organizations have policies about reporting sexual abuse but you want to know whether they provide training on how to report as well as training on how to prevent sexual abuse.

Parents should ask if policies address the potential for youth to sexually abuse or be sexually inappropraite with other children. Do their policies minimize opportunities for children to be together unsupervised? Do they provide clear guidance to youth about appropriate interactions and behaviors and do they respond and redirect or clarify the rules if children aren’t following expected behaviors?

Stop It Now! has compiled resources and is available for consultations and training with organizations who need assistance in insuring they have comprehensive policies and practices to keep children safe. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a free resource Preventing Child Sexual Abuse in Youth Serving Organizations: Getting Started on Policies and Practices.

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3. Are there any characteristics displayed by coaches that parents should be on the lookout for?

While there is no such thing as a fool-proof warning sign, there are things parents can watch out for in coaches. One concerning sign would be someone who seems to spend all of their time with children and who doesn’t seem to have adult relationships. They might work with youth, volunteer with youth, and generally spend lots of time with children. Parents should also watch for coaches who seem to prefer certain ages or genders of children and who tend to often have a “special” relationship with one child.

Parents should gauge whether the coach seems to understand boundaries with children. Do they seem clear about appropriate boundaries with children or do they ignore or refuse to let children set their own boundaries around personal space. Does the coach follow the rules of the organization even if they don’t agree? Parents (and organizations) should be concerned if a coach is not willing to follow organization rules and boundaries or if they seem to think rules or boundaries are for other people, not for them.

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4. Why do many parents still have this false sense of security that their child’s coach is too nice to commit abuse?

No one wants to believe that someone they know, someone they like, someone who is great with children, someone who has a great job or a wonderful family could also be someone who sexually abuses or is sexually inappropriate with children. And, people who sexually abuse children often are very aware that they need to create a sense of safety and trust with the people around them so any thoughts or concerns they might have almost get dismissed before we allow ourselves to entertain our concerns. We have to allow ourselves to consider the possibility.

Sometimes people think everyone who sexually abuses a child is a pedophile, defined as someone whose primary sexual attraction is to children. So if someone is married or has relationships with other adults, we may think that means they would not sexually abuse a child. Yet, some people who abuse children have adult sexual relationships and are not solely, or even mainly, sexually interested in children. Sometimes they turn to children in times of stress or when they are having difficulties.

We need to acknowledge that someone’s private behavior may be very different from their public behavior. We also need to acknowledge that we can’t tell what someone’s intent is, we can only pay attention to and respond to behaviors we can see. At Stop It Now! we encourage parents to get comfortable proactively setting boundaries with all adults who spend time with their children.

If a coach seems to be spending a lot of one on one time with our child, we need to say “I’m not comfortable with you spending so much time with Ali.” This doesn’t mean we’re accusing them of anything, it means we’re being clear on what our boundaries are and what is okay and not okay with our child.

Unfortunately, as a culture we are not very comfortable speaking up to other adults. It is much easier to talk with our children. We need to recognize that we leave children vulnerable when we expect them to set boundaries and limits that we’re not comfortable with as adults.

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Are adults convicted of child sex offenses more likely to reoffend than people convicted of other crimes?

NO. Contrary to what most people think, crime statistics show that adults convicted of child sex offenses are much less likely to re-offend than those convicted of any other major crime. Even without treatment, recidivism rates for those convicted of sexually abusing a child are estimated to be about 15-20%. With treatment, many studies show an additional reduction in recidivism by as much as a 33% to as low as 12%.

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Are children who get sexually abused more likely to become sexually abusive as teens or adults?

NO. The vast majority of sexual abuse victims live their lives without ever sexually abusing others.

Some people who sexually abuse children were victims of abuse or neglect as children. And having been abused as a child does heighten the risk for becoming someone who sexually abuses children. It’s not an excuse, just a fact. But many childhood experiences besides sexual abuse are associated with sexually harmful behavior in youth, including exposure to violence, lack of emotional connection early in life, and physical abuse. Acknowledging and addressing the distress these children have already faced is a good way to begin ending this abusive cycle. Experts and parents agree that with specialized treatment these children can heal.

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