Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sexual Abuse: Myths & Warning Signs

I am going to address a topic that often doesn’t want to be discussed amongst parents.  That topic is sexual abuse.  I don’t want to flower over the seriousness of this, nor do I want parents to live in fear. I will walk the tight rope of balancing those feelings.

To start I am going to talk about four myths that are prevalent, followed by recommendations and warning signs.

The first myth that I want to dispel is that only girls are sexually abused.  Boys too are sexually abused.  As evidence I recommend reading the Sheldon Kennedy story, or the Theoren Fleury story (or watch the documentary here).

The second myth that is commonplace is that the perpetrators are strangers.  You know, that creepy guy peeking over the newspaper looking at you in the park. While this does happen, and receives a lot of media attention, this is not true. About 75% of the time victims know their abuser (such as the Elizabeth Smart case, and my two other examples).

The third myth is that sexual assaults can be prevented.  While safety protections can be put in place, sexual abuse predators cannot be stopped.  Perpetrators are efficient in luring in their victims.  I once heard of a father who told his daughter to fight to the death instead of being sexually abused.  Imagine the regret that daughter will feel if she is actually sexually abused. So please, know that sexual assaults can’t be stopped.

The fourth myth is that the victim asked for it, and that it is the victim’s fault.  While this ties in closely with the third point, it is different.  Our society seems to place the onus for the abuse on the victim, and that everything is their fault. By the way they were dressed, by things they said or didn’t say. No one ever wants to be sexually abused. It is not the victim’s fault.  It is the perpetrators, always.

As a parent, you need to establish an open relationship with your child, so that if abuse ever happens they can talk to you.  A perpetrator will do their best to make the abuse a secret; this usually involves making threats to the child’s safety, or to someone or something they love.  This is why you need to be close to your child, so that they can be open with you.  When I worked with parents of sexually abused kids, I would encourage the parents to use the word “surprised” instead of “secret”.  For example instead of telling your children you got a present for grandma and want them to keep it a secret, tell them that it is a surprise.  This will help decipher bad secrets from good surprises.

You also need to educate your child (age appropriately) about sexual abuse.  The most comfortable way I have found working with parents, is to use a “strike zone” like in baseball, instead of trying to describe body parts (which would be reserved for an older age).  A strike zone is from your knees to your shoulders, and no one should touch you in your strike zone, over or under clothing.  Do let your child know of exceptions, like doctors, nurses, bath times, and so on.

Here are some of the warning signs that sexual abuse may be happening.  Now please note these are just common indicators, just because their may be signs showing through doesn’t mean sexual abuse is happening.  In the same way, sexual abuse may be happening without any of the warning signs.

Physical Signs
  • Difficulty sitting or walking
  • Torn, stained, or bloody underwear
  • Genital/anal itching, pain, swelling, or burning
  • Genital/anal bruises or bleeding
  • Frequent urinary tract or yeast infections
  • Pain while urinating
  • Sexual Transmitted Disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Chronic unexplained sore throats
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss/gain
  • Frequent stomach aches
  • Frequent headaches

Behavioral Signs
  • Frequently tired
  • Bedwetting
  • Nightmares
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Low self-esteem
  • Guilt
  • Avoidance of people
  • Sexual advances or inappropriate touching
  • Sexual drawings

If you suspect sexual abuse, seek help immediately, do not wait.

Some extra articles I recommend are:


  1. I have heard the experts say it is almost always someone you know, someone you trust and/or someone you love. What I have concluded is that this is how predators work they will gain your trust and come into your inner circle and yes they will go where children go....access is of prime importance. A great book is by Gavin de Becker, "Protecting the Gift."

  2. Also, there isn't just one kind of sexual abuser. The abuser may be manipulative and cunning luring children in and coaxing adults. However, some may abuse because the opportunity presents itself and never intended to lure children in to abuse them. Also, often times alcohol or drug abuse can lead an otherwise non-abusive person to impulsively sexually abuse another.

    It is not "black and white"- and as the author points out, it will happen and hopefully not to your child. Fear of bad things happening to a child and isolating the child is also a form of emotional abuse. This is why the topic is so sensitive. The question becomes: do you want to raise an independent child or a paranoid child?

    What I think the main point is, is that if you have open communication with your child they can let you know if they have been abused. That way they can get help and the person who did the abuse can be held accountable.

    Sad fact is that sexual abuse is very common. However, many people who have experienced it lead happy and healthy lives. Children will experience obstacles, and some even have to be victims of sexual abuse, however, good parents will help them overcome those obstacles.