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Childhood sexual abuse

The effects of childhood sexual assault are devastating and often long-lasting. Sexual abuse is not always obvious, leaving behind physical injuries or scars, and all too often the behavioral indications of abuse are dismissed as adolescent rebelliousness.

In observation of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, we’re going to discuss childhood sexual assault and how you can spot and help victims of sexual abuse.

What is childhood sexual assault?

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, sexual assault is not limited to rape but may also include, fondling, exposure, voyeurism or spying on people engaged in intimate behaviors, and the commercial exploitation of children in prostitution or pornography.

Furthermore, the State of California mandates the age of consent is 18, meaning individuals under the age of 18 and under are not legally capable of consenting to sexual relations.

Childhood Sexual Assault Statistics

Sexual abuse among children and adolescents is disturbingly common. The US Department of Justice’s SMART Office has collected some eye-opening sexual abuse statistics on the National Sex Offender Public Website. Among child and teen victims in the US:

  • Approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • About 1.8 million adolescents have been sexually victimized.
  • Over one-third of sexual assaults occur when the victim is between the ages of 12 and 17.
  • Among childhood sexual abuse victims, 26 percent were between the ages of 12 and 14 and 34 percent were younger than 9 years old.

It is clear that sexual abuse affects both girls and boys, as well as children of all ages, from infancy through adolescence.

Behavioral changes in children subjected to sexual abuse

When a child or adolescent is subjected to extreme stress caused by sexual abuse, they may exhibit behavioral changes, such as:

  • Withdrawal from social interactions
  • Sleep disturbances or nightmares
  • Bed-wetting
  • Poor performance in school
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as pulling their hair out, cutting, substance abuse, and attempted suicide
  • Erratic mood changes
  • Running away

Every child is different and may display unique behavioral patterns. Some children, as many as 40 percent, will show no symptoms of sexual abuse at all. However, many minors will initially hint at the abuse to adults or friends they trust in order to test the confidants’ reactions. Children are often dismissed as fanciful, but it is vital to listen to and take seriously any accusations of sexual abuse.

Why a child may be afraid to report sexual abuse

When a child suffers at the hand of someone they implicitly trust, it may be difficult for them to place trust in others. In fact, 3 out of 4 victims of childhood sexual assault are abused by someone they know, either a family member or someone they look up to!

There are numerous other reasons why a child may not report their sexual abuse, including:

  • They may not want to get the abuser in trouble.
  • They fear they themselves will be punished.
  • The child may feel guilty or ashamed or blame themselves for the abuse.
  • They may fear negative judgment from their peers or adults.
  • Children may also be unable to differentiate between normal interactions and sexual abuse, as they have no outside knowledge to gauge their own experiences against.

How to support children victimized by sexual abuse

Just being aware of the statistics can help you prevent ongoing childhood abuse. Outside of educating yourself on childhood sexual abuse, creating nonjudgmental environments where children feel safe to confide in you or others is paramount. And above all, listen and believe! Experts agree that children and adolescents must overcome extreme obstacles to gather the courage to report sexual abuse, making lies an extremely rare occurrence.

The mental anguish suffered by children of sexual abuse can persist well into adulthood. All too often, the abusers avoid justice in criminal courts; however, victims or legal guardians of the victim may file a civil suit to recover financial compensation from the sexual perpetrator, even if they were acquitted of charges in criminal court.

If you or a loved one has suffered from sexual abuse or molestation, call Cranes Flores, LLP, anytime, day or night, at (805) 628-4967 for a free initial consultation. We advocate for victims of sexual abuse, ensuring predators are held accountable to give survivors the closure they deserve.