About Abuse

The Coastal Children’s Advocacy Center provides services to approximately 220 child victims and witnesses, and an equivalent number of non-offending family members, each year. Approximately 1/4 of the youngsters seen at the center are boys, and 3/4 girls. Nearly 2/3 of children served are under the age of 11.

What Is Abuse

Sexual abuse occurs when an older person forces, coerces, or tricks a child into sexual contact or acts intended for the sexual gratification of the older person.
Sexual abuse may involve
  • Touching the child’s private parts or making the child touch the offender
  • Oral/genital contact
  • Vaginal or anal penetration with a penis, finger or object
  • Coerced sexual acts between children
  • Making children view or participate in pornography
  • Indecent exposure or “flashing”

Signs Of Abuse

None of the listed signs alone is reason to assume that a child has been sexually abused. However, all are indicators of significant stress in a child’s life, and should not be ignored.

Any sudden change in habits, feelings, or behavior should lead you to ask your child (in the most non-threatening manner possible) about emotional problems or sources of stress.
Children who have been abused MAY exhibit some of the following as a result of the stress of the abuse:
  • Nightmares, bad dreams, problems sleeping
  • Sadness, depression, withdrawal or isolation
  • Sexual play or acting out, excessive masturbation
  • Fearfulness, anxiety, clinginess
  • Frequent nausea/upset stomach, headaches, or other somatic complaints
  • Anger, aggressiveness, moodiness, irritability
  • Cruelty toward animals or smaller children
  • Fire-setting
  • Indiscriminate attention or affection-seeking behavior
  • Regressive behaviors, such as thumb sucking, bed-wetting, baby talk, etc.
  • Change in school performance or attendance
  • Wearing layers of clothing despite warm weather
  • Refusal to dress out for gym
  • Significant change in weight or appetite; eating disorder
  • Excessive daydreaming or inability to concentrate
  • Running away from home
  • Unwillingness to attend to personal hygiene or grooming
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Self-mutilation
  • Suicide attempts

Tips To Prevent Abuse

As parents and concerned adults, we want to do everything in our power to ensure the safety and innocence of our children.

Sometimes protecting children is not always possible; we can’t foresee every danger or difficult situation with which our kids will be faced. All we can do is our best – and our best means talking to kids about tough issues. Listed below are some suggestions for preventing victimization of children.
Here are some suggestions for preventing victimization of children
Teach kids the correct names of body parts. This will help them communicate more clearly with trusted adults about touching problems.
Make sure children know which adults can be trusted and to whom they should go if they have questions or concerns (for example, parents, teachers, school counselors, police). And make sure kids know that telling bad secrets is NOT the same as tattling.
Children should be taught not to let older people kiss them, hold them, touch them, or make them touch others in ways that make the youngster feel uncomfortable. Cautioning children, “Don’t let anyone touch you,” is simply not adequate. They need concrete suggestions, and role-playing (“what would you do if..?”) can be helpful. And as children get older, they need increasingly detailed information.
Teach children to report any touch, action, or talk that feels uncomfortable – no matter who the source is, or how close the relationship. This applies to all kinds of touch, including hitting and bullying. It is important to teach youngsters to be wary of strangers, BUT: the vast majority of victims are molested by adults or older kids whom they know, trust, and – in many cases – love.
Kids should be taught never to keep bad secrets. These are often secrets that will get grown-ups or older kids in trouble if they are discovered or told. Bad secrets might involve stealing, lying, breaking rules – or inappropriate sexual touching. Good secrets are usually surprises, like presents or parties, which will make other people happy when they become known.
Let your children know that they are loved unconditionally. No matter what they do or what is done to them, they need to know that you will love them just the same. You know that, but they need to HEAR it – and OFTEN. Many kids don’t tell about sexual abuse because they’re afraid that family members will think them bad or unlovable because they “let” the abuse happen.
If your child discloses abuse, believe him or her and immediately report the abuse to the police or your local Department of Family and Children Services. Then get help for your child and for yourself.
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