Sexual abuse does not only happen in Thailand or other places far away from Europe.   Every day a child is coerced or forced into having sex with an adult in the UK.  Many are abused by someone close to them, often their father, uncle or brother.  Some children find themselves sexually abused after meeting someone at a social club, in a school or via the Internet.  Children who are sexually exploited cannot protect themselves; therefore, it is the adults’ responsibility to protect children with both attention and knowledge.

Do you know what to do if you suspect that a child is being violated?

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Assault and incest

Studies leave no doubt that there is sexual abuse happening to children all over the UK.  Many atrocities happen in the family circle, however, a child can also be at risk out in public or by “meeting” someone on the Internet.  When children are victims of sexual assault the child can react in many different ways.  Depending on the level of the abuse will also depend on how traumatised a child becomes as a result.  A child’s perception of intimacy and body contact may be distorted or destroyed, and the child may live with great shame and a deep loneliness.  Both boys and girls can be victims of sexual abuse.  It is often very difficult to act if you suspect a child is being abused.  Many children remain silent and refuse to talk about it; and without evidence, it’s difficult to prove.  Adults may also be afraid of accusing someone when not having substantiation, knowing it could ruin a person’s life to have that kind of accusation hanging over them.  Nevertheless, it is the duty of any responsible adult to report it when it’s suspected that a child is exposed to violence of any type.

Look for signals

It can be difficult to see signals that a child is being sexually abused.  The child may have tale tell signs, for example, they may appear to withdraw.  One reason for this can be sexual assault.  Some children will make reference to the abuse abstractly or may say that they have a secret that an adult cannot hear.

Children will often stay silent regarding sexual assault

While the physical damage sexual abuse can cause is massive, the emotional abuse is far more powerful.  Typically a child will not spontaneously talk directly about abuse.  A child will often see it from a warped perspective and believe that their world will collapse around them if it’s discovered.  Almost always, a child will feel immense shame and guilt, often believing that they themselves are responsible for the abuse.  This in itself can cause a child to remain silent.  In addition, the child may have been threatened into silence by their abuser.  Maybe if photographs or videos were taken, they could threaten to publish them, or maybe the abuser is the child’s own father and he says he will go to jail and the child will never see him again.  Some children may simply think that no one would believe them or that those closest might be angry.  Due to all the guilt associated with this type of abuse, it’s very rare for a child to make false accusations of this nature.  If a child chooses to confide in you, you should take them seriously.  Don’t ignore it.

Signs that a child is withdrawing

Signals of the existence of sexual abuse are not unique.  If you have a suspicion that a child is a victim of sexual abuse, it may be helpful to know how a child may react, although it must be said that there are many reasons why a child will withdraw and sexual abuse is just one of them.  Seeing a child become depressed, self-loathing, suicidal or violent can be a sign in younger children.  In addition, an older child may attempt to run away from the abuser, use drugs or alcohol or even in extreme cases, show signs of excessive promiscuity or abuse others.

Other signs that a child may be being abused include:

  • Trouble sitting or walking
  • They may appear scared around a specific person without there being an obvious reason
  • Showing what would be considered inappropriate knowledge or interest in certain sexual behaviours or acts for their age
  • Behaving seductively around adults
  • Excessive embarrassment surrounding getting changed in front of other people
  • Fear of participating in physical activities
  • Pregnancy or STD’s, especially with children under the age of 14

What should I do?

If you have ever been or are currently a victim of sexual assault, you need to do something about it.  If you cannot talk with a member of your family or another trusted adult then there are places you can go to for help.  For example you can talk to a teacher, call Child Line, talk to the NSPCC, go to the police or talk with your doctor.

Parents and family

There is no such thing as a simple case of sexual abuse; these cases are always complicated.  Make sure you seek professional advice before you act.  If you have a feeling that something is wrong, address your concerns without putting words in the child’s mouth.  Show the child confidence and belief in what he or she says.  If you suspect a person within the family, if you feel safe to do so, you can of course confront that person with the accusation.  If you believe that they are sexually abusing a child, you then have a duty to contact Social Services and, in urgent cases, the police.  You can get advice from one of the organisations mentioned above.

Educators, teachers, doctors and other professionals

As professionals, you have enhanced duty to notify social services when you suspect that a child is failing to thrive as a result of abuse.  Write down your observations. Discuss observations with your manager. Call the NSPCC – They can help to clarify whether there are grounds for suspicion.  Consider whether parents should be involved. DO NOT involve parents, where suspicions are directed at them.

In your opinion, is enough done to protect our children? What more could be done?