There are up to 80,000 reported child sexual abuse cases per year. Sadly, the number of unreported instances is far greater, because the children are afraid to tell anyone what has happened, and the legal procedure for validating an episode is difficult. The problem should be identified, the abuse stopped, and the child should receive professional help. The long-term emotional and psychological damage of sexual abuse can be devastating to the child.

Often there are no obvious physical signs of child sexual abuse. Some signs can only be detected on physical exam by a physician.

Sexually abused children may develop the following:

  • unusual interest in or avoidance of all things of a sexual nature
  • sleep problems or nightmares
  • depression or withdrawal from friends or family
  • seductiveness
  • statements that their bodies are dirty or damaged, or fear that there is something wrong with them in the genital area
  • refusal to go to school
  • delinquency/conduct problems
  • secretiveness
  • aspects of sexual molestation in drawings, games, fantasies
  • unusual aggressiveness, or
  • suicidal behavior

Parents can prevent or lessen the chance of sexual abuse by:

  • Telling children that if someone tries to touch your body and do things that make you feel funny, say NO to that person and tell me right away
  • Teaching children that respect does not mean blind obedience to adults and to authority, for example, don’t tell children to, Always do everything the teacher or baby-sitter tells you to do
  • Encouraging professional prevention programs in the local school system

Sexually abused children and their families need immediate professional evaluation and treatment. Child and adolescent psychiatrists can help abused children regain a sense of self-esteem, cope with feelings of guilt about the abuse, and begin the process of overcoming the trauma. Such treatment can help reduce the risk that thechild will develop serious problems as an adult.