Recognizing sexual violence is not always easy, especially if the victim is a child. A child's reaction can differ depending on his or her age, personality, and the nature of the offense. Sometimes child victims do not appear upset by crimes that seem very serious to adults. Inside, however, they might be frightened, angry or confused.
Child victims are sometimes afraid to tell anyone about what has happened, especially if the offender is a close friend or family member. They might be afraid that people will be angry with them, that it is their fault that the abuse happened, or that no one will believe them. They might also be afraid that the offender will do something bad to them or their family if they tell.
Adult victims of sexual violence can also experience fear, shame, and guilt about being sexually assaulted. Therefore, they may delay reporting the incident, or they may not report at all.
Many times, an offender will tell their victims:
- That something bad will happen if the victim tells
- That the offender will hurt or kill the victim or the victim's family
- That no one will believe the victim
- That parents and friends won't like the victim anymore
- That reporting the abuse will break up the family and the victim will have to live some place else
- That the family won't have enough money to live on if the offender goes to jail
Some victims think the abuse/assault was their fault, and they feel ashamed, guilty or embarassed about it. These are just some of the reasons victims might take back what they first said about being sexually assaulted.
Victims of sexual abuse can display a variety of physical, emotional and behavioral signs.
How To Help a Child Victim
Victims can feel confused, guilt ridden, or afraid to disclose the abuse. The grooming techniques the perpetrator uses may make the victim worried no one will believe them, that they will be blamed, and even that they might be punished. These feelings and concerns can cause a child to conceal their abuse for a period of time, until after the threat/fear subsides, or indefinitely.
If a child discloses sexual abuse, it is critcal to listen and believe them. Disclosure isn’t always linear or cohesive and may emerge in fragments. The following are helpful guidelines:
- Question the child or the details of their experience
- Assess immediate safety concerns: Will they see the perpetrator soon? Do they have any injuries? Has the perpetrator made any threats?
- Connect them with a safe and neutral adult such as a counselor, therapist, or advocate who can provide assistance.
In some cases, professionals such as teachers, counselors/therapists, and others working with children and youth are mandated reporters. That means these professionals are required to report any disclosure of child sexual abuse to law enforcement or their county’s Child Protective Service Department.
Child sexual abuse can have longterm mental and physical health effects. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) highlights several health outcomes that a child victim may face as they move on from the trauma. Learn more about ACES below:
ACES - Adverse Childhood Experiences Study
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study was conducted to establish the relationship between childhood trauma and that person’s overall health (mental and physical). The study established a set of risk factors correlated to poor physical and mental health outcomes, as well as to social justice issues. This study does not address racial, cultural, or historical trauma. Learn more about the ACE Study here.