Facts for Families sheet No. 9 (May 2008); From the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.There are additional articles from the Prevent Child Abuse America website:
Sexual Abuse of Children
Sexual Abuse of Boys
This article on Child Sexual Abuse is from the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder website.
Most child sexual abuse is committed by someone who knows the child. The offender is usually a family member, babysitter, trusted friend, acquaintance or a person who regularly comes into contact with the child.
There is no such thing as a "typical" sexual abuser of children. They come from all social, racial, and economic backgrounds. Although the majority of abuser are males, there are also documented cases of female abusers.
Children are vulnerable to sexual abuse from infancy through early adulthood. Children make easy targets because:
Sexual abuse often starts with a long process where harmless touching gradually crosses over the line to sexual touching. The child may not realize that the touching has become inappropriate.
Physical force is seldom used because the child usually trusts or depends upon the offender
who have been abused for a long time often show no behavior changes by
the time the abuse is finally reported. They have learned to hide their
feelings and emotions as a way to survive the sexual abuse, and may be
able to talk about the abuse in a calm and unemotional manner. This
not mean that they were unaffected by the abuse. If children who have
victims of long-term abuse do not get counseling, there is a high
that they will have significant emotional problems as adults.
2. Reassure and explain to your child that precautions will be taken to make sure it doesn't happen again. If threats were made against the child or anyone else, make sure the child understands that the person cannot follow through with those threats.
3. Reassure your child that you believe him or her, and that telling was the right and courageous thing to do.
4. Reassure your child it was not their fault, and that the only person who did anything wrong was the abuser.
5. Reassure your child that he or she is not alone and this same thing has happened to many other children.
6. Don't ask your child "why" questions, such as "why did you let this happen?", "why didn't you scream?", "why didn't you tell me sooner?", "why didn't you run away?" These types of questions make children believe there was something more or different that they should have done. This may lead to feelings of guilt.
7. Talk about the abuse only if the child wants to,
then be a good listener. Let the child have some control over when you
talk together. Don't ask your child to tell details of the abuse over
2. If medical services are needed, make sure you obtain that care. A physical exam can reassure you and your child that the child is okay. Children, like adults, are susceptible to venereal disease and sometimes need treatment.
3. Try to follow a normal routine at home. Expect your child to follow the usual rules and do regular chores around the house. This may seem harsh. However, the child will feel more secure knowing that normal family life goes on even after a traumatic experience.
4. Respect your child's privacy by not telling many people about the incident. Allow your child to choose who may be told. Do not discuss the situation repeatedly in front of the child.
5. Make sure other children in your family have enough information to protect themselves from the abuser. Recognize disturbances in brothers and sisters. They may be fearful that the same thing could happen to them. Offer reassurance.
6. Do not make negative remarks about the abuser if your child had a close relationship with that person. The child may still feel love for that person and worry because the person is in trouble. If the abuser is being prosecuted, and is convicted, you can stress to your child that the judge will most likely force the abuser to get counseling.
7. Be honest when answering your child's questions. If you don't know the answer, say so.
Child abuse sometimes creates serious financial problems in families because of the removal of one wage earner from the home. This can make it particularly difficult when attempting to deal with the needs of the child. A Victim-Witness Assistant in the District Attorney's Office may be able to provide information about where to get financial assistance for counseling or other basic needs.
IT IS IMPORTANT that you remain calm around your child. Many children feel responsible when parents react emotionally. Some children even regret reporting the abuse because it was so upsetting to their parents. The child needs to see that you are strong enough to deal with the situation. You can best convey this by appearing calm and reassuring to your child.
Parents should take time away from the child to deal
own feelings about the abuse. Choose a trusted friend or a
counselor to talk to, but not around the child.
They may also be afraid of the abuser. It is not unusual for abusers to threaten children to keep them silent. Common threats are to kill the child, the parents, or a favorite pet, if the child tells anyone about the abuse. If threats were made, the child needs assurance that the abuser will not be able to carry out the threat. The child need to know that the purpose of the threats was to stop the child from telling what happened.
Guilt and Shame. Children often blame themselves. They can't always tell the difference between "I did something bad" and "something bad happened to me." Sometimes abusers tell children that their parents will not love them any more if they find out because the child has been "bad" by participating in the sexual activity. Guilt feelings may be even stronger if the child has disobeyed and the abuse occurred while a rule was being broken. In this case, the child may need special reassurance from parents that nothing the child did caused the abuse. Put the shame on the abuser, where it belongs.
Confusion. If there was no violence or force, the sexual activity may have felt good to the child. This can be confusing when the child finds out that it was against the law. Again, the child needs assurance that the abuser was wrong to make them feel pleasure in that way. Do not expect your child to have understood that the adult behavior was wrong when it was occurring. Even if the child realized it was wrong, it is very difficult for children to say no to adults. Express your understanding of the child's feelings and let the child know that they are not at fault.
Depression and Isolation. Children may be depressed if they believe that everyone knows about the abuse. Point out to them that very few people know about the abuse. Explain to your child that he or she is not alone, and that many children have been sexually abused.
Children sometimes feel that they are different from
children because of the abuse. They may even feel that the abuse has
them look different. Assure them that they are still the same.
them look in the mirror with you to see that they still look
Professional counseling can:
1. Help the child and the family in dealing with any trauma and crisis related to the sexual abuse.
2. Allow for the open expression of feelings, and build self-esteem and a sense of worth.
3. Change self-destructive or "acting out" behavior.
4. Give support and reassurance to the child and non-offending family members that they are not to blame for the sexual abuse.
5. Help the child return to normal functioning.
6. Teach the child the skills necessary to take
of his or her own body to prevent the possibility of further abuse.
Report. A report is made to the city police department or the Alaska State Troopers and an investigator is assigned to the case. The Division of Family & Youth Services is also informed, and a social worker may be assigned to the case if the child was abused by a parent, guardian, or custodian.
Investigation. The child is interviewed by a police officer, sometimes with a social worker present. The interview is necessary to obtain the child's statement.
The police officer will also gather other information, including statements from witnesses and the alleged offender.
District Attorney. The evidence and statements gathered by the police will be reviewed by the District Attorney. The attorney will decide whether there is enough evidence to file charges and what charges to file.
If the District Attorney does not file charges, it is important that the child understands it is not because the attorney does not believe them. Explain to your child that it was very important to report the abuse because the police and the District Attorney's Office now know about the offender.
Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury. If the crime is a felony (most sexual abuse cases are), the District Attorney must show to a judge a (at a preliminary hearing) or to a group of citizens (called a grand jury) that there is enough evidence to support a criminal accusation.
At a preliminary hearing there will be a judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, and the person who is accused of the crime. It is open to the public. The defense attorney is allowed to ask questions.
At a grand jury proceeding there will be 12 to 18 grand jurors (they are citizens just like you) and a prosecutor. There is no judge, no defense attorney, no person charged with the crime, and it is not open to the public. The grand jurors are allowed to ask questions. The vast majority of child sexual abuse cases are reviewed in the privacy of a grand jury proceeding.
You will be notified of the grand jury date by the Victim/Witness Assistant in the District Attorney's Office. The District Attorney and the assistant will meet with you and your child before court. They can show the courtroom to your child and explain the child's role in court. The orientation is designed to provide your child with a concrete experience of being in a courtroom to help relieve anxieties about testifying.
Arraignment. At the arraignment the offender (now called a "defendant") appears before the judge, and the judge explains the charges and asks the person to enter a plea. If the plea is "guilty", the judge will set a date for sentencing. If the defendant pleads "not guilty" (this is usually what happens) a trial date will be set. Your child does not have to be present at the arraignment. The Victim-Witness Assistant will tell you the trial date or the sentencing date.
Because people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, it is likely the judge will set bail during the arraignment. This means the defendant may be released from jail. You may sign up to be notified if the defendant is released from jail by calling the VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) Program at 1-800-247-9763. Follow the recorded instructions to register. Once registered, you will receive a telephone call that notifies you if the defendant is released from jail. Remember to reregister if the defendant reenters jail (when a defendant is released and you receive notice of the release, VINE closes your registration for notice).
Change-of-Plea Hearing. If the person originally plead "not guilty", the person can change his or her plea to guilty any time. Most defendants do change their plea. A change in the plea cancels the trial, which means in the vast majority of cases that your child will not have to testify again (occasionally a child is asked to testify at a sentencing hearing). Your child does not have to be present.
Trial. If the defendant does not plead guilty, a jury trial is required to determine if there is sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of committing the crime. There are six people on the jury in misdemeanor cases and twelve people in felony cases. A court trial is a trial without a jury, and occurs when the person charged with the crime does not want a trial by jury. Your child will be required to testify if the case goes to trial.
The defense attorney or investigator may request an interview with your child before the trial date. It is completely proper for them to ask, but you are not legally obligated to agree to the interview. If you don't feel comfortable with allowing your child to be questioned, call the District Attorney's Office to discuss your options.
Continuances. A "continuance" (changing a court proceeding to a later date) may be granted by a judge at the request of the prosecuting attorney or the defense attorney. It is best if you can mentally prepare yourself and your child for a possible postponement. They happen frequently. You will be kept informed of changes by the Victim-Witness Assistant.
Presentence Report. If the defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty, and if the crime is a felony, the judge will set a sentencing date and order a presentence report. The sentencing date is usually scheduled about two months away to allow time for the presentence report to be prepared. The report is prepared by a probation officer to assist the judge at sentencing. It contains information about the defendant's background, the crime, and a sentence recommendation.
The report will also contain a "Victim Impact Statement". A probation officer will contact your family. The Victim Impact Statement gives victims (or their parents) a chance to explain how the crime affected their lives and to express their thoughts about an appropriate sentence.
When the presentence report is complete, copies of the report are sent to the judge, the District Attorney and to the defense attorney. The defense attorney will review it with the defendant. Otherwise, the report is confidential and it is not available to the general public. Victims can review portions of the report. The District Attorney's Office can explain which parts of the report you can review.
You will receive a "Victim Right to Notification" form from the probation officer. If you want to know when the offender will be released from prison, you should complete the form and return it to the probation officer.
Hearing. The sentencing hearing is when the judge decides
defendant's punishment for committing the offense. In deciding what the
sentence will be, the judge considers the presentence report and
form the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorney and the victim's
As the family of the victim, you may express your view to the judge
in writing or in person at the hearing (you can do this in addition to
giving the Victim Impact Statement to the probation officer). You and
child are not required to attend the sentencing but many victims and
members have found it helpful to see and hear how the case ends. If you
choose not to attend, the Victim-Witness Assistant can notify you of
American Academy of Child & Adolescent
Psychiatry, Facts for Families, No. 28; Updated July 2004
Click here to download and print a PDF version of this document.
When a child tells an adult that he or she has been sexually abused, the adult may feel uncomfortable and may not know what to say or do. The following guidelines should be used when responding to children who say they have been sexually abused:
What to Say
If a child even hints in a vague way that sexual abuse has occurred, encourage him or her to talk freely. Don't make judgmental comments.
What to Do
Report any suspicion of child abuse. If the abuse is within the family, report it to the local Child Protection Agency. If the abuse is outside of the family, report it to the police or district attorney's office. Individuals reporting in good faith are immune from prosecution. The agency receiving the report will conduct an evaluation and will take action to protect the child.
Parents should consult with their pediatrician or family physician, who may refer them to a physician who specializes in evaluating and treating sexual abuse. The examining doctor will evaluate the child's condition and treat any physical problem related to the abuse, gather evidence to help protect the child, and reassure the child that he or she is all right.
Children who have been sexually abused should have an evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional to find out how the sexual abuse has affected them, and to determine whether ongoing professional help is necessary for the child to deal with the trauma of the abuse. The child and adolescent psychiatrist can also provide support to other family members who may be upset by the abuse.
While most allegations of sexual abuse made by children are true, some false accusations may arise in custody disputes and in other situations. Occasionally, the court will ask a child and adolescent psychiatrist to help determine whether the child is telling the truth, or whether it will hurt the child to speak in court about the abuse.
When a child is asked as to testify, special considerations--such as videotaping, frequent breaks, exclusion of spectators, and the option not to look at the accused--make the experience much less stressful.
Adults, because of their maturity and knowledge, are always the ones to blame when they abuse children. The abused children should never be blamed.
When a child tells someone about sexual abuse, a supportive, caring response is the first step in getting help for the child and reestablishing their trust in adults.Facts For Families Main Menu American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Additional/related Facts for Families, #5 "Child Abuse: The
Hidden Bruises," #9 "Child Sexual Abuse," #70 "Posttraumatic Stress
(PTSD)," and #52 "Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation."
(1998 Harper Collins)/Your Adolescent (1999 Harper Collins)