How is it possible for an abuser to convince my child to participate?

Abusers create a detailed plan to manipulate the child and/or the child’s family. By doing so, the abuser gains trust of the child and family. After forming this relationship, the abuser is able to take advantage of the time spent alone with the child. Once groomed, the child finds it difficult to escape the abuse or feel comfortable telling anyone about the abuse. Grooming creates a sense of loyalty between the abuser and the child. In nearly 93% of child abuse cases, the child knows and trusts the abuser. 

What does it mean when a perpetrator “grooms” a child or family? 

Grooming is the building of a trusting relationship by a perpetrator to a child. Grooming makes it difficult for a  child to escape the abuse and keeps a child from telling because the child has come to know, trust, and like the abuser. This creates a sense of guilt in the child, believing the abuse is their own fault. Signs of grooming include:

  • Buying the child gifts/giving the child money
  • Finding excuses for alone time with the child
  • Treating the child as more special than other children
  • Viewing child when nude or exposing the child to nudity or pornography
  • Excessive inappropriate touching
  • Talking about sexual activity with a child

What is involved regarding sexual abuse between an abuser and a child? 

Perpetrators break down the defenses of children by explaining that they were only playing a game. Abuse generally begins with touching and kissing and progressively moves to more severe sexual activity. The perpetrator gives names to the child’s and his/her own genitalia as to lessen the fear of what is happening. 

Wouldn’t my child tell me if he/she was being abused?

Abusers manipulate children into keeping the abuse a secret. Children feel helpless to tell anyone about the abuse because the abuser has given the child reasons why they shouldn’t tell. Reasons can include any of the following: 

  • Abuser is a trusted family member/friend
  • Child believes no one will believe him/her
  • The child is ashamed or embarrassed
  • The abuser has made threats towards the child or the child’s family or is bribed by the abuser
  • The abuser blames the child
  • The child doesn’t want to get into trouble

If my child doesn’t tell me about the abuse, how else can I find out about it?

A recent study showed that 74% of the time abuse was disclosed it was an accidental disclosure meaning a third party had observed the abuse or symptoms, not the child (him/herself) disclosing. There are symptoms you can look for to see if your child has suffered from abuse.

These include:

  • Sexually acting out
  • Behavioral problems
  • Development of venereal disease and/or frequent fears, anxieties, nightmares, and/or poor self-esteem or depression
  • Adolescents may run away, commit crime, or becoming withdrawn
  • Self-harming behaviors or suicidal tendencies 

It is important to remember that children may not show any symptoms of being abused. Because of this, it is important to do whatever you can to prevent and educate your children about sexual abuse. Teach them about “good touches” and “bad touches”, empower them to say “no”, and how to get away from uncomfortable situations. Remind them they should always tell you or a trusted adult if anything uncomfortable happens to them. By educating them and creating conversation, you can make a difference in preventing abuse. 

My child has been sexually abused. How will it affect their mental health?

Many victims report that the emotional damage done by the abuse is more harmful than the actual abuse itself. 

Mental health issues your child may experience include: 

  • Depression
  • Damaged goods syndrome—"no one wants me"
  • Distorted body image which can lead to eating
  • Low self-esteem and poor social skills
  • Poor development and immaturity
  • Anger and hostility/inability to trust. 

As parents, should we be concerned about the validity of our child’s allegations of abuse?

Children rarely lie about abuse. We urge you to always believe your child and follow through with the next step of reporting.