What are important facts to know about sexual abuse among adolescents?

I can't tell you how many times over the years I've dealt with patients who, during their office visit, labor, or surgical procedure, have confided to me that they were sexually abused. It often comes up when a patient has a difficult time relaxing for their routine pelvic exam. They most often cite stepfathers, uncles, and male friends of the family as the perpetrators. Sometimes it was persistent abuse, and sometimes it was a one-time event.

Some researchers believe that 1 in 4 girls will have experienced an episode of sexual abuse before they turn 18.

Incidents of child sexual abuse are reported to Child Protective Services more than 80,000 times each year. This undoubtedly is a significant underestimate because many cases go unreported. Some researchers believe that 1 in 4 girls will have experienced an episode of sexual abuse before they turn 18.

Child sexual abuse is defined by the American Academy of Pediatrics as the engaging of a child in sexual activities that the child cannot comprehend, for which the child is developmentally unprepared and cannot give informed consent, and that violates the taboos of society. Sexual abuse is not limited to intercourse. Contact sexual abuse includes sexual stimulation, penetration with an object, and fondling and sexual kissing. Making of child pornography, voyeurism, sexual propositions, and exhibitionism are also forms of sexual abuse.

Although physical injury may not result, the psychological effects on a child or adolescent may be devastating. Children are not equipped to handle the intense and/or long-term emotions that sexual abuse can conjure up in them. Further, many times the adolescent knows the offender and feels an extreme sense of betrayal.

The victim also may feel conflicted about creating a problem for this person by reporting the abuse.

Sexually abused children can suffer from low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness, and an abnormal or distorted view of sex. They may show an unusual interest in or avoidance of all things of a sexual nature. Sleep problems, depression, delinquency, aggressive behavior, and suicide can result.

How can I protect my daughter against sexual abuse?

As a mother, you can help to prevent the sexual abuse of your daughter by never putting her in a position where you have even the slightest concern that an improper incident could occur; by listening carefully to, and taking seriously, any allegation she may raise about sexual abuse; and by teaching her that she should say "No" to any person who tries to inappropriately touch her and then report the incident immediately to you. Emphasize to your child that respecting adults does not mean she has to engage in blind obedience to them. Also teach your daughter to rely on her own intuition. If she becomes uncomfortable with a person or situation, she should report it to you immediately.

Build in your daughter a sense of respect for, and control over, her body. Give her the privacy she seeks when she's dressing or bathing. Don't push her to hug or kiss others if she's uncomfortable with it.

If you suspect that your daughter has been sexually abused, contact the police, Child Protective Services, or your pediatrician. Also, if appropriate, take your daughter to the local emergency room so that a specially trained professional can examine her and ensure that the necessary procedures are followed.

Child sexual abuse is a horrible crime. Don't let the perpetrator get away with it. Until he's stopped, he is likely to continue preying on girls, whether it is your daughter or someone else's.

Kama says:

An important question that parents always deliberate is "When should I allow my daughter to go out on her first date?" For my daughters, the magic age was 16, but there was a stipulation. They were required to take self-defense classes ahead of time. It gave me peace of mind to know that, should the occasion arise, she had the ability to enforce the word "No."

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