Although it is common for victims of sexual assault to be reluctant to report, victims of child sexual abuse are by far the least likely to do so. Confusion, fear, depression and shame combine to create a feeling of lack of control resulting in an inability to act. However, knowledge is power and will take you from inertia to action.
Understand that sexual abuse has a broad definition. It includes fondling of private body parts, oral contact with the genitals, exposing intimate body parts, penetration with fingers or other objects, vaginal and anal intercourse. Forcible sexual abuse involves the use or threatened use of physical force, weapons etc. Child sexual abuse can involve that type of force, but requires no force at all to be considered a crime.
In most states adult sexual contact with a child is a felony punishable by significant jail time. The classification of felony and punishment depends on the age of the child or teen and the age of the offender. This is what is commonly known as a “statutory rape or abuse”, when the age is the most important element of the crime and to be guilty requires only proof of that age. It does not require any force or attempted use of force or threat of force. It does not require that the perpetrator knew the age, had reason to think the victim was older, was told the victim was older or simply thought the victim was older. If the victim is underage, it is a criminal act.
Like in most sexual assaults the perpetrator and the victim are often known to each other. Although the media focuses on sex crimes by strangers, those numbers are much smaller than one would imagine. Perpetrators of child sexual abuse are therefore family members, adult friends of family, teachers, camp counselors, coaches, religious leaders. This is a widely known fact among law enforcement and will come as no surprise when you report that to be true in your own case.
It is obvious that in child abuse the perpetrator exerts power over the victim. That dynamic is what keeps the victim from reporting or confiding in anyone. The abuser is relying on that dynamic to silence the victim. Think about a friend, family member or confidante that you trust. Finding a therapist, crisis counselor, social worker or expert would be the best option. All of those professionals will keep your confidence and are required to do so as part of their professional oath. But speaking up is your most important first step. If you are not sure who to call, try the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-866-367-5444.
It is important if possible to document everything. Firstly, see a doctor for treatment of your injuries, possible STDs, or any other infections. The medical visit will secondarily serve as documentation of the allegations. If it happened awhile ago, write down everything you remember. Try to think about each occurrence individually. Recollect if you can where you were: home, a car, school, a friend’s house. Remember dates by reflecting on holidays, vacations, birthday parties, school events. Look for old photos, videos, voicemails, emails, letters or texts. Try to recall who else was around at the time. Add their phone numbers, addresses or email addresses to your documentation.
Through treatment you will regain your ability to trust and get close to others. The belief that you will never be “normal” often overwhelms the child or teen victim of sexual abuse. You are not alone because unfortunately there are tens of thousands of victims. You are not alone because there is an enormous network of supportive adults. If you reach out you will stop the abuse of others too. Contact RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network at 1-800-656-HOPE.
Often the victim of this type of sexual abuse feels alone and confused. Often they become withdrawn, grades drop, friends are no longer welcome. There can be great bursts of anger, depression, binge eating, anorexia, promiscuity and drug abuse. You might see a victim of child abuse retreat to their room watching television for hours on end. Much of this occurs because these victims, more so than any others, blame themselves. All of these emotional reactions are completely normal which is why getting help is so important. It is important to remember that you are not to blame. The perpetrator is the only responsible party for the abuse and the more quickly you report and hold him accountable the more quickly your recovery will begin.
There is a great deal of misinformation in this area. First and foremost try to speak with an expert. Most district attorneys and law enforcement offices have special squads and bureaus that focus on this area. Even if the abuse occurred many years before it may still be prosecuted by the criminal justice system or litigated civilly. An attorney will explain your options and you may be entitled to monetary compensation from your abuser. An attorney will also explain that you may be entitled to compensation from someone who negligently hired your abuser and put you in harms way.
There is a lot of legal language tossed around when talking about child sexual abuse. Statutory rape, mandatory reporting, statutes of limitation. Don’t be deterred by feeling confused. An experienced professional can guide you through this in a coherent way. There are different laws in different states. In many places there is a mandatory reporting law.
Mandatory reporting means that certain people with special responsibilities toward children must report if they receive information or observe that a child has been abused. The report goes to a hotline. Failure to make that report is a crime punishable by jail time. Teachers, medical professionals, social workers, guidance counselors, law enforcement professionals and others are often mandated reporters.
Statutes of limitation are often also an issue. Those statutes sometimes act as time bars to bringing a case that occurred awhile ago. It is important to know that most states have enacted new laws which make it easier to bring these cases in both the criminal and civil legal systems.
When the time comes that you have the strength to admit and confront what has happened don’t do it alone and don’t confront the abuser. You can call 1-800-656-HOPE which is a hotline for survivors of sexual abuse. You can ask someone you trust to accompany you when you speak with the police. Let law enforcement take over from there. Although you may want to confront the abuser and express your outrage let that wait for another time. You may come to realize that the best way to do so is through a lawsuit. You may decide later that you still want to confront the perpetrator but let that occur with the assistance and consultation of experienced professionals.
There is no defense in the criminal or civil justice systems to child abuse. If society does not want to acknowledge a defense neither should you. It has taken a very long time with much hard work by many advocates to come to this realization. The realization is that children and teens must be protected at any cost. Police officers know it is difficult to talk about abuse, prosecutors know it is difficult to retell the facts of this crime,judges know that it is difficult to testify, juries know it takes tremendous courage to come forward. The offender should be held accountable to you and must be exposed to protect other potential victims.
Child and teen sexual abuse occurs in all populations. It cuts across all economic, racial, ethnic and educational levels. It happens in rural, suburban and urban areas . It happens to girls and boys. If you are the victim of sexual abuse you must tell someone you trust and someone with the knowledge to restore your confidence in yourself and your future.
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