We need eyes to see and ears to hear when spotting and stopping child sex abuse. We only need eyes to see and ears to hear their pain — and then the courage to act when children are sexually abused.
They are in our midst, although often nearly invisible. They may act out. They may withdraw. They may cover up as they try to laugh and fit in with other kids.
They’re children who’ve been, or are being, sexually abused. They are there, often unnoticed, without help, without hope…not because we don’t care about these innocent children, but because we don’t see and may not want to hear about the horror of sexual abuse in our midst. We need to face the reality of child sexual abuse and find ways to effectively reach out with love, hope, and healing to the children and families wounded by this abuse.
Sexual abuse is a problem in every community and every church. The statistics are horrifying — one in every four girls and at least one in every 10 boys is victimized by sexual abuse.
It may seem more comfortable to think that people who harm children in such a hideous way are monsters and certainly not anyone we’d know. Unfortunately, experts tell us that an abuser is usually someone close to the child such as a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend, neighbor, teacher, cousin, or older sibling. Abusers look like regular people. They can be people who are well-liked and respected in our communities. They can faithfully attend church. They can be wealthy or poor. They’re usually people no one would’ve thought could possibly hurt a child in such a horrendous way.
SIGNS OF ABUSE
While it’s not possible to tell an abuser by outward looks, there are signs children may show to indicate that they may be an abused child. Know what to look for and how to help children and families who are victims of abuse. As you become more alert to signs of abuse, move with caution. Falsely accusing someone of abuse can destroy an innocent person’s life. Don’t just react to something you think you see. Take time to check it out and confirm the truth. Be alert, but be cautious.
Sexual abuse is criminal behavior that the abuser is solely responsible for. According to the American Medical Association, child sexual abuse is “the engagement of a child in sexual activities for which the child is developmentally unprepared and cannot give informed consent. Child sexual abuse is characterized by deception, force or coercion.”
The physical, behavioral, and verbal signs to watch for:
Physical signs may include…
• lacerations and bruises.
• irritation, pain, or injury to the genital area.
• difficulty with urination.
• discomfort when sitting.
• torn or bloody underclothing.
• sexually transmitted diseases.
Behavioral signs may include…
• anxiety when approaching the church or nursery area.
• nervous or hostile behavior toward adults.
• sexual self-consciousness.
• acting out of sexual behavior.
• withdrawal from church activities and friends.
Verbal signs may include the following statements…
• I don’t like name.
• Name does things to me when we’re alone.
• I don’t like to be alone with name.
• Name fooled around with me.
While these are common signs an abused child may show, any one or even a few signs may not mean a child is being harmed. Keep in mind that while these signs are common, all of us are unique individuals, and each child will respond uniquely.
For example, in one church I served a 4-year-old boy arrived in class every two or three weeks and wanted me to hold him. He would curl up, say nothing, and look at nothing for the next one and a half hours. This child was being abused.
Another time we had an older elementary-age boy who would act out, wouldn’t cooperate, and would try to take younger boys to obscure places if we didn’t keep a close eye on him. This boy had been abused.
In another church, we had a young girl who was tremendously clingy and almost never smiled. At first we thought it was just her age, but as this continued, we became concerned. Fortunately, it was just part of the child’s personality and finally, as she grew older, she became less clingy. Thankfully, this girl wasn’t being abused.
One more example involves a young girl who didn’t tell anyone with words that anything was happening to her, as she’d been told by her abuser that nobody would believe her and people wouldn’t want anything to do with her if they knew.
However, the nonverbal signs were abundant. She was anxious and scared. She isolated herself from others and was completely unable to trust. She buried the memories and pain for many years as it was just too much to deal with. She was abused. I know this girl well because I am that girl.
My grandfather was highly respected in our community and attended church faithfully, and he abused me for many years. Although I attended church regularly, no one noticed. It was a different time, and people didn’t even think to notice such a thing. Fortunately for children today, we now know the scope of this horror that’s experienced by so many children and realize the absolute necessity to be alert and ready to help. We must see and hear.