Any sexual act between an adult and a child (who is anyone under the age of 18 years). This includes:
- fondling (Chiramu – inappropriate touching of sister-in-law)
- penetration, intercourse, rape
- incest with a child
- child pledging as wives in return of material goods, forcing children to marry so they can bear children for a barren sister/ brother
- offering young girls to tribal gods and evil spirits as wives
- exhibition-showing a child your genitals
- child prostitution
- oral sex, or
- forcing a child to watch sexual acts
Signs and symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse
Any single sign doesn’t mean the child was abused, but several of them mean that you should begin to explore the situation more fully.
- Personality changes, suddenly- unexplained withdrawal, anger and aggression, moody, clingy, insecure;
- Regressing to behave like a younger child, eg thumb sucking, bringing out discarded cuddly toys, bed wetting or soiling;
- Sudden loss of appetite, or compulsive eating;
- Develops fear of certain places or resists being alone with familiar adults for unknown reasons;
- Nightmares, sleep problems;
- Resisting routine bathing, toileting or changing their clothes
- Sexual behaviour or knowledge inappropriate to the child’s age e.g sexual acting out on younger children, engages in adult-like sexual activities with toys, objects or other children;
- Becomes increasingly secretive
- unexplained soreness, or bruises around genitals or mouth
- pain when urinating
- Chronic itching or discharge
- Excessive masturbations, STIs or pregnancy
What to do if you have concerns of a child who is being abused:
- If a child discloses abuse to you carefully listen and do not push the child to say more than is comfortable. REMAIN CALM.
- Believe the child – assure the child that you believe him/her and that what has happened is not his/her fault. Remember the child is not bad, what has happened to the child is bad! Don’t make the child feel guilty, it is not their fault.
- Reassure the child that they are safe with you. Let him/her know that telling you was the right thing to do and you appreciate that you were trusted.
- Do what you can to make the child feel safe. Let the child know that you will report the abuse and get help.
- If you suspect the child has been sexuality assaulted do not change his/her clothes. Do not allow the child to wash or bath, Go immediately to the nearest health service with the child’s soiled clothes. Seek medical attention within 72 hours to reduce the risk of HIV infection. This quick action can save the child’s life.
- Make a report to the nearest Victim Friendly Police Unit (VFU) in order to bring about justice. This is important if you feel the child is not safe to go back home.
- Although the child’s disclosure may make you angry or disgusted, DO NOT attempt to take matters into your own hands. The situation requires professionals. Your interference can make matters worse. DO NOT question or interrogate the child.
- If you are unsure of what to do, call 116, Childline’s 24-hour Freephone Helpline for information. All calls are anonymous and confidential.
Even children with disabilities can be victims or child sexual abuse
90% of the time the child already knows and trusts the person who sexually abuses them. It is hard to face the fact that someone we know and even like, might be sexually inappropriate with a child. Child victims are often confused by the actions of those who abuse them. Abusers often tell their victims “This is our little secret” or that “no one will believe if you tell”. Sometimes they threaten to harm or even kill the child tells anyone about the abuse. It is extremely rare that the perpetrator has only one victim, and children often suffer more than one type of abuse.
What can you do to prevent abuse?
The most effective prevention happens before a child is harmed. Children are immediately safe when parents, carers and community members commit to speaking up as soon as they have concerns, instead of waiting for certain evidence of harm.
- Learn to recognise the signs and symptoms of child abuse
- Learn to recognise the signs of an abusive person (adult, teen or child)
- Teach children what is appropriate behaviour from another person and what is nnot. Teach children to protect him/herself and what to do when feeling unsafe e.g. run away, shout, yell, tell someone.
- Teach children the difference between good and bad touches, unless a health issue is being checked, touching parts of the body is not appropriate.
- Teach children to stay away from overgrown bushy areas, dark streets, empty buildings, parked cars, public toilets unless they are in a group with an appropriate adult.
- Teach children not to accept gifts (money, sweets, drinks, school fees, etc) from any adult unless parent/ carer has approved this
- Children who are being abused are often reluctant to discuss how they got their injuries, whereas most children who have fallen or hurt themselves by accident are only too ready to explain what happened to them
- Listen to a child when he/she does not want to be with someone, find out why
- Teach children where to access help and support, e.g. Childline’s 116 24-hour Freephone Helpline, the police etc.
- Children in remote areas should move in groups to and from school
What can you do to help yourself?
- Be sure you are safe.
- Remind yourself the abuse happened in the PAST, it is not happening to you right now
- Seek support and assistance of professionals who specialise in survivor issues
- Make a decision that you deserve to feel better
- Build a support system of family, friends and / or community
- Keep a journal, diary or letters to yourself telling how you are feeling and coping
- Identify relaxation techniques you can use
- Take care of your basic needs (eat, sleep, be safe)
- Engage in physical activity, walk exercise, dance etc.
- Avoid people and situations that are not helpful
- Do not beat yourself up with words or actions
- Allow yourself to have positive thoughts
- Use non-destructive, creative emotional outlets (drawing, painting, pottery, drama, etc)
- Contact Childline if you feel immediate need to talk to someone who will listen