What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse refers to any action that forces or puts pressure on a girl to engage in any type of sexual activity that she doesn’t want to engage in.

Sexual abuse falls into two broad categories:

Physical – from simple touching to full intercourse
Non-Physical – from inappropriate conversations to watching sexual activities

As such any type of sexual activity without the full and wilful consent of an individual is abuse.

Specifically, if a girl does not resist any unwanted sexual advances, that does not imply that she consented. By not saying “No” to any sexual activity does not mean that she said “Yes”.

It is also important to bear in mind that regardless of their consent, any sexual activity with a child is always abuse.

Some victims, especially those that have been groomed, find it difficult to report the abuse and will blame themselves instead. This is particularly true if the abuser is someone in the girl’s immediate or extended family.

Sexual abuse of whatever form is never the victim’s fault. The last thing you should do when you detect sexual abuse is to question the victim unsympathetically. You will need to earn their trust before they will give you any details.

Most sexual abuse is never reported. This is particularly so in the case of child sexual abuse.

There are various reasons for the lack of reporting, including:

  • Fear of not being believed
  • Feeling ashamed
  • Being threatened by the abuser
  • Fear of losing “benefits” (gifts, love, money)
  • Not knowing who to tell
  • Being afraid of what will happen if they tell (breakup of family, abuser will go to jail)
  • Not realising that they have been abused

Parents and guardians must take responsibility and establish a culture where the victims are made aware that sexual abuse is never their fault.

Most child sexual abuse victims will show some behavioural changes that are out of character. This may include:

  • Fearing a certain person or place
  • Unusual changes in behaviour
  • Bed-wetting or soiling
  • Drawing pictures of sexual acts
  • Negative thoughts
  • Problems at school
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety over a physical exam
  • Asking other children to perform sexual acts

It is difficult to say who commits abuse, as most abusers on the surface are just normal people.

Most abuse (over 90%) is carried out by a relative, family friend or person that is trusted by the victim.

Most abuse is carried out by men; one-third of whom are under the age of 20.

Various steps can be taken to prevent abuse:

  • Talk to your daughters to help them understand their bodies and the changes their bodies will go through as they reach puberty
  • Have conversations with your daughters that help them understand what the risks are, how to keep safe and what to do if they ever feel scared or uncomfortable
  • Fathers in particular need to play an active role in their daughters’ lives by giving them quality time and making them feel special
  • Establish an open and trusting relationship with your daughters, so that they can talk to you about any issue
  • Highlight the difference between good secrets (like birthday surprises) and bad secrets that make them unhappy
  • Never leave your daughter with anyone if you are not 100% comfortable about them
  • Discuss features of healthy and unhealthy relationships

It is very important that parents, guardians and carers teach girls about being in control of their bodies and to respect themselves. If you don’t teach them, somebody else may do so in an inappropriate manner.

If you detect sexual abuse of any form, you must contact the local social services team and the police immediately.

Under no circumstances should you challenge the abuser, as this may give them an opportunity to silence or threaten the victim.

It could also place the victim in danger, as well as give the abuser the opportunity to destroy any vital evidence.

For urgent assistance, please call the police without any delay or hesitation.

The police in the UK can be reached by dialling 999.

Emergency service numbers outside of the UK can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_emergency_telephone_numbers