Child Sexual Abuse
According to the US Department of Health, approximately 1.2% of children are sexually abused, meaning that the incident was reported, investigated, and proven true. Studies based on subjective reporting (i.e. adults saying that they have experienced unwanted sexual touch in their childhood, whether it was ever reported or not) give much higher estimates, up to 25%. The truth must be somewhere in between; on one hand sexual abuse is a very sensitive topic, so a lot of incidents aren't reported; on the other hand, some of the claims are inaccurate. Contrary to popular belief, child sexual abuse is usually perpetrated by someone the child knows: mom, dad, step parent, uncle, cousin, grandparent, neighbor, teacher, coach, babysitter, priest, etc. It might or might not be violent, and doesn't always involve penile penetration. Any degree of sexual contact between a child and an adult is inappropriate and illegal, because children just can't cope with it; they're often ashamed of their arousal, scared of getting in trouble, and unsure how to interpret their new relationship with the perpetrator. For example, I couldn't figure out if I should continue addressing her as Mrs Lastname, or if we're on first name basis now. It's especially confusing to the child if sexual abuse is disguised as something else, e.g. medical procedure or punishment. This page lists a few common forms of child sexual abuse, to clarify such confusions.
Statutory rape means an intercourse, i.e. vaginal, anal, or oral penetration of a minor (someone under the age of consent, usually 16-18) by an adult (over 18), regardless of any circumstances, e.g. genders, type of relationship between the minor and the adult, or whether the minor agreed to have the intercourse or not. It's rare that a minor would object or fight back, and quite common for them to experience some degree of arousal, especially if the intercourse wasn't violent. However, even if it didn't cause any physical injury, it's traumatic psychologically, because minors can't successfully navigate sexual relationships yet. They can't tell if they wanted to have sex with the adult or not, it just sort of happened, and now they are unsure how to feel about it. That's not how sexual relationships work, and such an experience is likely to traumatize the minor, i.e. cause them long-term problems with relationships, sexuality, or both. That's why statutory rape is a crime, and the responsibility is solely on the adult, no matter what the minor did or didn't do, think, or feel.
Molestation means non-penetrative sexual acts between a minor and an adult, i.e. fondling, touching minor's genitalia, buttocks, or breasts, rubbing against a minor (clothed or nude), having the minor touch adult's genitalia, etc. These behaviours are often disguised as medical procedures, bathing, punishment, etc, which causes a lot of confusion to the victim, even when they reach adulthood. Young children need assistance with showering and potty training, so all parents expose and touch their child's genitalia at some point, which can make it hard to figure out if what happened to you was sexual abuse or not. It might help to imagine another child in your place, to think of whether you'd do it to your own child, or how would you respond if you saw someone doing it. For example, I would contact Child Protective Services if I saw someone bathe their 8yo for hours at a time, teach a 12yo how to use tampons by inserting them into her vagina, or spank a 15yo on her vagina with a belt (true story, and she didn't know this wasn't standard corporal punishment till well in her 30s). These things are kept secret not for the child's privacy, but because adults doing them would land in prison if caught.
Invasion of privacy
Parents might accidentally walk in on their child using the bathroom, showering, or masturbating. It's awkward for everyone involved, but sometimes happens between people living in the same household. Sexual abuse, however, is when these incidents are deliberate rather than accidental. For example, making a child pose nude for photos (or taking such photos without the child's awareness), watching them shower or use the bathroom (openly or by sneaking in), "catching", "supervising", or "educating" them about masturbation or any other activity involving their genitalia, or demanding to see how their body is developing, if they have pubic hair yet, if their breasts are growing properly, if they developed phimosis by any chance, etc. These things are unnecessary and inappropriate, whether done by parents or other adults. Once a child has learned to independently use the bathroom and bathe on their own, the only person who might need to see their genitalia is their doctor.
Many children accidentally bump into their parents having sex (e.g. when they wake up from a nightmare and go to their parents' bedroom for hugs and comfort), or find a copy of Playboy on the bottom of dad's toolbox. That's not sexual abuse because such exposure is accidental, the parents took reasonable precautions to avoid it. Sexual abuse, on the other hand, is when parents (or other adults) deliberately cause this exposure. For example, flashing, i.e. exposing one's genitalia to a child, watching porn while a child is in the room, having a child sleep in the same room with parents and observe their sex life, or telling a child erotic stories. If you're unsure if you were a victim of sexual abuse by indecent exposure - think of public lewdness laws. Anything that would get you arrested if done in public is illegal to do in front of children as well, even in the privacy of your own home.
Child sexual abuse causes long-term consequences, some of which are apparent immediately, while others might not develop till later on in life. Immediate effects include depression, anxiety, nightmares, self-esteem issues, mood swings, social withdrawal, poor academic performance, and self-injury. Adult survivors often struggle with addictions, sexual dysfunctions, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder. We're also more likely to be re-victimized in adulthood. Above all, sexual abuse causes intense shame, sometimes to the degree of suicidal thoughts.
If you have been sexually abused as a child, please remember that it was not your fault. Someone broke the law and violated you, it's their shame to carry, not yours. Please don't give up on yourself, reach out for help, things do get better. Feel free to join us, to talk of how the abuse we underwent affected us, and how we recover from this trauma and rebuild our lives.
~ Sigmund Freud
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