Many people find it hard to discuss issues related to child sex abuse. What’s more, it is even hard to admit the fact that children of all ages (including babies) are sexually molested on daily basis. Sexual abuse has become a hot topic among many communities and a number of professional programs and legislations have been drafted to address this problem.
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This is shown by the existing body of literature that dwells on sexual abuse as well as media coverage on the same matter (American Humane Association, 2011, p.1). This paper will therefore discuss the prevalence of sexual abuse among children. It will also present statistics on the prevalence of this problem and suggest ways that parents can use to protect their children from sexual predators.
Child Sexual Abuse
Child sex abuse can be defined in various ways. Nonetheless, the salient feature of any child abuse is the central role of an adult who coerces a child into a sexual act. Child sexual abuse may consist of touching private parts of a child, digital penetration, vaginal intercourse and oral-genital contact.
It is worthy to mention that child sexual abuse is not only limited to physical contact but also may include non-contact abuse such as child pornography, voyeurism and abuse by peers.
The lack of accurate definition of what entails child sexual abuse is further hindered by inadequate statistics on cases of child abuse. Nevertheless, several healthcare professionals concur that child sexual abuse is a serious problem and merits serious attention (American Psychological association, 2011, p.2).
Statistics on Child Sexual Abuse
According to estimates by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, over 9.2% of substantiated or unconfirmed cases of child neglect and abuse in 2005 comprised of sexual abuse. This percentage translates into about 83,000 incidences of child sexual abuse in 2005 alone.
Several studies have indicated that the prevalence of child sexual abuse is higher than the cases reported to child protection agencies. What’s more, the data available reveal that girls are more susceptible to sexual abuse incidences although the prevalence of this problem is also escalating among the boys (American Humane association, 2011, p.4).
According to a report by the Georgia Department of Corrections, the number of inmates admitted at the correctional center for sexual offenses rose by over 340% between 1980 and 2006. In addition, the number of people imprisoned for child sex offenses increased by over 910% during the same period.
The report states further that over 50% of the parolees, probationers as well as convicts at the facility are child sexual offenders. In 2007, the number of convicted sex offenders at the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) was approximately 14,250. Over 75% of these convicts were child listed as child sex offenders. The number of sex offenders in Georgia has escalated dramatically in the last 27 years.
As a matter of fact, ever since GDC released its report on sex offenders in 1992, the number of child sex offenders has grown from about 5,400 to approximately 14,200 between 1992 and 2007.
These figures translate to an average increase of 11% or 586 sex convictions per annum. The rapid increase in the number of sex offenders is mainly attributed to the rising number of inmates admitted at the center for child sex offenses (Georgia Department of Corrections, 2007, p.2).
As a matter of fact, the number of child sex offenders admitted in prison between 1980 and 2006 increased at an average rate of 35% per annum compared to 3% for other sex offenders during the same period. This rapid growth can be explained in part by a nationwide crackdown carried out in 1970s on sexual offenders.
During this period, parents were encouraged to discuss about improper touches with their children and persuade them to report incidences of sexual abuses. In addition, the government introduced several legislative reforms to enable parents as well as victims report incidences of sexual abuses (Georgia Department of Corrections, 2007, p.2).
Effects of Child Sex Abuse
Negative Effects on the Child
The effects of sexual abuse on children can be long-term and in some cases, may even go beyond childhood. Sexual abuse denies a child his/her childhood and leads to self-abusive behaviors, feelings of resentment and loss of trust. In worst cases, sexual abuse may lead to suicide. In addition, sexual abuse produces depression, antisocial behavior, loss of self respect and other emotional problems.
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What’s more, victims of sexual abuse may experience hardships during their intimate relationships in their future lives. In nutshell, the negative effects of sexual abuse on children are diverse. There is no single set of outcomes or symptoms that a victim may experience. In some cases, the victim may even fail to experience any psychological pain as a result of the abuse.
Nonetheless, the victim may experience self-denial as a coping mechanism or may feel afraid to express his/her real feelings. Some victims of sex abuse may experience what is known as sleeper effects. This implies that they may not experience any short-term emotional pain but are likely to encounter problems later on in their adulthood (American Psychological association, 2011, p.9).
There is no doubt that the effects of child sex abuse are dire. Sexual abuse of children is morally and ethically wrong (American Humane association, 2011, p.4).
Negative Effects on Families
There is no doubt that child sex abuse may negatively affect family relationships. In spite of the fact that child sex abuse may emerge from negative family dynamics, it can also easily generate or aggravate negative family relations or roles. Majority of literature usually cite the family secret implicit in many cases of incest.
When a child is sexually abused by a family member, he/she can either withdraw from family relations or turn out to be sufficiently suggestive that his/her upsets the family relations. Many experts on family matters have also suggested that normal family relationships and roles are often disrupted by sexual exploitation (Briere & Elliott, 1993, p.285).
According to Briere and Elliot, family relations are likely to experience divided loyalty when a child is sexual exploited by a family member (1993, 285). When such crime is disclosed, the sexual offender may respond to the accusations with hostility, denial and defensiveness against the victim and any other family member who support the child.
In some cases, the sexual offender can take advantage of family ties to challenge claims made by the sexually molested child. In addition, the mother of the sexually molested child may air her concerns in a protective manner although some may even refute the sexual abuse, or blame the child (Briere & Elliott, 1993, p.285).
Children who are victims of sexual abuse usually show signs of behavioral changes according to their ages. It is thus imperative that parents learn to identify these signs and symptoms. For example, some of the signs exhibited by children aged below three years include: vomiting; sleep interruptions; feeding problems; excessive crying; and failure to prosper.
Symptoms of sexual abuse for children aged between two and nine years, may include: extreme masturbation; eating disorders; withdrawal from family unit; feelings of guilt; and victimization of others.
Signs of sexual abuse among older children include: promiscuity; depression; aggression; suicidal gestures; eating disorders; running away from home; poor academic performance; and sleeping disorders (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2010, p.1).
It is thus imperative that parents educate their children on appropriate sexual behaviors and encourage them to report anyone who attempts to touch their private parts. They must also provide adequate supervision for their children and only leave them under the care of persons they trust (American Psychological association, 2011, p.9).
Penalties for Sexual Offenders
There are several stiff laws enacted to deal with sexual offenders in the United States. For example, in 1995, lawmakers in Georgia passed the senate bill (SB 411) which is also known as the seven deadly sins law. The new law imposes a compulsory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison (without a possibility of parole) for child sex offenders and a life sentence for repeat offenders.
Since SB 411 was enacted, the average prison sentence for first-time offenders increased from 12 years to about 18 years. Prior to 1996, child sex offenders served only 60% of their sentence. However, they now serve an average of 95% of their sentence (Georgia Department of Corrections, 2007, p.2).
Although there is no clear definition of what constitutes child sex abuse, many healthcare experts concur that child sex abuse is now a prevalent problem. Victims of sexual abuse may experience short-term and long-term negative effects as a result of sexual molestation.
It is thus imperative that parents teach their children about appropriate sexual behaviors and encourage them to report incidences of sexual abuse. There is no doubt that cases of child sex abuse are on the rise. Nonetheless several strict laws have been enacted to punish sexual offenders.
American Humane Association. (2011). Child Sexual Abuse. Web.
American Psychological Association. (2011). Understanding Child Sexual Abuse: Education, Prevention and Recovery. Web.
Briere, J., & Elliott, D.M. (1993). Sexual Abuse, Family Environment and Psychological Symptoms: On the Validity of Statistical Control. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61(2), 284-288.
Georgia Department of Corrections. (2007). Offenders in Georgia: Child Sex Offenders. Web.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2010). Child Sexual Abuse Fact Sheet. Web.