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Preventing Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in Children

By: Ma. Jocelyn A. Niere-Quidlat, MD, FPPSPreventing Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in Children

Abuse of children is a vital concern in our society today. Sexual abuse has been recognized since the 1980’s. Parents, families, schools, and the society, in general, should be aware of this condition. The children have to be protected from being victims of sexual abuse. Exact figures on the prevalence of sexual abuse are not readily available because they depend on reports of a condition that may not come to medical attention for many years. Anonymous surveys indicate that about 20% to 25% of women and 10% to 15% of men have been sexually abused before becoming adults.

Sexual abuse victims come from all socioeconomic and ethnic groups. Around 75% of victims who are treated medically are girls and 25% are boys. Boys are generally more reluctant to disclose their abuse, hence the low statistics for boys. Men are more commonly the perpetrators than women. More often than not, the sexual abuse has been occurring for several years. Sometimes children are not ready to reveal that they have been abused and but is discovered accidentally.

In 1992, the Republic Act No 7610 An Act Providing for Stronger Deterrence and Special Protection Against Child Abuse Exploitation and Discrimination was enacted.

There are several types of child abuse and may be broken down into four types.  The distinct categories are physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional/psychological abuse and neglect. Let us narrow down to one category which is sexual abuse. 

What is sexual abuse?

This is defined as the involvement of children or adolescents in sexual activities that they not fully understand, to which they cannot give informed consent, and that violate the social taboos of families or society. There are two different types of child sexual abuse. These are called contact abuse and non-contact abuse.

Contact abuse involves touching activities where an abuser makes physical contact with a child, including penetration. These also include:

  • Sexual touching of any part of the body whether the child is wearing clothes or not
  • Rape or penetration by putting an object or body part inside a child’s mouth, vagina or anus
  • Forcing or encouraging a child to take part in sexual activity
  • Making a child take their clothes off, touch someone else’s genitals or masturbate

Non-contact abuse involves non-touching activities such as grooming, exploitation and persuading children to perform sexual acts over the internet and flashing. It includes:

  • Encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts
  • Not taking proper measures to prevent a child from being exposed to sexual activities by others
  • Meeting a child following sexual grooming with the intent of abusing them
  • Online abuse including making, viewing or distributing child abuse images
  • Allowing someone else to make, view or distribute child abuse images
  • Showing pornography to a child
  • Sexually exploiting a child for money, power or status (child exploitation)

Sexual exploitation may also happen online. When this occurs the child or adolescent may be convinced, persuaded or forced to:

  • Send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
  • Take part in sexual activities
  • Have sexual conversations by text or online

The abusers may threaten these young people to send images, video or copies of conversations to the young person’s friends and family unless they take part in other sexual activity. The images or videos may continue to be shared long after the sexual abuse has stopped.

What is grooming?

Grooming is when somebody tries to build an emotional connection with the child for the purpose of gaining his trust and confidence, for purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking. Young people are very vulnerable hence children and young people can be groomed online or face-to-face.  This can be done by a family member, someone they know or even a perfect stranger.  Groomers may be male or female and they could belong to any age category. Groomers will try all means to remain incognito or not be identified. Groomers will hide their true intentions and may spend a long time gaining a child’s trust. They will also try to gain the trust and confidence of the whole family to allow them to be left alone with a child.  Those who work with children will also use the same tactics among the colleagues.

Groomers do this by:

  • Pretending to be someone they are not, for example saying they are of the same age online
  • Offering advice or understanding
  • Buying gifts
  • Giving the child attention
  • Using their professional position or reputation
  • Taking them on trips, outings or holidays
  • Use secrets and intimidation to control children

The signs of grooming may not be obvious.  However, if the child is groomed he may:

  • Be very secretive, including about what they are doing online
  • Have older boy friends or girl friends
  • Go to unusual places to meet friends
  • Have new things such as clothes or mobile phones that they can’t or won’t explain where they came from
  • Have access to drugs and alcohol

In older children, signs of grooming can easily be mistaken for “normal” teenage behavior but one may notice unexplained changes in behavior or personality or inappropriate sexual behavior for their age.

Most cases of child sexual abuse come to the attention of authorities after the child discloses the abuse. There may or may not be associated with physical or behavioral complaints. The child may have symptoms in the genital and anal areas such as bleeding, pain, swelling, difficulty of urination, vaginal discharge or difficult passage of stools. Oftentimes the children will have nonspecific complaints such as headache, abdominal pain, or fatigue. These children may also exhibit changes in behavior as a response to the stress and environment of abuse. These changes may include changes in urination and passing out stools, disturbances in sleeping patterns, hyperactivity, decreased appetite, and depression. In adolescents who have been sexually abused, they may show school failure, delinquency, and suicide attempts.

 What can you do to prevent child sexual abuse and exploitation?

Here are some of the things you can do according to the National Plan to Prevent the Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children:

  • Promote adult and community responsibility for prevention so that children’s risks for being victims or for victimizing others are reduced or eliminated
  • Educate adults, youth and children about the harm caused by treating others as sexual objects to be used, bought, or sold, whether in person or through the Internet and cellular technologies
  • Provide the clear and consistent message that sexually inappropriate, coercive, abusive or exploitive behavior is harmful and wrong
  • Encourage everyone to speak up against incidents or messages that normalize sexual harm, abuse, or exploitation
  • Speak against messages that portray children in ways that suggest they possess the same sexual interests as adults or are sexual objects for adults’ use or abuse
  • Recognize that by identifying and speaking up against the hyper-sexualized treatment of children and other sexual harm to children, you help end the demand
  • Talk with others in all your spheres of influence about why so many adults see children as sexual objects and why so many adolescents and children see themselves similarly
  • Understand and monitor the technologies that children are using

Incidents of sexual abuse and exploitation should be reported to the appropriate agencies as mandated by law. The emotional well -being of the victims must be ensured and crisis intervention is mandatory. Any medical problem as a result of the abuse must be addressed. 

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