Sexual Abuse and Young Children Essay example

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As reported in Child Maltreatment 2013, out of the estimated 905,000 victims of child abuse and neglect reported in the United States in 2013, 8.8% were victims of sexual abuse. 1 This means that in that year over 79,600 children were sexually abused in the United States. “There is general agreement among mental health and child protection professionals that child sexual abuse is not uncommon and is a serious problem in the United States.” 2

Sexual abuse has a very broad definition. According to the American Psychological Association, “a central characteristic…is the dominant position of an adult that allows him or her to force or coerce a child into sexual activity.” 3 The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act defines sexual abuse
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But often more severe are the effects of sexual abuse on a child’s psychological development. Sexual abuse produces “powerful and enduring emotion reactions, including intense shame, anger, and humiliation,” 12 depression, anxiety, withdrawal, guilt, and fear.13 Behavioral differences may be seen in sexually abused children, including sexual interest and acting out, “regressive behaviors…, sleep disturbances, eating problems, behavior and/or performance problems at school, and nonparticipation in school and social activities.”14 Many sexually abused children develop posttraumatic stress disorder. 15 It is important to remember that of the many possible effects of sexual abuse, “there is no one set of symptoms or outcomes that victims experience,” and there are several factors which “affect the amount of harm done to the victim.” 16

Whether the child discloses the abuse, and when s/he does, greatly affect the consequences.17 An estimate of 30% and 80% of sexual abuse victims do not purposefully disclose until adulthood, children under age 6 being the least likely to disclose.18, 19 Children may not disclose sexual abuse due to feelings of shame, self-blame for the abuse, or for fear of negative
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