A Parent’s Worst Fear: How to Tell If Your Child Has Possibly Been a Victim of Sexual Abuse

July 30, 2012  |  

I can’t imagine how the parents of one of the many victims of Jerry Sandusky’s years and years of abuse must feel.  I swear I’d be in cuffs myself, because I don’t know if I’d be capable of thinking rationally after finding out anyone, let alone someone I once felt I could trust, had violated my child in such a way.

When those parents of underprivileged kids allowed their children to participate in the activities through Sandusky’s “The Second Mile” organization, like many parents I’m sure they saw it as an opportunity for their children to participate in something constructive that allowed them to stay safe from many of the dangers that are all too present in the inner-city.  They had no idea they were leaving their children with someone who may have had a more malicious impact than anything outside their door.  Molestation is so sinister because it devastates a child’s innocence and deprives them of their childhood. It’s so hard for children to make sense out of what love and intimacy truly are when an adult manipulates those feelings for their own pleasure early on.

Adult survivors of sexual abuse often experience feelings of guilt and shame.  Keeping a secret about the abuse is a heavy emotional burden that can manifest into physical symptoms from stress and anxiety.  The adult may grow to have an unhealthy outlook on sex and physical intimacy, and may find themselves engaging in promiscuity while questioning their own self-worth or a total detachment from sexual relationships altogether.

I cringe when I see the mom who allows the boyfriend she’s only been dating for two weeks to move in with her and her children.  It’s so important for parents to really take time to get to know the people who are in the lives of their children.  As much we teach children about “good touch vs. bad touch” and “stranger danger,” we have to remember we are sending our children out into a world with people who may mean to do them harm, and even scarier: People who don’t mean to do them harm because they believe sexual relations with a child is normal, most likely because they were once treated the same way.

Try to make yourself an approachable and proactive parent. Children need to feel comfortable being able to come to you knowing they can tell you about anything.  Predators use the weak relationships of uninvolved, unobservant parents against children who feel like they can’t come to their parents with information that might make them angry.  Even if you’re not angry at them, the child can feel that for some reason your frustration is their fault. Children should know your love for them is unconditional. Even if you’re a working parent pulling two jobs to put food on the table, make sure you’re constantly keeping an eye on your child’s behavior, so you’re aware of any changes that could signal something is wrong.  Sexual abuse may not always be to blame for changes in their normal pattern of behavior, but it does mean something is going on. Even if it means taking 20 minutes on the bus ride home or a call to grandma’s house to see how their day is going while you’re at work: TALK TO YOUR KIDS.

Pay attention if your child displays any of the following signs.  If you learn of any incident that is truly disturbing, make sure to keep your cool and proceed carefully so that your children aren’t more traumatized.  It’s easier said than done, but if you’re not around to protect your child, who will be?

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