Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a topic no one really likes to talk about; most of us would rather act as if it didn’t exist, however, this is far from the truth. It is very hard to put an actual number to the cases that are yearly committed, due to the fact that up to 90% of all cases are not reported. There are many reasons why children do not tell and why parents do not report (that will be a future post due to the amount of information on the subject).
One thing is for sure, this is a growing epidemic in our society which has long-term effects on its victims, in turn creating a cycle of more abuse and self-harm, therefore it is crucial to put an end to it. How can this be done? The most important factor for prevention is awareness, as a parent you need to know the facts.
I have come up with 15 of the most common risk factors for childhood sexual abuse. They can be divided in four different categories: individual factors, relationship/family factors, community factors and, last but not least, societal factors.
1. Gender: Being a girl puts you at increased risk with 1 in 4 chances of being abused vs 1 in 6 for boys (this might be due to boys reporting the abuse less often than girls). Girls are more frequently victims of intrafamilial sexual abuse compared to boys. On the other hand, boys are victimized by strangers more often then girls.
2. Age: Statistics show that children under the age of 11 are usually victimized by a member of their immediate or extended family while those between the ages of 12-17 years old often fall victims at the hand of an acquaintance or a stranger.There are more incidents for girls to be assaulted during their adolescence while boys are more victimized during their childhood.
3. Having special needs: Being disabled, whether mentally of physically, puts you at increased risk for abuse due to the vulnerability of the child. Parents of children with special needs must be very vigilant and ensure that their child doesn’t have any unusual marks on their genitals and/or acknowledge behavior changes in order to ensure their child is not being victimized, specially if the child is non-verbal or unable to communicate emotions and needs.
4. Personality: Passive, quiet, troubled, lonely children are more prone to being abused. Children who are very trusting of everyone around them are also at increased risk.
5. Single parent/broken home: If a child comes from a broken home and/or lives with a single parent, they are at risk due to the vulnerability of the parent and also because of the possibility of a step parent moving in. Having a stepfather, for example, increases the risk of abuse by 20 times.Biological single parents living with a new partner must be extra vigilant… never trust someone 100%, acknowledge that anyone can be a perpetrator.
6. Mentally unstable parents: Having a parent who suffers from mental health problems/substance abuse is an obvious risk due to the possible lack of psychological presence of the parent. (This in no way means that parents with mental issues cannot be awesome parents). Sometimes these parents can actually be the abusers because of their misjudgments or even without realizing that they are abusing their child.
7. Foster child: Children in foster homes are 10 times more at risk then their friends who live with their parents. This is due to them not having a specific caregiver and makes them vulnerable to predators.
8. Low income household: Children in low socioeconomic status households are three times more likely to be assaulted. This may be because of higher stress and frustration levels in parents, but it is more likely due to the fact that these children have lower or decreased supervision by parent or are more prone to having a predator befriend and somehow financially “help” the family in order to gain access to the child.
9. Myths/ miseducation: Tolerance of sexual abuse by believing myths like; “Boys will be boys”, and/or “she was asking for it” puts us all at risk. As parents, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on the subject reject such myths.
10. Lack of awareness: A lack of sexual education and awareness programs in the community puts all the children of that community at risk. Awareness= Prevention.
11. Weak sanctions: If predators are not being charged and sentenced for their crimes it sends the message to other abusers that they will not be punished for their actions, this increases the amount of assaults.
SOCIETAL FACTORS/RAPE CULTURE:
12. Denial: Living within a society which is in denial that child sexual abuse occurs, creates a great opportunity for perpetrators to assault. We need to open our eyes to this plague and verbalize our concerns to the authorities and government, abusers need to know that we are watching.
13. Sexualization of children: We can clearly see this happening, especially in Western countries. Children are increasingly being portrait as sexual beings in TV shows, movies and literally all around us. This can encourage pedophiles and feed their inappropriate behavior.
14.Traditional norms regarding gender roles/patriarchy: The presence of an ideology of male sexual entitlement and of female submission puts all of our children at risk
15. Weak sanctions: Just as in a community setting, as long as a society has weak legal sanctions against CSA and the societal norms support sexual abuse, our kids will not be safe.
These are the most talked about risk factors but really, being a child is really the #1 risk factor. Any child can be a victim and there is really no way to tell just by looking at a child’s appearance and/or their behavior. A child can look very happy and full of life and still be a victim… I know, I was one of them.
It has been said that nearly 70% of all reported sexual assault occur to children under the age of 17, this number is unacceptable! We as parents and caregivers need to take this matter into our own hands by knowing the facts and most importantly, talking to our children about what is right and what is wrong.
It’s true that this is a really uncomfortable subject, however it is better to be uncomfortable for a few moments than to have our children uncomfortable for life. The #1 solution to CSA is awareness, being aware of the risk factors gives you and your child a big advantage on someone who is unaware. If you are reading this, you have started being a part of the solution or already are.
Congratulations!!! And do not forget to share your knowledge with everyone around you. Together, we can make the world a better place 🙂