Child abuse cuts across all social classes and racial and religious group. Both boys and girls are victimized, and it is not a very rare occurrence. The best estimates suggest that, by the age of 18, one of every four females and one of every seven males have been subjected to some form of sexual contact.
Children who have endured sexual abuse may experience a wide range of emotional and/or behavioral reactions to the abuse. The nature and severity of these difficulties may depend upon the age of the child, the identity of the offender, the circumstances of the abuse, and the family’s reaction to the child’s disclosure.
After abuse, children may exhibit the following symptoms indicative of anxiety and distress:
- Withdrawn or acting-out behavior
- Difficulty in school
- Running away
- Repetitive sexual talk and play
- Age-inappropriate sexual behavior
- Fears of specific situation or people that remind them of the abuse
Some children do not exhibit any apparent difficulties as a result of their traumatic experience. Once the abuse has been disclosed and stopped, some children return to relatively normal behavior and emotions.
The support and the protection of the people close to them are very important in helping them get back to normal. However, some children have symptoms that persist long after the abuse itself has ended. In fact, a significant number of children who have experienced sexual abuse exhibit posttraumatic stress symptoms. That’s why it is important for a child who has experienced sexual abuse to receive a mental health evaluation and, if necessary, treatment.
Reference: Cohen, J.A., Mannarino, A.P., &Deblinger, E. & Lippman, J. (2006). Treating Truama and Traumatic Grief in Children and Adolescents.