What is Childhood Sexual Assault?

Childhood Sexual Assault is attempted or actual sexual contact between a child and an adult, or a child and another child.

Child abuse is defined as any intentional act that causes harm to a minor, whether it be physical, psychological, sexual, or through acts of neglect. This page will focus specifically on child sexual abuse and the warning signs associated with this crime.

Note: Childhood Sexual Assault, sometimes abbreviated as CSA, is not an all-encompassing term for sexual abuse of children. Childhood Sexual Assault can involve the use of physical force, threats of violence, bribes, or abuse of a position of authority.

What is child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse is, quite simply, any form of sexual activity with a minor. A child cannot consent to such acts, ever. When an adult engages in this behavior with a child, they are committing a crime that can have debilitating effects on the victim long into adulthood. Child sexual abuse does not need to involve physical contact between perpetrator and victim for it to be classified as such. Any type of sexual activity, such as exposing a child to pornography or requesting nude photography from them, can be classified as abuse.

It is also important to note that intimate partner violence, domestic abuse, and intimate partner abuse are all considered forms of child sexual abuse. In cases where the perpetrator is an adult in a relationship with the victim’s parent, they may be the victim of coercive control and sexual abuse. This can take many forms, such as manipulation or threats to keep the child quiet about their experience.

It is important to recognize the warning signs of child sexual abuse to protect minors from further harm. Children who have been sexually abused may exhibit physical and psychological signs and symptoms, such as changes in behavior or development, physical injuries, and poor self-esteem. They may also display signs of depression, anxiety, nightmares, or flashbacks. Additionally, they may act differently around adults than before and be more withdrawn or anxious.

Some forms of child sexual abuse include (but are not limited to):

  • Exhibitionism, or the act of exposing oneself to a minor
  • Fondling
  • Intercourse
  • Masturbation in the presence of a minor
  • Compelling a minor to masturbate
  • Obscene conversation by phone, text, or on any digital device
  • Engaging in making, sharing, or possessing child pornography
  • Sex trafficking
  • Sexual acts with individuals who cannot give consent

How can childhood sexual assault happen?

A common term used to describe how adults can manipulate children is “Grooming.”

Grooming describes the trust-building behaviors of an abuser toward the child (and sometimes the child’s friends and family). It tends to happen gradually and in phases. Initially, these behaviors can seem very sincere, such as being kind, considerate, and helpful.

The typical grooming process is:

  1. Frequently, over time, the abuser begins to bestow favors on the child and the family. For example, offering to babysit the children or buying the child a toy.
  2. Another phase of the grooming process is when the abuser starts to alienate other people in the child’s life while emphasizing how special or unique their relationship is with the child: “I’m your best friend, and you don’t need to hang out with those other kids.”
  3. The next step is coercing secrecy from the child. This can happen in different ways: telling the child that the family will be hurt if the child tells, or convincing the child that this is a special game just for the two of them. The point is for the child not to tell about the abuse.
  4. The final step is when the abuser actually violates the child’s boundaries and abuses them.

What do perpetrators of child sexual abuse look like?

Most perpetrators are known to the child or family. They could be any age, have any relationship to the child, and don’t necessarily need to be an adult. Some examples include older siblings or playmates, teachers, coaches, relatives, babysitters, or other parents’ children.

Abusers often coerce or intimidate victims into staying quiet about the sexual abuse using various tactics. They may use their position of power over the victim to compel them into submission, telling them that the activity is normal or hinting that they enjoyed it. Additionally, abusers frequently make threats if their child victim refuses to participate or divulges their plans to tell another adult. Child sexual abuse not only physically violates a child, but also shatters any trust or authority they once had in the abuser.

What are the warning signs?

Child sexual abuse isn’t always easy to spot, and some survivors may not exhibit obvious warning signs. The perpetrator could be someone you’ve known a long time or trust, which may make it even harder to notice. Consider some of the following common warning signs:

Physical signs:

  • Bleeding, bruises, or swelling in genital area
  • Bloody, torn, or stained underclothes
  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Frequent urinary or yeast infections
  • Pain, itching, or burning in genital area

Source: https://www.rainn.org/articles/child-sexual-abuse

Behavioral signs:

  • Changes in hygiene, such as refusing to bathe or bathing excessively
  • Develops phobias
  • Exhibits signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Expresses suicidal thoughts, especially in adolescents
  • Has trouble in school, such as absences or drops in grades
  • Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviors
  • Nightmares or bed-wetting
  • Overly protective and concerned for siblings, or assumes a caretaker role
  • Returns to regressive behaviors, such as thumb sucking
  • Runs away from home or school
  • Self Harm
  • Shrinks away or seems threatened by physical contact

Source: https://www.rainn.org/articles/child-sexual-abuse

Mandated Reporting

Certain professionals, because of their position have a responsibility called Mandated Reporting. These people are required by law to report suspected child abuse.

The Following Lists Some (not all) Mandatory Reporters

  • School employees
  • A person licensed or certified to practice in any health-related field
  • A medical examiner, coroner, or funeral director
  • An employee of a healthcare facility or provider who is engaged in the admission, examination, care, or treatment of individuals
  • An employee of a childcare service, who has direct contact with children in the course of employment
  • A clergyman, priest, rabbi, minister, Christian Science practitioner, religious healer, or spiritual leader of any regularly established church or other religious organization
  • An independent contractor
  • An employee of a social services agency, who has direct contact with children in the course of employment
  • A peace officer or law enforcement official
  • An employee of a public library who has direct contact with children in the course of employment
  • Mandated reporters are required to report abuse when they have reasonable cause to suspect, based on their medical, professional, or other training and experience that a child is being abused or neglect

Source: https://pcar.org/laws-policy/mandated-reporting

Mandated reporters are not trained to perform child abuse investigations

The primary function of mandatory reporters is to report suspected abuse immediately – not to wait to be told. It is also important mandatory reporters do not attempt their own investigation to prove abuse – their role is to report their suspicions and let the investigators who are trained in child abuse investigation handle the investigation itself.

Where can I get help?

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of childhood sexual violence or is a survivor of childhood sexual violence and would like support, WOAR is here for you. Please contact WOAR at 215-985-3333.

For more information, see Support Services for Parents and Counseling for Children.