This post is the first in a series in which I will look at how a history of abuse affects childbearing women. Today's post will look at what we mean when we talk about childhood sexual abuse (CSA).
The CDC defines childhood sexual abuse is defined as any kind of touching or fondling in a sexual way including oral, anal or vaginal intercourse with a person at least 5 years older than the victim who is under age 18. Advocates and educators take a broader view of CSA and believe that any sexual activity committed with force against someone else's will is sexual abuse. That can include an adult forcing a child to watch pornography or sexting, for example. Girls between ages 7- 13 are believed to be at greatest risk for childhood sexual abuse. [That number may be artificially high, however given that victims younger than 7 may either not remember or not be able to put language around what happened to them.] CSA can be challenging to get hard statistics on because the definition, as discussed above, isn't uniformly accepted and/or used by researchers. Here's what we do know:
Similar to domestic violence, CSA affects girls in much greater numbers than it affects boys. Some research reports 1 in 5 girls vs. 1 in 10 boys, some research narrows the gap a bit more but everyone can agree that more girls are victimized in much greater numbers than boys are. What is also undisputed is that perpetrators of CSA are overwhelmingly male and usually known to the victim. Even though television or movies often includes stories of abuse committed by strangers against children they have abducted, so called "stranger danger" doesn't exist. The number of children like Elizabeth Smart, thankfully, is actually very low, usually single digit lows like 8-9%.
We also know that CSA can impact physical wellbeing of a child well beyond the time that the abuse ends into adulthood. A child's brain is malleable so its development, in part, is shaped by experience. So developing areas such as learning ability, social emotions skills and language development are affected in children. Consider each of these areas. They are the building blocks for life; the significance of damage done to these areas cannot be over-stated.
The silver lining, if there is one, is that parents and caregivers can take actions to minimize the risk of childhood sexual abuse. Knowing the facts, as we've discussed here, is one way. There is power in knowledge. Providing a safe, stable home environment, talking to your child, recognizing signs and being aware are other ways. We'll talk about these in future blog posts.
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