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Sexual abuse of children in the family environment

 1. Definition

Sexual violence could be defined as the behavior that involves forcing or abusing a child or adolescent to engage in sexual activity.

It is not necessarily associated with a high level of violence, regardless of whether or not there is a child.

Such activities may involve physical contact, including penetrating assaults (eg rape or oral sex) or non-penetrating acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching external clothing. These may include non-contact activities such as viewing or creating child pornography, viewing sexual activity, encouraging children to engage in sexual harassment, or treating a child as preparation for abuse.

Sexual abuse can occur online and technology can be used to facilitate offline abuse.

Sexual abuse is not just for adult men. Women can also commit sexual violence just like other children.

Sexual abuse often occurs in combination with other categories of child abuse, especially emotional abuse, in order to maintain control and secrecy.

There is no single agreed definition of child sexual abuse (CSE) in the home environment (also known as child sexual abuse within the family) but other than abuse by a relative (such as a parent, sibling or uncle), may also involve abuse by someone close to the child in another way (such as a stepfather, close friend of the family or guardian).

Sexual abuse often occurs in combination with other forms of child abuse, especially emotional abuse, in order to maintain control and secrecy.

Children above birth may be subjected to sexual abuse. Sexual harassment can have long-lasting effects on emotional, social, and educational development, and is linked to the development of mental health problems later in life.

2. Risks and Indicators

Sexual harassment that occurs in families is often the most hidden and secretive and hardest to disclose to children and young people. It is especially difficult to detect violence from a brother or sister.

Many children and young people do not identify themselves as victims of sexual abuse – the child may not understand what is happening and may not even understand that it is wrong, especially as the perpetrator will try to reduce the risk of disclosure by threatening them, tell them that they will not be believed or held accountable for their abuse.

When sexual harassment is committed against one or more family members, it may be possible to identify patterns of referral or presentation to various agencies in your community over time. There may be a range of symptoms, but a sign does not mean that a child is being sexually abused, but the number of symptoms should indicate that you are thinking about abuse and you should consult knowledgeable people. To see if they have any concerns.

Signs include:

  • Changes in behavior including increased aggressiveness, withdrawal, and mania;

  • Problems at school, difficulty concentrating, poor school results;

  • Sleep disturbance or regressive behavior, such as enuresis.

  • Fear or attempt to avoid contact with a particular person;

  • Knowledge of sexual behavior/language that appears inappropriate for his age;

  • Physical symptoms, including teenage pregnancy where the identity of the father is unclear or hidden, sexually transmitted diseases, unexplained secretions or bleeding;

  • Poor hygiene, often resulting in social isolation at school;

  • Injuries and bruises on parts of the body without further explanation, including bruises, bites, or other injuries to the chest, buttocks, lower abdomen, or thighs;

  • Observable oral cavity injuries by practicing dentists.

  • Other factors

  • Frequent movements;

  • Isolation of children (and other members) of practitioners’ family and wider community;

  • Failure to register with GP;

  • Frequent absences from school;

  • Not cooperating with agencies or leaving the police, child welfare, or other agencies at home or having children seen only by professionals;

  • Attempts to conceal injuries or attribute them to other causes;

  • Child or adolescent self-harming, abusing drugs, alcohol or solvents and/or developing mental health issues;

  • Domestic violence increases risk;

  • Repeated tasks without proof of father;

  • Genetic abnormalities during pregnancy or in the unborn child.

Four potential consequences:

  • Traumatic sex (where sexual activity, sexual feelings, and attitudes may not be sufficient) developed).

  • Feeling of betrayal (due to harm caused by someone on whom the child vitally depended).

  • Feelings of helplessness (because the will of the child is constantly violated).

  • Stigma (where shame or guilt can be amplified and become part of the child’s self-image).

In addition, the impact that secrecy (including the fear and isolation it creates) and confusion (because the child is engaging in behaviors that are offensive to the child but instigated by trusted adults) have on the child. Although these effects are not unique to the sexual exploitation of children in the family environment, they make the experience particularly detrimental in terms of their combination and intensity.

In the long term, people who have been sexually abused are more likely to develop depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They are also more prone to self-harm, criminal behavior, drug and alcohol use, and suicide at a young age.

3. Protection and Measures

Whenever a child reports that he or she has been sexually abused or has suffered serious harm, the initial reaction of any practitioner should be to listen carefully to the child’s words and actions and observe the situation. Professionals should:

  • Clarify doubts;

  • Provide assurance about how the child will be protected;

  • Explain what action will be taken and when.

  • A child should not be coerced into information, directed or interrogated, or given false assurances of complete confidentiality, as this may affect police investigations, especially in cases of sexual abuse.

When a strategy discussion / meeting takes place, the main agencies involved in the child should be involved. A clear plan should be agreed upon and sent to each member of the agency. Where possible, there should be face – to – face meetings rather than telephone calls to ensure a better analysis of available information.