About Child Sexual Abuse

Young girls who are sexually abused are 3 times more likely than girls who are not abused to develop drug or alcohol abuse problems or psychiatric disorders in adulthood.

It's important to get help. Unfortunately, many children never tell and recognizing the signs or symptoms of sexual abuse can be difficult if not impossible since some children show no signs at all and others show signs that are non-specific and could indicate a number of other problems.

If a child does disclose, how a parent, school teacher, counselor, or other adult responds is extremely important and can make a big difference in a child's recovery and long-term outcome.

Why Children Don't Tell

There are many reasons that children often do not tell that they are being sexually abused. These include:

  • Often younger children do not have the words to express what has happened to them. Sometimes this is a matter of they do not have the words to name their own body parts. Other times, they may not have any words for the actions they have experienced.
  • Younger children may not be aware that what they have experienced is wrong.
  • Abusers may threaten the child or threaten people that the child loves. An abuser might say something like "if you tell anyone, I'll kill your little sister."
  • Children may care about their abusers, especially since the majority of abusers are known to the child.
  • Children may not wish to get their abusers in trouble or may not wish to upset their parents.
  • A child may feel responsible for the abuse he or she has suffered for a number of different reasons. Abusers are almost always very manipulative people. They may convince a child that the child has participated willingly or they may have given the child special gifts, favors, or attention that the child feels guilty about having accepted.
  • An abuser may have engaged in a process of gradual desentization or "grooming" in which a child's defenses are worn down. This can increase a child's sense of guilt about participation.
  • Often when children do tell, they tell only part of the story to test an adult's reaction or to work up their courage to tell the whole story.
  • The child may believe that no one will believe them.
  • The child may be depressed as a result of the abuse.
  • The child may have "learned helplessness" from the abuse.
  • The child may be obeying the directions of the abuser, especially if the child has been taught to follow the directions of adults.
  • The child may lack the maturity to know how to handle the situation.

Possible Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

Many children who have been sexually abused exhibit no signs or symptoms at all! Many of the symptoms of child sexual abuse such as depression, sleep problems, or anxiety are also symptoms of many other possible problems. The lists below are not exhaustive. Some children may experience unusual symptoms. The symptoms below are simply some of the most common.

Behavioral Signs of Possible Sexual Abuse

  • Sleep problems
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Delinquency
  • Bed wetting (in children who previously did not have a problem with bed wetting)
  • Academic failure
  • Nightmares
  • Unusual interest with sex
  • Feeling their body is dirty
  • Seductiveness
  • Cutting
  • Bulimia/anorexia
  • Attachment disorder
  • Unusual aggression
  • Avoidance of some places or adults
  • Attempts to be unattractive
  • Children who are overly compliant, over-achieving

Behavioral Signs of Possible Online Sexual Exploitation:

  • Hiding CD's or other electronic storage devices.
  • Spending time online late at night
  • Child quickly closes or changes the computer screen when an adult walks in the door
  • Unusual credit card charges for "web sites"

Physical Signs of Possible Sexual Abuse

  • Torn or stain underwear
  • Pain on urination
  • Pain or itching in genital area
  • Is pregnant or has a sexually transmitted disease
  • Swelling or redness in genital or rectal area
  • Posession of unexplained gifts or money
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  • Signs of intoxication after spending time with an adult

If you or Someone You Know Needs Help

If you believe a child is in immediate danger, please call 911. You can also make a report of suspected child abuse by calling the office of your local Department of Family and Children's Services (DFCS) or by calling the prevent child abuse hotline, toll-free: 1-800-CHILDREN (1-800-244-5373).

To Receive Help From Our Services

To receive help from one of our program services, simply call 770.532.6530 or fax a referral form to 770.532.7111.

All referrals should be sent to the Gainesville office. For fastest processing, fax referrals to 770.532.7111.

If you cannot fax in the form for some reason you may call in a referral: 770.532.6530 x 10. If you call to make a referral, you may have to leave a message and wait for a call back message from an intake specialist. When you receive a return call from the intake specialist, you will be asked for a detailed history so we can best serve you.