Can you imagine the thoughts and questions going through the mind of a child being sexually abused? Can you imagine the dread, horror and confusion? As difficult it is for us to even think about it, it is much harder for children who experience child sexual abuse.
One of the services we provide at the Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center is medical exams for children when there’s concern of child sexual abuse.
Through a partnership with Our Kids Clinic, the Coffee County CAC serves as a satellite clinic of Our Kids, offering services for children in Coffee County and surrounding areas. The clinic has served children in Coffee County since 2005.
When people think about child abuse, they most often think about neglect and physical abuse. In fact, child sexual abuse is very prevalent, with 1 in 10 children being sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
Child sexual abuse is a big problem. Most children don’t disclose immediately and many don’t tell at all. That’s why we – adult – must be vigilant and learn the facts about child sexual abuse. There’s overlap among children who are abused, with many suffering a combination of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect.
As we see many children dealing with sexual abuse, we are so thankful for the partnership we have with Our Kids Clinic. The clinic’s experts provide medical forensic evaluation and crisis counseling for children and families. Our Kids Clinic serves more than 800 children each year, providing services in more than 45 counties. There’s no cost to families for the services. The clinic’s medical experts help children overcome myths surrounding child sexual abuse, including the “stranger danger” myth. The reality is most children are abused by someone who’s trusted and loved by the child and the family. Medical professionals provide exams in a safe environment, with a checkup, which is not painful or invasive and is done in a child-friendly way. The medical exams are essential when it comes to collecting evidence; but, more importantly, they are crucial for the child to understand that his or her body is still healthy. Our Kids professionals provide that assurance to children and help dispel any fears children may have even years after abuse may have occurred.
Learn to recognize the signs
Child sexual abuse involves sexual contact between a child and an older person, or between a child and a peer who forces sexual contact. Most of the sexual abuse incidents are perpetrated by acquaintances and friends of the child and the family. With the abuser often being someone the child loves and trusts, it is very difficult for the child to disclose abuse, and that’s another reason adults must watch for signs and protect children.
The symptoms of child sexual abuse vary from child to child. The following are possible indicators of child abuse, according to the Department of Children’s Services: soreness or bruising, pain or itching in genital or anal areas; sexually transmitted diseases; nightmares or bedwetting; unexplained loss of appetite; becoming isolated or withdrawn; excessive masturbation or sexual play. Other red flags include abusing children, animals or pets; attaching very quickly to strangers or new adults in their environment; obsession with pornography or viewing sexually explicit photos; repeated runaway or suicide attempts; self-destructive behavior/self-injury/cutting; risky or delinquent behavior; substance abuse.
We can prevent child abuse
The ripples of saving even one child are enormous. The Coffee County CAC and Our Kids Clinic are dedicated to helping children and preventing child abuse. As passionate as we are about our work and ensuring a happy future for children, we can’t do that alone. We need your help. We need members of the community to be knowledgeable and help us raise awareness.
We can end child abuse together. I encourage community members to learn more about child sexual abuse. It’s important to know how to react if a child discloses or if you suspect child abuse. Everyone should also know what “grooming children and families” means. I am looking forward to sharing more information about child abuse prevention. Please visit www.coffeecountycac.org and follow the Coffee County CAC on social media to learn more. Schedule a free child abuse prevention training by emailing email@example.com.
Joyce Prusak is the Executive Director of Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center.