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Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse

What is it?

Child Sexual Abuse is the deliberate exposure of young children to sexual activities , so that they are forced, by force or through deception and persuasion, to perform this type of practice. Sexual abuse not only refers to the sexual practice itself, but includes the exposure of children to pornography, exhibitionism, touching and oral sex . The NGO Save the Children establishes that these practices involve the imposition of behaviors of sexual content on the part of a person, minor or not, towards a boy or girl, in a situation of inequality and disequilibrium of power.


It is difficult to determine the specific causes that can lead a person to sexually abuse a minor, however, the Guide to sexual violence against children. Child sexual abuse and exploitation ,elaborated by Save the Children, establishes a series of risk factors that can lead to behaviors such as child abuse or abuse.

Social factors

  • Not considering the child as a subject that has a series of rights : Children, because of their vulnerability, are very dependent on the adults in their charge, which in extreme cases can lead to a lack of awareness of the child as subjects of rights.
  • Abuse of power and validation of violence in the closest relationships.
  • Tolerance before certain forms of aggression , physical, psychological or sexual.
  • Lack of knowledge about the impact and consequences of this type of experiences in childhood for the proper development of individuals.
  • Cultural environments that allow and promote marriage at a very early age .
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs .

Family factors

  • Family structures where unequal power relations exist : In these circumstances, there is usually a person who concentrates all the authority within the family.
  • Gender violence .
  • Emotional distance : What often results in the inability to respond to the emotional needs of the child and prevents communication (very important factor to detect and prevent sexual abuse).

Personal factors

Personal factors may refer to the abuser or the victim . In the case of the victim, that is, the child, the main personal risk factors are:

  • Physical or mental disability: Children with disabilities are more vulnerable to any form of violence.
  • Affective deficiencies : Which means that they do not have relationships of trust and security with their caregivers.
  • Lack of information : Not having information about possible situations of risk and about sexuality makes children more vulnerable and that they do not have a kind of defense mechanism against possible aggression.

The personal risk factors in the case of the aggressors also play an important role when developing behaviors of a sexual abuser:

  • Exposure to violence during childhood : The fact of having been raised and developed in a family and social environment where gender violence was practiced and sexist stereotypes were promoted can influence the fact that in adulthood, behaviors that lead to situations of abuse and sexual abuse.
  • Cognitive distortions .
  • Little capacity or absence of empathy .
  • Personality disorders .
  • Consumption of child pornography .

When abuses occur repeatedly, the aggressor may suffer a disorder of sexual behavior, such as pedophilia .


The symptoms that children present after suffering sexual abuse are made visible through physical, psychological, behavioral, relational and functional manifestations . The consequences derived from an abuse can distort the correct development of the child and adolescent and mark them in their adult life. Although the presence or absence of these symptoms does not always have a direct relationship with the existence of sexual abuse, it is important to know them in order to detect and prevent possible cases.

Physical problems

  • Appearance of sexually transmitted diseases .
  • Bruising
  • Vaginal and anal tears and bleeding.
  • Early pregnancy .
  • Disorders of stool and urine, such as enuresis and encopresis.
  • Difficulty walking or sitting.

Psychological problems

  • Emergence of fears and phobias.
  • Symptoms of depression .
  • Anxiety .
  • Feeling guilty and low self-esteem.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • suicidal behavior and tendency to self-harm.

Relational problems

  • Social isolation.
  • Reduction of playing time with other children.
  • Problems of social relationship.

Cognitive problems

  • Deficits in attention and concentration .
  • Low academic performance
  • Hyperactive behavior

Functional problems

  • Insomnia and nightmares appearance.
  • Eating behavior disorders .
  • Lack of control of the sphincters.

Behavior problems

  • Excessively sexualized behavior: compulsive masturbation, imitation of sexual acts, excessive sexual curiosity, exhibitionism, use of sexual vocabulary.
  • Disruptive behavior: Aggressiveness, anger, irritability, defiant behavior.


In case of suspicion, the specialist can perform a series of tests and exams to detect if a child has been a victim of sexual abuse. In the case of physical tests, it is important that the diagnosis be made within 72 hours after the assault , since most of the physical manifestations are temporary.

In many cases, sexual abuse is accompanied by physical abuse, so the specialist will perform a complete examination. The areas that are usually examined are the mouth, throat, penis , anus and vagina , as well as the hymen in the case of girls.

blood test will be used to detect possible sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis or HIV , and also to check for pregnancy.


The treatment for the physical consequences of a sexual abuse is the same for bruises, cuts and wounds that may have occurred. In addition, the child may need pharmacological treatment for sexually transmitted diseases . The specialist may also decide to use contraceptive drugs in the case of girls who are victims of abuse who are of sufficient sexual maturity to become pregnant.

The psychological help is very important to try to alleviate the mental and traumatic consequences derived from the abuse. The success of psychological treatment depends on factors such as the type and length of time of abuse, the child’s personality or social and family support.


Prevention in cases of child abuse and sexual abuse must be done at a personal and family level, but also at a social level . The Federation of Associations for the Prevention of Child Maltreatment (FAPMI), with the collaboration of the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality, has developed a series of guidelines to prevent this type of behavior and quickly tackle them:

  • The Rule of Kiko : The FAPMI establishes a simple guide for children, called Rule of Kiko ,that simulates a luck of game so that the possible victims can identify, in some way, the abuse. Children should not allow other children or adults to touch parts of their bodies covered by their underwear. It also helps explain to the children that their body belongs to them, that there are good and bad secrets, as well as ways of touching good and bad.
  • Fathers and mothers : It is important that there is good communication between parents and children, and that the relationship between both parties is not based only on authority, but also on trust.
  • Educational area : Promote campaigns and teacher training programs to provide teachers with tools to detect and prevent child sexual abuse in the educational environment.
  • Media : The Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as the Lanzarote Convention , insists on the need for media professionals, in collaboration with experts in protection of children’s rights, disseminate information on the reality of this problem, on how to notify suspicions and on how to disseminate information about prevention itself.


  • The FAPMI estimates that one in five children is the victim of sexual abuse.
  • The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry claims that more than 80,000 cases of sexual abuse in children are reported, but that this number is exceeded by unreported cases.
  • According to WHO, one in five women and one in 13 men report having suffered sexual abuse in childhood.

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Sexual abuse


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