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What adults can do to prevent and end child sex abuse: Part III

In today's post, we will be continuing and concluding a three-part discussion about the prevention of child sex abuse. Although this is a serious and uncomfortable topic, conscientious adults can help prevent and report child sex abuse if they are given the tools they need to recognize and respond to it.

As in previous posts, our source material on this subject is a five-step plan published by an advocacy group called Darkness to Light. In today's post, we'll discuss step four (recognizing the signs that sexual abuse is occurring) and step five (reacting responsibly to protect children from sexual abuse).

Although some abuse victims show no telltale signs, adults can often observe certain characteristics that could indicate that a child is being abused. Emotional and behavioral signs could include:

  • Sudden withdrawal and depression
  • Unprovoked and uncharacteristic anger or rebellion
  • Behaving "too perfectly"
  • Using sexual language and engaging in sexual behaviors that are not age-appropriate

Physical signs of abuse could include:

  • Chronic stomach pains, headaches and other symptoms associated with anxiety
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Rashes, redness and swelling, especially in the genital area

Any of these symptoms alone are not necessarily proof of abuse. But they certainly warrant further investigation and careful attention.

If you suspect child abuse but don’t directly see it or hear an admission, it is better to report what you know than to stay silent and risk allowing the abuse to continue.

If a child comes to you and tells you about being abused, how you react is crucial. Please stay calm, listen carefully, let them know you believe their story and thank them for their courage and honesty.

Be careful about interviewing them on the spot, as this could potentially complicate a later criminal conviction of the abuser. Instead, report as much as you know to police and be willing to advocate for the child until he or she is in a safe place and can discuss their story with mental health professionals.

If you work in a school or other organization where adults interact with children, don't be afraid to enforce boundaries with colleagues or report suspicious behavior. You likely won't witness abuse directly, but you may see adults breaking boundaries, such as having a student alone in their office with the door closed.

Child sex abuse is a daunting problem, but we all have the power to make a difference. Please make sure you know how to spot abuse, how to listen to victims and how to find help.

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