Sexual acts with another person are illegal without their consent, or if the person is under age 18, 16 in some states. Although the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network says that there is a sexual assault every two minutes in the United States, 15 out of 16 of those abusers is never indicted for their crimes. Sexual abuse, especially against children, can have an emotional, mental and physically-devastating effect. When someone alleges sexual abuse, the allegation should not be taken lightly. It should be investigated, regardless of the outcome.
Talk to the victim and observe her body language, eye contact and level of comfort while speaking about the sexual abuse. If the person seems uneasy about the discussion and refuses to make eye contact, she may feel ashamed about what has happened and may have been threatened not to tell. Perpetrators often intimidate their victims and make them think that telling someone could ruin their family or personal lives. It takes courage to come forward about sexual abuse.
Watch for signs of self-destruction or mutilation in those who have been sexually abused. Signs to look for include nightmares, drawings, acting out sexual conduct or "spacing out." The Center for Healing and Hope states that in addition to these behavioral signs, there are also physical signs of sexual abuse, including pain or discomfort in the genital area, unexplained bruises in uncommon areas, or signs of a sexually transmitted disease. Children who may have been sexually abused sometimes revert to infant and toddler-like behaviors such as bed-wetting and thumb-sucking.
Take note to a change in language. Children who have been sexually abused may have recently gained knowledge or terminology for the genital areas that have not been referenced by parents when potty training. Unless children have been exposed to sexual acts, they likely won't understand these terms or know about them.
Take the person to the hospital to be examined by a doctor. If a person has been sexually abused, the doctor can examine the genital area for signs of penetration or molestation. When a rape has allegedly occurred, a doctor will often use a rape kit. This kit is also referred to as a sexual assault evidence kit and is a method of collecting evidence that can be used later to aid in filing charges against the. When using these kits, the doctor collects bodily fluids, DNA, hair samples, photographs and potentially the alleged victim's undergarments.
Visit a trained and licensed psychologist for a mental evaluation. These professionals have been trained to learn the truth from victims through doll reenactments, pictures or role play activities. Dolls that are anatomically correct are commonly used by mental health professionals and may elicit signs of fear, anxiety or denial of "private part" knowledge, which can be signs that abuse has occurred. (Ref. 4)
- Rape, Absue and Incest National Network: Statistics
- Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: What is a Rape Kit?
- SECASA; Is the Child Victim of Sexual Abuse Telling the Truth?; Kathleen Coulborn Faller, Ph.D.
- The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: What to do if Your Child Discloses Sexual Abuse
- Center for Healing and Hope: My Child has Been Sexually Abused
- Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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