What is Child Sexual Abuse? Sexual abuse is any sexual behavior imposed on a juvenile. This involves a range of activities, including fondling the genital area, masturbation, oral sex, or vaginal or anal penetration by a finger, penis, or other object. It also includes exhibitionism, child pornography, and use of suggestive behaviors or comments.
North Carolina Law defines an abused child as: any juvenile less than 18 years of age whose parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker inflicts or allows serious physical injury by other than accidental means, or creates or allows to be created serious risk of injury, cruel or grossly inappropriate behavior modifications, or sexual abuse. (www.ncga.state.nc.us and access Chapter 7B of the Juvenile Code for more information)
Identifying Child Sexual Abuse: Abuse is rarely one physical attack or one isolated incident. Often, there is a pattern of behavior that emerges over a period of time. Children often have difficulty talking about the abuse. This leads to many children “acting out” as a way of expressing their hurt or anger.
It is important to remember that even if you see signs, they do not necessarily mean that a child has been abused. The signs will vary according to the type of abuse, its intensity, and the age of the child.
Some children who are abused display no signs. For this reason, it is important to listen carefully to any child who tells you about an act of abuse.
Signs of Possible Sexual Abuse
- Exhibiting sexual behaviors that are not appropriate for the child’s age
- A detailed and sophisticated understanding of sexual behavior
- Reversion to behaviors such as bed-wetting, speech loss, and thumb-sucking
- Sleep disturbances or nightmares
- Pain, itching, bruising, or bleeding in the genital area
- Venereal disease
- Frequent urinary tract or yeast infections
Sexually abused older children may also:
- Exhibit delinquent or aggressive behavior
- Show signs of depression
- Display self-injurious behaviors such as substance abuse, self-mutilation, suicide attempts, prostitution, or running away
EVERY responsible adult in North Carolina is mandated to report suspected child abuse.
How To Make A Report? You can make a report of child sexual abuse by calling, writing, or visiting the Henderson County Department of Social Services at 1200 Spartanburg Highway, Hendersonville 28792 or by calling (828) 697-5572. A social worker will listen to you and take down all the information you give. It is helpful to share the following:
- The name, age, and address of the child
- The name and address of the child’s parent, guardian, or caretaker
- The child’s condition, including the nature and extent of the injury
- Any information regarding the presence of weapons in the home, alcohol/drug abuse, or other factors affecting a social worker’s safety
- Where the child is located at the time the report is made
Remember, you do not need to prove that abuse has taken place; you only need reasonable grounds for suspicion. Your report can be anonymous. You do not have to give your name when making a report. You do not need permission from parents or caregivers to make a report. In fact, you do not even need to inform them you are making a report. You do not need permission from your workplace to make a report; however, there may be workplace guidelines to help you in making a report.
What Happens After a Report Has Been Made?
After you have discussed your concerns with a social worker at the Department of Social Services, a determination will be made as to who is responsible for the investigation and the appropriate report will be sent to that agency. The Department of Social Services is responsible to investigate cases in which the caregiver is the alleged perpetrator. Law enforcement is responsible to investigate all other cases including cases that involve a child or adolescent perpetrator. The allegation is investigated where the crime occurred even though the child may live in another county or state.
Helping a Child You Suspect Has Been Sexually Abused
When a child tells you that he/she has been sexually abused, the child may feel scared, guilty, ashamed, angry, and powerless. You may feel a sense of outrage, disgust, sadness, anger, and disbelief. However, it is important that you remain calm and in control of your feelings otherwise the child may shut down or recant any details they have already given you.
You can show your care and concern by:
- Listening carefully to what the child is saying
- Telling the child you believe him/her
- Telling the child the abuse was not his/her fault
- Letting the child know you will make a report and get some help
You will not be helping the child if you:
- Make promises you cannot keep, such as promising that you will not tell anyone or that they will not be hurt anymore. You cannot promise either will happen even if they tell.
- Push the child into giving details of the abuse – your role is to listen to what the child wants to tell you.
- Ask direct questions to the child – this could be harmful to the investigation; you may introduce language or concepts the child does not have or know and taint their disclosure. They must be able to tell in their own words.
- Discuss what the child has told you with others who are not directly involved with helping the child.