Sexual Abuse

Recognizing. Reporting. Preventing.

The protection of children is everyone’s responsibility. North Carolina has “mandatory reporting” legislation indicating that anyone who suspects or knows of any type of child abuse should immediately make a report to law enforcement or Department of Social Services.

Child sexual abuse can happen to girls and boys of any age (0-17 years old) from all backgrounds and neighborhoods. Sexual abuse can be any sexual act performed with a child, to a child or in the presence of a child for the sexual gratification of another. Child sexual abuse can range from inappropriate touching or kissing to sexual intercourse. It can include physical contact as well as solicitation, pornography and on-line enticement. Most sexual abuse is committed by people the child knows as well as strangers. People who sexually abuse children are often friends, relatives, caregivers, and trusted adults in the child’s life. Child sexual abuse affects children and parents in a variety of different ways. Each person’s experience is unique.

Law Enforcement/DSS will listen to your report, ask questions to gather information and it will be sent to Dove House Children’s Advocacy Center. A Dove House staff member will call the family, explain our services and schedule a time for the child and the non-offending family member/guardian to come to Dove House. At Dove House, all of the agencies involved in your child’s case — law enforcement, district attorney, Department of Social Services (when applicable), Guardian ad Litem (when applicable) — work together to complete child sexual abuse investigations. Dove House is a child friendly facility and is designed to minimize trauma to children and their non-offending family members resulting from child sexual abuse; to advocate for and support child victims and their non-offending family members and to enhance the legal process in achieving optimal criminal prosecutions.

In addition to facilitating the community agencies’ team response to each report of child sexual abuse, and conducting forensic interviews with children by a highly skilled professional, Dove House CAC offers a wide variety of support services for families, including victim/family advocacy services, child-friendly medical exams, and referral to mental health partners.

The best indicator of sexual abuse is when a child tells you he/she has been abused. Children seldom lie about sexual abuse. Several physical indicators of sexual abuse include but are not limited to bladder and urinary infections, scratching and painful genitals (especially during urination), uncontrollable bowel movements as well as torn, stained or bloody underclothing.

There is also no one behavioral change that is a positive indicator of sexual abuse. However, some possible behaviors related to sexual abuse include sudden changes in personality (depression, anxiety and withdrawal), suicidal thoughts, sexual promiscuity, advanced knowledge and/or interest in sexual acts that are beyond the child’s developmental level and extreme guilt. Some children may also display no changes in behavior. The sexual abuse might only be discovered when the child makes a disclosure and/or through medical treatment. Not all children react to child sexual abuse the same.

When child sexual abuse is reported in Iredell/Alexander Counties, a specially trained forensic interviewer conducts an interview of the child at Dove House CAC. The interview is a conversation between the Dove House professional and the child that is done in a child friendly way and is sensitive to the child and his or her needs.

Children may also receive a sensitive medical examination by a pediatrician or professionally trained SANE nurse that is trained to do non-invasive medical exams. Parents have an opportunity to discuss the exam with these medical experts and ask questions. The medical examiners at Dove House conduct a thorough head-to-toe medical exam of your child in a child-friendly environment. They also use special non-invasive equipment to detect injuries that otherwise might not be visible. It is always important that medical exams for victims of child sexual abuse are done by doctors/SANE nurses who have special pediatric sexual assault medical training.

It’s normal to expect that children may engage in some types of sexual behavior. But, it’s also difficult to decide what sexual behaviors are normal and what behaviors are concerning and/or potential indicators of abuse. Children’s sexual behaviors can be influenced by their age, their parents’ religious beliefs and values as well as the family’s background. In addition, children develop differently. They have unique personalities, behaviors and sexual interests.

Concerning behavior, and/or behavior that is potentially indicative of sexual abuse, can include sexual activity between children that is kept secret, occurs between children with a sizable age difference and/or children with unequal power or developmental levels. Parents should consider whether the child’s behavior appears to be compulsive, if the child seems to be obsessed with it, and/or if the child is not able or does not respond to the parents’ redirection. Normal child sexual behaviors are often accompanied by giggling and amusement. Concerning behaviors can be accompanied by physical force, threats, intimidation, rewards, promises, gifts and/or coercion.

Keep in mind how difficult it may have been for your child to tell you about the abuse. He or she may have been threatened not to tell or feel ashamed and embarrassed. Remember that children seldom lie about sexual abuse. Never promise that you will keep what your child tells you a secret. However, it’s also important to consider your child and family’s privacy by assuring your child that you’ll only share the information with people who need to know. Allow your child to use his or her own words. Reassure your child that what he or she tells you will not change the way you feel about them. Let your child know that they did the right thing by telling you. Explain that he or she has done nothing wrong. Do your best to keep your emotions in check. Children watch adults closely and may be affected by our reactions. Don’t dismiss your child’s story, panic or criticize your child. Do your best to let your child know what will happen next. If you don’t know an answer to your child’s question, it’s okay to say “I don’t know”. Use language that is age appropriate so your child will understand. Do not interrogate your child for details; it’s best to leave this to the professionals. Contact law enforcement or the Department of Social Services as soon as possible after your child’s disclosure. Most importantly, believe and support your child.

Hearing your child talk about sexual abuse can be a difficult and painful experience. Parents often feel a range of emotions from sadness, worry and fear to frustration and anger. As you are supporting your child through this process, it’s also important to support yourself through this time. Be sure you have someone you trust to talk with. Think about counseling and other support services for your child and family. Remember, it’s okay to ask for and receive help. Your family will receive a wide variety of support services once you come to Dove House.

Children often don’t tell about sexual abuse, refuse to talk about it or deny that something happened. The child might be afraid to tell because the abuser hurt or threatened to hurt the child or family members. The abuser might also have threatened to hurt their self if the child tells. Children might think if they tell they will be taken away from their family or have to move. Children are also sensitive to others and might not say something because they don’t want their family to feel sad or angry about the abuse. Some children believe the abuser loves them and/or they don’t want to lose their relationship. The child might also keep the abuse a secret because the abuser made them promises or gave them gifts or rewards so they wouldn’t tell anyone about the abuse. Sometimes the abuse goes on for such a long time, including starting at very young ages, that children might believe the abuse is normal. They may also feel too ashamed or embarrassed to tell anyone about the abuse.

  • Remember, the person who abuses a child is to blame for the abuse!

  • Teach your child about their private parts (i.e. those parts covered by a bathing suit) and that no one except Mommy/Daddy or a doctor is allowed to touch their private parts.

  • Always know the people who care for your children. Write down babysitter’s names, phone numbers and addresses.

  • Always know and use the “W” questions with your child: Who, What, Where and When. This applies to physical activities such as going to the park and on-line activities such as visiting chat rooms.

  • Be involved in your child’s activities.

  • Be sensitive to changes in your child’s behavior or attitude. Look and listen for small cues and clues that something might be wrong.

  • Listen to your intuition or your “gut feeling”.

  • Teach your child to listen to his or her intuition or “gut feeling” and communicate it to you.

  • When your child tells you they do not like someone, ask them to tell you why.

  • Teach your child that it’s okay to tell, no matter who, no matter what!

  • Maintain supportive, open communication with your child; talk and listen.

  • Talk about safety and sex with your child.

  • Remember that children should not be held responsible for protecting themselves from sexual abuse by adults.

  • Carefully supervise and establish clear rules and guidelines for your child’s computer use.

  • Educate yourself (read, listen and ask).