What You Need to Know if Your Child is a Victim of Sexual Abuse
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF ABUSE
Common signs of sexual abuse in children include:
- Reporting sexual abuse by a parent, caregiver or other adult
- Having more knowledge sexually than would be common or appropriate for the child’s age
- Being overly affectionate or playing in a sexual way than would be common for a child of that age
- Having medical problems including chronic itching, pain in the genitals, venereal disease, difficulty walking
- Personality changes such as becoming insecure, clingy, withdrawn and/or isolated
- Extreme emotional reactions such as depression, self mutilation, suicide attempts, running away, overdoses, anorexia
- Sudden loss of appetite or compulsive eating
- Regression such as thumb sucking, bed wetting, or sudden interest in previously discarded security type toys such as teddy bears or blankets
- Inability to concentrate
- Lack of trust or fear of someone the child knows well (e.g. babysitter or relative)
- Fear or worry about removing clothes
- Suddenly drawing sexually explicit pictures
- Trying to be perfect or ultra good, overreacting to criticism
- Running away from home
- Becomes pregnant, particularly if the child is under the age of 14
If your child shows any or these signs you should investigate the possibility that your child has been subjected to sexual abuse.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
If you suspect your child has been subject to sexual abuse there are steps you can take to help your child.
- Stay Calm: This may be the hardest thing to do under the circumstances, but your reaction will go a long way toward helping your child heal. Take what your child says seriously, even if the abuse your child describes took place at the hands of someone you trust. Do not scold or tell your child what he/she should have done. Do not react with anger, as your child may think that the anger is directed at him/her.
- Understand and respect your child’s need for privacy: Have your child explain what happened in a private place where he/she feels safe. Record the names, dates, times and locations of the incidents your child describes so that you can relay the information to the authorities without having your child explain again what happened. Only share the information with people that need to hear about it. Friends and relatives can be cruel to children who have been sexually abused.
- Call law enforcement: Do not confront the molester yourself. Your local law enforcement officers are better equipped to handle these situations. Often the person who molested your child has molested other children and will continue to molest children until he/she is stopped.
- Remember – molesters are master manipulators: It is not unusual for children to keep the sexual abuse a secret for some time. People who sexually exploit children will often scare the child into silence by threatening the child, his family or even his pets. The abuser may have told the child that it is his fault he is being abused or, your child may have disobeyed your warnings about strangers, wandering off, or going someplace without permission causing your child to feel responsible. Your child needs to know that he/she did nothing wrong and that you will protect him/her. If the abuser was a family member or someone you trusted, know that you are not alone. Most sexual abuse happens by someone known by the victim.
- Get Immediate Medical Attention: Sexually abused children will often have physical injuries that will prove the abuse occurred. Documenting the injuries will help ensure that charges can be filed against the molester. Your child may have contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Prompt medical attention is necessary to ensure the best possible recovery. Counseling or therapy is also necessary for you and your child. Neither you nor your child is equipped to handle the trauma of sexual molestation. A professional who specializes in sexual exploitation cases can help you, your child, and your family to heal.
WHAT SHOULD YOU EXPECT?
If your child has been sexually exploited, you should know that you have two legal avenues: criminal and civil. Sexual abuse is a crime and it is also a tort, or personal injury, a claim under which you can seek damages (or financial redress). Contact your local law enforcement officers to file criminal charges against the perpetrator. An attorney with expertise in the area of child abuse and molestation claims can help you determine whether your child would benefit from filing a civil tort claim.
There are many differences between a civil and criminal case involving sexual abuse. Two of the most important differences from the point of view of the victim are the goal of the case and the degree of protection afforded the victim by the process:
- The Goal: The aim of a criminal case is to have the perpetrator locked up; the goal of a civil tort case is to obtain a damage award for the victim. You should be aware that even if you have a strong case, and succeed in getting the abuser convicted in a criminal trial, you might not be able to recover damages in a civil case. The abuser may not have any assets and it is likely that the abuser’s insurance affords no coverage. An experienced attorney might be able to hold third parties, such as the perpetrator’s employer, liable for the damages your child suffered.
- Anonymity: In a criminal case, your child will receive more protection and anonymity than in a civil case. For example, your child’s name will be protected in a criminal case; in a civil case, your child name will not be protected. In a civil case, the defendant has the right to subject your child to a deposition during which he will have to recount the incidents of abuse. The Blackman Legal Group uses its expertise in handling cases of child molestation and abuse to fully and carefully prepare our clients for a deposition. However, if your child is very young we may suggest the investigation begin immediately, but to wait to file your claim until your child is older and better equipped emotionally to handle the litigation process. In California, your child has at least until his 26th birthday to file a claim if the abuse occurred before he/she was 18 years of age.
Remember, you can help your child and you have an opportunity to get the person who harmed your child off the street. Get legal help today. Contact an attorney with experience and expertise in the area of child abuse and molestation claims.