By Trish Propson
Published in the Times Villager, May 2017
“I wish my mom would see that something is wrong. Doesn’t she even care?”
“I wish I could tell my mom my stepdad raped me.”
“I wish I could tell my dad I feel invisible. Can’t he see I’m different now?”
“I wish I could tell my dad what ••• did to me on vacation.”
Childhood sexual assault and related crimes are showing up more often on the rekenekt graffiti wall. Based on the number of entries and the changing nature of the words, I can say confidently that sexual assault is an epidemic issue among teens and young adults. I work as a sexual assault advocate and crisis response chaplain to raise awareness surrounding this topic. As a sexual assault survivor, I am particularly passionate about helping victims and families navigate the murky waters surrounding the rampant crime of sexual assault.
As explained in the first article of this series on sexual assault, it is the most underreported crime in our nation especially among youth. According to the Crimes Against Children research Center, 16% of youth ages 14-17 had been sexually assaulted in a one-year period. Children between the ages of seven and thirteen are the most vulnerable to childhood sexual assault. A study by the Bureau of Justice states 63% of women who were sexually assaulted as children also reported being raped after age 14. Sexual assault is a hidden crime that impacts families for generations. It is cloaked in shame and guilt and victims may not be willing to advocate for themselves. It is up to us as citizens, neighbors, and friends to be aware of the signs that victims of all ages so often try to hide.
If we can spot it we can stop it.
Signs of sexual assault can vary by the age of the victim. These signs by themselves do not definitively mean sexual abuse is occurring, but more than one or patterns may warrant closer attention. Childhood sexual abuse may include rape but is further defined as sexually oriented touching, exposing a child to sexual content, or taking inappropriate photos and videos of a child. Sexual abuse can have life-long effects in children and later as adults. Signs of sexual abuse in young children may be:
- Sudden excessive worry or fear about being alone, or with a certain person.
- Sudden fear of removing their clothes or being touched.
- Regressing into childish behaviors they have outgrown such as bedwetting, or thumb sucking.
- Sudden unexplained knowledge and discussion about sexual topics.
- Acting out sexually with siblings, friends, toys, or pets
- Physical signs of trauma such as bruising or bleeding
Be aware that signs of sexual assault in teens and young adults may be especially difficult to observe amidst other issues they may be facing. Females aged 16-19 are four times more likely to be victims of sexual assault. In addition to the signs listed above, be aware of:
- Sudden, unexplained changes in weight, appetite, energy, friends, grades, interests, clothing choices, and hygiene
- Overt promiscuity, or change in sexually charged speech, clothing, or activities
- Sudden unexplained anxiety and excessive worry, depression
- Increased or sudden alcohol or drug use
- Self-harming behavior or expressing thoughts of suicide
- Excessive time in the bathroom, missing clothes or undergarments, asking about sexually related health issues, or requesting to see a doctor without disclosing the reason
- Avoiding certain people or places they once enjoyed
Be aware of the signs of sexual assault in your children, teens, and others. Follow these Take Five Action Steps to help uncover the hidden crime of sexual assault in your family and community.
Listen. If you hear someone expressing fear, or emotional discomfort in certain situations, listen carefully to what is being said and not being said. Gently ask questions for clarification. If they open up to you, it means they trust you. Let the person know you are trustworthy and want to help.
Don’t re-victimize. The tendency to panic and overreact when we hear about sexual assault is natural. A negative response can actually cause more trauma to a child or teen. How you respond is critical to helping the victim deal with what has happened to them. Stay calm. Assure them it is not their fault and that you want to help.
Don’t minimize. Overreacting can cause damage, but so can underreacting. Believe what they are telling you. Help them sort out the details if appropriate. If they are vague don’t press them. Speak clearly and calmly and let the victim know that the situation is serious and you want to help.
Safety first. Make sure the person you suspect may have been sexually assaulted is safe, especially around family members and people in authority. Don’t leave a child or teen with a person they are abnormally opposed to being with. Ask questions and engage open dialogue about their resistance. If they continue to feel unsure or uncomfortable about their surroundings, let them have a voice in what is best for them. If someone has the best interest of a child in mind, they will not force the issue. Trust your instincts.
Get professional help. If you have observed signs of sexual assault and are unsure of your role, seek help. Call the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in your area (Outagamie Sexual Assault Crisis Center Hotline at 800.722.7797), or an organization like RAINN, or NSVRC to come up with an action and safety plan.
Rekenekt with Trish Propson is a monthly column devoted to raising awareness between parents and teens and helping people reconnect with hope across generations. Trish Propson is a local author, speaker, and family advocate committed to reconnecting families, one conversation at a time.
This article is second in a series to raise awareness about sexual assault. If you or someone you know is dealing with the effects of sexual assault, email Trish or contact the resources listed in the article. You do not need to suffer alone.
For more information about rekenekt email Trish at: email@example.com
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