Fully viable and successful lawsuits can be brought under the New York Child Victim’s Act (CVA) that involve abuse other than sexually touching a child. In fact, simply sharing pornographic material with a minor – or making a child the subject of pornography by taking sexually suggestive photos can also give rise to a claim.
Equally offensive and actionable behavior can include an adult exposing his/her genitalia to a child or forcing a child to view the sex acts of others. Sadly, children often suffer long-term emotional damage due to all sexually inappropriate events that include them, even when they are not raped or otherwise touched in a sexual manner.
What follows is a review of certain behaviors that can indicate that a child (or teen) may have been sexually abused — and a few brief tips for locating a qualified therapist to work with your sexually traumatized child. Finally, some long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse – when little or no effective therapeutic therapy has been provided to a child — are also noted.
Signs that your child may have been sexually abused by an adult
- Reports of sudden difficulty with sleeping – often struggling with nightmares;
- New and unusual signs of anxiety not seen before. A child may suddenly refuse to spend time around a specific relative, neighbor or minister – or become very anxious when a school coach asks if s/he can provide private training sessions;
- Depression. Frightened children often withdraw and refuse to talk about what’s bothering them. They will nearly always claim everything is fine. Some abused kids have been threatened by their abusers – and told their family members will be physically hurt in some way if the child tells anyone what happened;
- Reports that your child is engaging in certain sex acts with other children that aren’t typical and that go beyond simply “playing doctor.” Kids that do this are often trying to make sense of how they were touched – or gain a better understanding of disturbing images they’ve been shown by an adult with pornographic materials. And children or teens who have been victimized by a “flasher” and forced to see an adult stranger’s genitals may also “act out” sexually with others. Parents must help kids stop such behavior that can prove upsetting to other children.
Be aware that many sexually traumatized kids may innocently experience “autonomic sexual arousal” that may make them initially “feel” as though they like what they’re seeing or being asked to do – when in fact their brains have not been involved in choosing the behavior. Therapy is necessary to help them emotionally re-wire their reactions to certain types of images or behavior;
- Angry outbursts and tantrums. Young children don’t know how to process the intensity of emotions they’re often forced to grapple with after seeing certain sexual images or being touched in a sexual manner. They want to be safe and yet do not know how to protect themselves. Also, since most abusers tend to be familiar adults, children can become angry and upset with all authority figures once they realize that some adults can be very dangerous and untrustworthy. Kids don’t know how to tell the “good” adults from the ones who may sexually hurt them;
- Unexplainable drop in school performance. Children who’ve been sexually or emotionally traumatized often lose their ability to listen carefully, concentrate and do their best work. Always contact your child’s teachers to get the school’s input on new behaviors you’re seeing at home that are frustrating your child’s ability to learn. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can make it extremely difficult for children to pay attention in class when they’re feeling stressed out or under pressure;
- New addictive behaviors involving alcohol, drugs, smoking – or even food. Children of all ages, especially teens, may gain or lose large amounts of weight – or start using or abusing certain substances;
- Scratch marks, rashes, abrasions or odd, new discharges near a child’s genitals.
Parents or caregivers of children must periodically make time – not just once – to speak to their children about what constitutes permissible (and forbidden) touching of their bodies by others. As caregivers, you should make sure your state has joined the many others that have passed Erin’s Law. This statute requires all schools to teach children about protecting themselves from wrongful touching – and to tell someone when they need help or protection from an abuser.
Look carefully for the best sexual abuse therapist you can find for your child
Always try to locate the most qualified therapist you can afford once you have any reason to believe your child has been sexually abused in any manner. This may include the physical form of sexual abuse – or exposure to sexually inappropriate materials (like pornography) — or it can occur because an adult exposed his/her genitalia, breasts or buttocks to your child.
Your child’s level of emotional recovery may directly depend on receiving timely therapy from an experienced child sexual abuse therapist. College students and much older adults often report being haunted by their early childhood sexual abuse throughout their lives – especially when they received very little (or no) meaningful therapeutic treatment as children.
Here are a few added tips about helping your child to heal.
- Always keep in mind that regardless of whether abused children receive therapy, they may still develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can greatly interfere with all their goals and ability to socialize successfully with their peers. You must personally stay involved and keep your eyes and ears open so you can also help them heal from their negative experiences;
- When searching for a therapist, consider speaking to your child’s pediatrician or school nurse to see if s/he has a suggestion. If not, ask your friends if they know of any family that has seen a local therapist or psychologist who might be able to help your child (you do not need to disclose to friends the specific issues involved);
- You may want to consult Internet sources like this one run by Psychology Today. Be sure to tell any therapist you contact that you’re needing therapy for your child’s recent abuse and not your own. And be aware that once a conclusion has been reached that your child has been sexually abused, the therapist is legally required to report that fact to the proper authorities;
- Be sensitive to your child’s preference about seeing a male or female therapist. Ask if you can be present during some therapy sessions in hopes of providing your child with an added sense of security. Always try to avoid asking any leading questions – or allowing the therapist to do so. No child ever benefits from creating false memories of past abuse. Since good therapist will already know this – consider finding a new therapist if you observe this type of professional behavior – especially after you’ve asked that it be discontinued;
- Regardless of whether “play therapy” or other approaches are used, you want your child to feel completely comfortable in the therapist’s office. Take some time to review the different types of settings where therapy may take place by reviewing this article on therapy offices. Consider asking before you go to an appointment if the psychologist or therapist ever uses play therapy and how that works.
Many children respond well to answering questions when allowed to draw certain events or play with small dolls. Be sure to calmly praise your child for agreeing to go with you to talk with someone about their feelings and recent experiences. And always be sure to explain to any other, older children in your home – in a private talk session – what their sibling is going through. Ask these kids to treat their brother or sister normally.
Traumatized children ache to have their former, easier lives back and don’t deserve to receive any misguided “kidding” or extensive questioning from their older siblings about what therapy is like – or about their past sexual abuse.
If your child has been sexually abused in a physical or non-physical manner by any adult such as a teacher, coach or friend of the family – you may need to file a claim under the NY Child Victim’s Act. Our New York City child abuse law firm knows how to sensitively investigate these types of cases before settling them with opposing counsel — or pursuing them in court.
We want to help you fully recover for all your child’s pain and suffering, medical and psychological treatment expenses and other losses. We’ll fight hard to win the maximum compensation available to help you build a better future for your child.