What is Sexual Trauma

What is child sexual trauma?

Sexual trauma can be many things and we use this as an umbrella term to describe any sexual act that is imposed on another person without their consent. Oftentimes the word “abuse” is used to indicate that the violence was ongoing or long-term.

This can be a one-time event or an ongoing experience and does not have to be physically violent. Everyone reacts to sexual trauma in their own way and everyone’s response afterwards is different, too. Examples of sexual trauma and abuse could be sexual assault, rape, sexual abuse, stalking, sexual harassment, street harassment, childhood sexual abuse, familial sexual abuse or incest, sex trafficking, online sexual harassment, and sexual violence in relationships.

Child Sexual Abuse

Childhood sexual trauma is a form of abuse that includes sexual activity with a minor. A child cannot consent to any form of sexual activity, period. When a perpetrator engages with a child this way, they are committing a crime that can have lasting effects on the victim for years. Child sexual abuse does not need to include physical contact between a perpetrator and a child. Some forms of child sexual abuse include:

  • Obscene phone calls, text messages, or digital interaction
  • Fondling
  • Exhibitionism, or exposing oneself to a minor
  • Masturbation in the presence of a minor or forcing the minor to masturbate
  • Intercourse
  • Sex of any kind with a minor, including vaginal, oral, or anal
  • Producing, owning, or sharing pornographic images or movies of children
  • Sex trafficking
  • Any other sexual conduct that is harmful to a child's mental, emotional, or physical welfare

What do perpetrators of child sexual trauma look like?

The majority of perpetrators are someone the child or family knows. As many as 93% of victims under the age of 18 know the abuser. A perpetrator does not have to be an adult to harm a child. They can have any relationship to the child including an older sibling or playmate, family member, a teacher, a coach or instructor, a caretaker, or the parent of another child. According to 1 in 6, “[Child] sexual abuse is the result of abusive behavior that takes advantage of a child’s vulnerability and is in no way related to the sexual orientation of the abusive person.”

Abusers can manipulate victims to stay quiet about the sexual abuse using a number of different tactics. Often an abuser will use their position of power over the victim to coerce or intimidate the child. They might tell the child that the activity is normal or that they enjoyed it. An abuser may make threats if the child refuses to participate or plans to tell another adult. Child sexual abuse is not only a physical violation; it is a violation of trust and/or authority.

How can I protect my child from sexual trauma?

A big part of protecting your child is about creating a dialogue.

What are the warning signs?

Child sexual abuse isn’t always easy to spot. The perpetrator could be someone you’ve known a long time or trust, which may make it even harder to notice. Consider the following warning signs:

Physical signs:

  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Bloody, torn, or stained underclothes
  • Bleeding, bruises, or swelling in genital area
  • Pain, itching, or burning in genital area
  • Frequent urinary or yeast infections

Behavioral signs:

  • Shrinks away or seems threatened by physical contact
  • Exhibits signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Expresses suicidal thoughts, especially in adolescents
  • Self-harms
  • Develops phobias
  • Has trouble in school, such as absences or drops in grades
  • Changes in hygiene, such as refusing to bathe or bathing excessively
  • Returns to regressive behaviors, such as thumb sucking
  • Runs away from home or school
  • Overly protective and concerned for siblings, or assumes a caretaker role
  • Nightmares or bed-wetting
  • Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviors

Rape

Rape is a heinous act performed when one party wishes to exact complete power and control over another. The definition of rape, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network is: ". . . forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration. Penetration may be by a body part or an object."

Rape is often known as "sexual assault" or "sexual abuse," particularly in the law. However, sexual assault and sexual abuse are defined more broadly whereas the term rape specifies intercourse.

Threats of violence or weapons may be used during rape but in about 8-out-of-10 cases, nothing but physical force is used. Weapons or threats are not required for an act to be considered rape.

It is important to know that either gender can be the perpetrator or the victim of rape. Additionally, both heterosexual and homosexual rapes take place both inside and outside of relationships. It's critical to understand that rape is never okay and that no matter the circumstance, rape is never the victim's fault.

Sexual Assault

It's also important to know that sexual activities short of rape performed without consent are also a crime. These crimes are generally known as "sexual assault." Sexual assault is defined as the following, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network:

". . . unwanted sexual contact that stops short of rape or attempted rape. This includes sexual touching and fondling."

Human Trafficking

Sex trafficking is a crime when women, men and/or children are forcefully involved in commercial sex acts. In the United States, any minor under the age of 18 engaged in commercial sex acts is automatically considered a victim of sex trafficking under the law.