What is child sexual abuse?

It is when an abuser uses a child for their own sexual stimulation. It can happen between a child and an adult. The abuser can also be a child. It can happen with or without touching.

Who is sexually abused?

Both girls and boys. Children of all races, ethnicities, ages, and economic backgrounds. It happens in countries all over the world.

Estimates show that 1 in 10 Iowans have been sexually abused at some time in their life.

Types of sexual abuse that involve touching:

  • Touching a child’s vagina, penis, breasts, or bottom with a hand, mouth, or penis
  • Putting genitals in or on a child’s body
  • Asking a child to touch an adult or child’s genitals, breasts, or bottom

Types of sexual abuse that do not involve touching:

  • Voyeurism: Looking at a child’s naked body secretly
  • Exhibitionism: Showing the abuser’s vagina, penis, anus, breasts, or bottom to a child
  • Showing pornography to or having sex in front of a child

How do abusers sexually abuse a child?

Many abusers do not use physical force. They often use play, threats, and tricks to get the child to play along.

When the child is trapped, the abuser keeps the child silent the same way. They groom the child by buying the child gifts, making exciting promises, and emotional manipulation.

Grooming confuses the child about what is right and what is wrong. They also get confused about their feelings toward the abuser.

Why don’t children say they are being sexually abused?

  • Fear the abuser will threaten to hurt the child or the child’s family
  • Fear they will be removed from their home if they tell
  • Shame and guilt about the abuse
  • Worry that nobody will believe them if they tell

How can you tell if a child is sexually abused?

Children react in different ways after sexual abuse. Some ways are:

  • Sexual knowledge, words, or actions not expected for the child’s age
  • Nightmares or other sleeping problems
  • Withdrawal: The child stops doing the things they used to enjoy
  • Angry outbursts
  • Sadness for a long time
  • Not wanting to be alone with a specific person whom may be the abuser

These behaviors can be seen in children who have had other types of trauma, too. Some children who were sexually abused do not show any emotional or behavioral changes.

What should I do if my child tells me he or she is being or was sexually abused?

  • Stay calm and listen.
  • Thank your child for telling you.
  • Never blame your child.
  • Tell your child they are very brave.
  • Tell your child you believe them.
  • Tell your child you are there to support them.
  • Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if your child is in immediate danger.

Report suspected sexual abuse to the Iowa Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-362-2178.

How can I protect my child from sexual abuse?

  • Teach your child the accurate names of body parts.
  • Teach your child about body safety and “okay” and “not okay” touches.
  • Tell your child it is okay to say no if they do not want to be touched. It is also okay to say no to touching others. It is okay even when the touch is not sexual or when the touch feels good.
  • Teach your child to bathe and use the restroom on their own as soon as they can.
  • Teach your child the difference between good secrets (like a special dinner) and bad secrets (such as “never tell anyone I touched your pee-pee”).
  • Trust your instincts as a caregiver. Do not leave your child with a person you do not trust or know well.
  • Call Center Telephone: 1-800-777-8442 or 1-319-384-8442
  • Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if your child is in immediate danger.
  • Report suspected abuse/neglect to the Iowa Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-362-2178.

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