3 DefinitionVermont statute defines child sexual abuse as: Any act or acts by any person involving sexual molestation or exploitation of a child including but not limited to incest, prostitution, rape, sodomy, or any lewd and lascivious conduct involving a child. Sexual abuse also includes the aiding, abetting, counselling, hiring, or procuring of a child to perform or participate in any photograph, motion picture, exhibition, show, representation, or other presentation which, in whole or in part, depicts a sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sadomasochistic abuse involving a child.
4 Forms of Child Sexual Abuse Contact Sexual AbuseTouching the genital area or breasts, over or under clothingOral sexVaginal or anal penetration with part of the body or with an objectNon-contact Sexual AbuseInvitation to touch another in a sexual wayVoyeurism (“Peeping Tom”)Encouraging or forcing a child to masturbate or to watch others masturbateIndecent exposure (“flashing”)Involving children in the viewing or production of pornographic materials or in watching sexual activitiesEncouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways
5 The Sexual AbuserIt is impossible to describe the ‘typical sexual abuser’Most child sexual abuse is committed by people known to the children:Family membersPeople in the family’s circle of trustOlder or bigger childrenMost offenders are male (although not all)Approximately 1/3 are under age 20It is impossible to describe a typical sexual abuser. They do not look different from other people. They behave in a variety of ways and can be found in all areas of society. They sometimes hold influential positions and appear to be well-respected members of their communities. They often appear kind, concerned about, and caring towards children.What research tells us is:• Most child sexual abuse is committed by people known to the children, including:Family members such as parents, stepparents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins;People in a family’s circle of trust such as friends, neighbors, teachers, or coaches;Older or bigger children and youth.• Most offenders are male (although females also sexually abuse children).• About one third of offenders are under the age of 20.
6 Adult OffenderIndividuals who choose to work with children and end up sexually abusing them typically fall into two categories:Intentional abusers – Behavior is calculated and purposefulOpportunists- Those with emotional and/or psychological problems that may not initially seek to abuse children, but do so if the situation presents itselfIndividuals who choose to work with children and end up sexually abusing them typically fall into two categories:Those who deliberately seek access to children to satisfy their deviant sexual interests. This behavior is calculated and purposeful.Those who have emotional and/or psychological problems rather than deviant sexual interests. This may start with a friendship between the child and person that becomes distorted and results in inappropriate interactions and sexually abusive behavior. The person may not have any prior history of sexually offending, and may not seek out involvement in a child-serving organization with the intent to access victims and offend.
7 Why Offenders Target Schools Easy access to childrenPosition of authority over childrenCan gain trust of child and other adultsBelieve they can get away with itBelieve there are no consequencesValidating their sexual interest in children as beneficialChild sex offenders target children in organizations because they believe:They can gain easy access to children, particularly vulnerable childrenThey will have a position of authority and trust over childrenThey can gain the trust of the child and those around the childThey can get away with itThere are no clear consequences for inappropriate or abusive behaviorThey are validating their sexual interest in children as beneficial
8 Why Offenses Go Undetected Offender is well-liked, dedicated, great with children, outstanding employee/volunteer, etc.Can’t imagine the person would commit such an offenseBelief that the signs of misconduct/abuse would be obviousOffender conceals the behavior as legitimate job duties (e.g., caring for children, going on outings, spending extra time with the child, toileting, etc.)Fellow employees/volunteers unaware of their legal duty to report suspicions of abuse
9 Adolescent OffenderAdolescents pose the same risk of sexually offending as adult employees/volunteersApproximately 30-50% of all child sexual abuse offenses may be committed by adolescents and young adultsAdolescent offenders should also be viewed as possible victims of sexual abuseAs with adult offenders, contact DCF in these cases, and possibly law enforcementIn past years, adolescents who sexually abused children were usually dismissed as “kids being kids” or considered to be “just going through a phase.” Adolescents working or volunteering at our schools need to be observed as posing the same risk as adult employees/volunteers.
10 GroomingUsing a variety of techniques to gain sexual access to the childBuilding trust and comfort with a child and adults around the childBuilding an emotional connection to reduce likelihood of disclosureSlow, gradual, escalating processProcess of normalizing inappropriate behavior (e.g., sexual jokes, physical contact, etc.)Children can become confused by behavior they know is wrong coming from someone they trust, like, and respectPurpose is to access and control child – usually through non-violent means, but some may use threats and/or physical forceCompliance does not make the child a lesser victimAn individual who sexually abuses a child often uses a variety of techniques to gain sexual access to the child. The individual first gains the trust of the child and the adults around the child. An emotional connection is purposely built to reduce the likelihood that the child will disclose the abuse.This process is known as grooming. Grooming is often a slow, gradual and escalating process of building trust and comfort with a child. The offender’s goal is to have the child see him/her as a caring adult the child can trust and whose directions they should follow.Grooming also includes the process of making inappropriate behaviour seem normal. This process of normalizing inappropriate behavior can range from the telling of sexual jokes to physical contact. Once trust has been established, the result can be a child who is very confused, one who is torn between what they know to be wrong and their feelings for the offender.Although the purpose of grooming is to non-violently access and control children, in extreme cases offenders may also attempt to physically maintain control over children.In extreme cases, some offenders may attempt to gain control over a child through the use of threats (to the child, his/her pets or family) and/or physical force. This type of violence may be used to overcome resistance, maintain compliance, and/or prevent the child from disclosing the abuse.It is of the utmost importance to realize that the reason cooperative and compliant children are victims is not because they were groomed, manipulated or brainwashed but simply because they are children.
11 Grooming ProcessEstablishes friendship and gains trust of child and adults around the childTests child’s boundaries (e.g., sexual jokes, games, or comments; roughhousing; backrubs, etc.)Moves from non-sexual touching to “accidental” sexual touching (e.g., during play)Confuses the child into thinking s/he is equally responsible for the contactBecomes more involved in the child’s family to build trustMakes child feel complicit to what is happening, which discourages and prevents child from telling anyone about itMakes child feel obligated to the offenderEngages child in unnecessary/unwarranted physical contact/restraintManipulates child into becoming a cooperative and compliant participantBuilds an emotional bond and connection with the child so they are unlikely to report and likely to return to the offenderGrooming usually begins with subtle behaviors that do not appear to be inappropriate, and that may in fact suggest that the individual is very good with children. Many victims/survivors of sexual abuse do not recognize the grooming process as it is happening, nor do they recognize that this process of manipulation is part of the overall abuse process. Many offenders will deny their intent to groom a child.
12 Additional Grooming Techniques Used with Adolescents Identifying with the adolescent. The offender may appear to be the only one who understands the adolescent.Displaying common interests (music, games, movies, TV, Internet, etc.).Recognizing and filling the adolescent’s needs for affection, attention, flattery and/or risk-taking.Providing basic needs (food, shelter) or giving gifts or privileges to the adolescent as incentives.Allowing or encouraging the adolescent to break rules (smoking, drinking, using drugs, viewing pornography, etc.).Personal communication outside of the organization (instant messaging, , giving the adolescent his/her phone number, etc.).The grooming process can be similar for adolescents as it is for young children. However, additional grooming techniques can be used on adolescents.
13 Behaviors to Watch For Seems overly interested in a child Frequently initiates time alone with a childBecomes fixated on a childGives special privileges of gifts to a childBefriends a family, and potentially shows equal or more interest in building a relationship with the child than with the adultsDisplays favoritism toward one childCreates opportunities that cater to the child’s interests so that the child/parent will initiate/allow the child to spend time alone with the offenderCreates opportunities to be around the child outside the context of their working/volunteer environmentUses overly harsh or punitive methods with the childDisplays age and gender preferencePay attention to an employee/volunteer who demonstrates one or any combination of the following:These behaviors do not necessarily indicate that an employee/volunteer is offending or is trying to offend against a child. However, these behaviors could be considered inappropriate.
14 Why Children are Vulnerable They are still developing socially and emotionally, and therefore can be easy to confuse, control and coerceSpeed of development and transitions during adolescents are stressful and can cause a child to be confused and vulnerableThey are taught to respect and listen to adultsThey do not have a developed understanding of sexualityThey do not interpret or identify an adult’s intentThey, like all human beings, enjoy attention, affection, kindness and giftsThey, especially during adolescence, are inexperienced, curious, rebellious and easily arousedAdolescence can be a difficult and complex time of change. Adolescents experience significant physical, mental and emotional development at a speed unparalleled since infancy. These transitions are stressful and can leave adolescents confused and vulnerable. Due to this turbulence, adolescents are particularly vulnerable to techniques used to manipulate their trust.
15 Factors Increasing a Child’s Risk of Being Victimized: Child is emotionally insecure or deprived of emotional connectionChild has exceptional attention needsChild is in a trusting situation with an adultChild lacks knowledge about touching that constitutes abuse or lacks general knowledge or access to sexual educationChild is already sexually activeChild is vulnerable (cognitively, physically, and/or emotionally) and can easily be manipulatedChild is experiencing sexual orientation confusionThe powerlessness of children
16 Examples of Concerning Behavior (Potential Offender Behavior) TicklingDiscussing sexually explicit information while pretending to teach a child sex educationBathing a child or showering with a childShowing the child sexually explicit images or pornographyLooking at or taking pictures of children in underwear, bathing suits, dancewear, etc.Making sexual comments or sharing inappropriate stories of sexual activityUsing physical restraintDeliberately walking in on a child who is changing or using the washroomAsking or having a child watch the adult/youth change or use the washroom‘Accidentally’ touching genitaliaActivities that involve the removal of clothing (massage, swimming, etc.)Wrestling or roughhousingTelling a child sexually explicit jokesTeasing a child about breast or genital developmentThe following activities could be:a) sexually arousing to adults/youth who have a sexual interest in children, and/orb) used as part of the grooming process. It is important to watch for any of the following behaviors (pay attention to the frequency, intensity and any combination of behaviors)
17 Concerning Behavior (cont’d) When reflecting on someone’s behavior, consider the following:Does it seem weird?Does it make you feel uncomfortable?Does it seem to happen all the time or too often?Has anyone else commented or noticed?
18 Healthy Relationships with Children Examples of appropriate affection with children:Handshake, high-fiveAppropriate verbal praiseEye contactHolding hands while walking with young childrenSitting with a childUsing words to comfort a childIt is always best to try to avoid physical contact with students whenever possible. However, brief hugs initiated by the student or other signs of affection (e.g., touching hand or shoulder) may be appropriate depending on the development level of the student and the circumstance behind the need for affection.It is important for us to establish a nurturing environment that supports healthy development and positive engagement. Adopting rigid policies that prevent caring relationships between employees/volunteers and children would be an unfortunate and unnecessary result when trying to enhance child protection and prevent inappropriate adult/child contacts.Although positive interactions by caring adults and grooming by an offender may look similar on the surface, they are quite different. It is important to distinguish between the two so that we can support and encourage the former and prevent the latter.In addition to these examples provided, appropriate touch may need to vary a bit for children with special needs due to possible unique cognitive, sensory and behavior issues. In these cases, employees should follow specific training received.
19 Reacting to Inappropriate Behavior Employees are expected to monitor and enforce protocols surrounding contact with children. If a situation seems inappropriate, remember to carefully and objectively review the conduct before assuming the individual is grooming the child. Remember:Use your instinct as a guide:Would a reasonable observer feel comfortable when witnessing the behavior?Is the behavior tied to the job function?Whose needs are being met?What is guiding the interaction?Stay calm and act appropriately: Don’t overreact or underreactDetermine how the child feels about the behaviorFind out whether the child feels uncomfortable, scared, or confusedThe child may not reveal his/her true feelings for a variety of reasonsReport suspected abuse to DCF regardlessDo not dismiss your concernReport to CPT or your school principalMonitor behavior – Talk to the individual about your concern and keep a close eye and ear out for similar or repeated behaviorPhysical contact with children is a necessary and an important component of working with and caring for children. Part of the challenge, however, is making sure the contact is appropriate. As a standard of measure, physical contact should be directly related to the individual’s job description.Employees are expected to monitor and enforce protocols surrounding contact with children. If a situation seems inappropriate,remember to carefully and objectively review the conduct before assuming the individual is grooming the child. Remember:Use your instincts as a guide — Ask yourself whether or not a reasonable observer would feel comfortable when witnessing the behavior. Consider the context — is the behavior tied to the job function or does it fall outside those guidelines? Ask yourself: “Whose needs are being met? What is guiding the interaction?” For example, a teacher who rubs a grade one student’s back to console him after falling and hurting himself on the playground is appropriate. A teacher who rubs a grade eight student’s back while he is completing an exam in the classroom is out of context and inappropriate.Do not overreact or underreact — Children look to the adult’s response in these situations. It is important to stay calm and act appropriately.Determine how the child feels about the behavior — Find out whether the child feels uncomfortable, scared, or confused. Keep in mind that the child may not reveal his/her true feelings for a variety of reasons (to avoid causing trouble, to protect the individual, etc.) because the child cares about the adult. Note: Report suspected abuse to the VT DCF regardless.Do not dismiss your concern — A child may not see any issues or reasons for concern. This does not mean that your concerns are misguided. Note: Even behavior the child enjoys and welcomes can be part of the grooming process, be inappropriate or abusive.Report the behavior to your school’s children protection team or the school principal.Monitor behavior — Talk to the individual about your concerns and keep a close eye and hear out for similar or repeated behavior.
20 Teaching BoundariesDefining a child’s role and teaching appropriate boundaries reduces the child’s risk of sexual exploitation and the likelihood that s/he will be groomed.Although children naturally test boundaries, it is important to consistently re-establish them and set limits on their behavior.Maintaining appropriate boundaries with children will build their security and help them learn how to create healthy relationships and set personal boundaries.Respecting a child’s personal boundaries (including physical, emotional and sexual boundaries) teaches him/her how s/he should expect to be treated by others.
21 Crossing Boundaries Physical Boundaries Emotional Boundaries Insisting a child hug or kiss othersAssaulting a child: beating, hitting, shaking, pushing, choking, biting, burning or kickingBumping, pushing, restraining, pinching, or squeezing a childUsing invasion of personal space (proximity and posture) to intimidate a childShaming, guilting, demeaning, threatening, ignoring, intimidating, using sarcasm or putting down a childReversing appropriate roles (sharing worries, problems, and/or sexual feelings with a child)Socially isolating a child or not allowing him/her to have any privacyMaking unreasonable demands of a childWith increased physical contact, it becomes less clear for children about what kind of touch is okay and what kind of touch isn’t and so that boundary slowly gets blurred.
22 Crossing Boundaries (cont’d) Sexual BoundariesSexual abuseSexual JokesShowing sexually explicit materialEngaging in sexual activity in the presence of a childSharing sexually explicit informationInvitation to touch a child or adult in a sexual way
23 Helping Children Set Boundaries Model appropriate boundaries for children and reestablish them if they are crossed.Teach children to respect personal space and privacy. Establish privacy for using bathrooms and changing.Establish and reinforce the child’s role. Set limits and discourage children from listening to and engaging in adult conversations.
24 Potential Signs a Child is Being Abused Displaying sexual knowledge and behavior that is beyond his/her normal developmental stageTalking or writing about sexual acts (or drawing sexual acts) that s/he should have no knowledge or experience ofVerbalizing what sexual contact looks like, sounds like, or feels likeRepeatedly acting out sexually and not responding to limits placed on his/her behavior (e.g. continues to fondle other children or adults after boundaries have been explained)Sexualized behavior resulting in complaints from other childrenOver the age of four, not having a good grasp of boundaries (e.g. tries to French kiss adults)
25 Potential Signs a Child is Being Abused (cont’d) Sleep disturbancesDrastic change in overall emotions and/or mood swingsUnexplained fear or refusal to go certain placesResisting being alone with a particular person whose company s/he has previously enjoyedSchool problems such as plummeting grades, suddenly acting out or becoming withdrawn/secretiveInsisting on spending time with a particular personExcessive crying or depressionExcessive worryingBecoming clingyExtremely aggressive or displaying risk-taking behaviorLack of emotion (blank expression) or not reacting as s/he previously didAvoidant behaviors such as running away or drug/alcohol useSuddenly seeking excessive amounts of time with younger childrenWhile not necessarily an indication of sexual abuse or inappropriate conduct by employees/volunteers, any abrupt change in a child’s behavior is typically a sign of stressors in the child’s life that should be investigated. Be aware of any of the following:Do not immediately conclude that behavioral changes are caused by sexual abuse, as this is only one of many possibilities. Any changes in a child’s behavior should be explored, regardless of whether you believe there has been sexual abuse. Such changes indicate that the child is likely distressed in some capacity. Consult with the family about any behavioral changes that have been observed.
26 Potential Signs a Child is Being Abused (cont’d) Self-harming behavior such as scratching to the point of bleeding, or pulling out hairEating disordersRegressive behaviorActing out in an angry mannerInjuries from an unknown originAn increase in self-abusive behaviorAn increase in self-stimulating behaviorAggression toward a specific individualEmotional outbursts when near a particular personWithdrawal from daily activities or peopleWhile not necessarily an indication of sexual abuse, an abrupt change in a child’s behavior is typically a sign of stressors in the child’s life that should be investigated.
27 Reacting to Signs of Possible Abuse How you react to signs of possible sexual abuse will depend on the context of the situation. Signs observed in isolation may not always be cause for concern, but the severity of that behavior should be considered when deciding whether to report your concerns to DCF.ConsiderAge – How old is the child? Is the behavior age appropriate?Severity – How severe is the behavior?Frequency – How often does the behavior occur?Impact – How is it affecting the child? How is it affecting other children?For example, if a four-year-old pokes a peer’s private parts while going to the bathroom, boundaries may simply need to be taught. However, if a four-year-old reenacts sexual intercourse with dolls, it will require reporting to the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF).
28 Reacting to Signs of Possible Abuse (cont’d) Document the concerning behavior (including who was notified and when).If the behavior is enough cause for suspicion of child abuse, report to your school’s CPT and DCF.If the behavior is a cause for concern, but not at a level to cause suspicion of child abuse, address the behavior with the child. Reestablish boundaries and behavioral expectations in a supportive, caring manner.Continue to observe the child’s behavior, noting any escalation or changes. If the child’s behavior does not change, continue to document it and work with the family and/or other professionals (e.g. counselors) to address the behavior.Contact the parents to share your concerns and observations. Continue to work together with the family to support the child.If the parents are resistant to working with you and the child’s behavior continues to escalate, contact the DCF and report to your school’s CPT.
29 Disclosure of AbuseDisclosure is not always obvious, and can be missed by adultsA child may disclose to another safe adult before telling his/her parentDisclosure is a process rather than a one-time event – The process may span hours, days, weeks or yearsDisclosure may be though hints and signs vs full disclosureA child may retract or deny the abuse after an initial disclosureA child may not fully disclose since s/he may not be aware that the behavior was wrongThe disclosure may seem vague, inconsistent, or seem unbelievableA child may seem hesitant, confused, uncertain, or agitated during disclosureIt is your job to report, not to investigateOne of the reasons personal safety is taught to children is to promote disclosure of current or past abuse. Most personal safety programs instruct children to tell a safe adult if anyone touches them inappropriately. However, disclosure is not always obvious, and can be missed by adults. It is important to know how to recognize the signs of a disclosure of sexual abuse.In some cases, a child will disclose to a teacher or another safe adult before speaking to his/her parent, especially if the offender is someone the parent knows or trusts. Disclosure is often a process rather than a one-time event. While full disclosure happens occasionally, information is typically provided bit by bit or through hints and signs. This process may span hours, weeks, months, or even years. If the process is interrupted, discouraged, or shut down, the sexual abuse may not be fully revealed until adulthood — if at all. Accidental spontaneous disclosures can also occur.
30 An Adolescent Who Discloses May… Try to protect the offender, as s/he believes the offender to be a ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’.Describe the victimization in more socially acceptable ways due to guilt and shame. S/he may omit details about their role in seeking out the offender or embellish physical force [Lanning, 2001].Feel guilty and blame him/herself for participating in the victimization by not saying ‘No’.Deny the abuse, fearing the potential outcome of the disclosure — s/he does not want life to change.Feel embarrassed and ashamed, and believe that society (family, peers, community) will judge or abandon him/her.Protect the offender. The adolescent may not understand that s/he is a victim (especially if s/he has been groomed by the offender).React in a negative manner if the offender gives attention to another adolescent.An adolescent may be prompted to disclose for different reasons than younger children. In some cases, an adolescent may distort the abuse by believing s/he is in a romantic relationship with the offender. Rather than considering the situation abusive, the adolescent may disclose the abuse in reaction to the offender’s ending of the ‘relationship,’ or out of jealously [Lanning, 2001]. Adolescents who distort their victimization may also present the facts differently and be resistant to adult intervention.
31 Why a Child May Not Tell Feels s/he will not be believed Has been manipulated and groomed by the offender and feels like a participant in the abuseHas been threatened with violence, or his/her family, friends, or pets have been threatenedIs being blackmailedDoes not want to lose perceived benefits (gifts, status or playing time on a sports team, academic recognition, etc.)Believes that s/he is receiving love and acceptance from the offenderFears judgmentDoes not think s/he has a safe adult to tellFeels shame and embarrassmentFears his/her life will change dramatically (loss or breakup of family)Believes s/he is not a victimHas not been believed when disclosing previouslyFears perceived stigma of homosexualityBelieves that society will not understandFeels s/he waited too long to disclose the abuseLikes the offenderRather than focusing on why children often do not tell, imagine how difficult sharing something like [sexual abuse] might be.
32 Hints of Disclosure “What do you think of __________?” “__________ does not pay attention to me anymore.”“I don’t want to go to __________ (organization’s name) anymore.”“I don’t like __________ anymore.”“Please don’t go! Please don’t leave me with __________ .” (The child desperately tries to avoid being left alone with a certain individual.)“I don’t like it when you’re gone… I feel uncomfortable when you aren’t here…”“ __________ hits my Mom.”“__________ likes boys better than girls.”“__________ is not nice.”“I don’t feel good when I’m with __________ .”“I’m bad…”“You will be mad at me…”“ __________ gets mad a lot.”“ __________ did things to me.”“ __________ does bad stuff to me that I don’t like.”“ __________ plays games with me that I don’t like.”“ __________ hurt my cat.”Hints of disclosure should be considered in the child’s ‘big picture’ context. An isolated statement, separate from any other concerns about the child, may not be an issue.For example:A 12-year-old girl approaches her teacher and says that she does not like it when she has to work alone with her educational assistant. This comment alone is not cause for concern.Now consider the bigger picture:The 12-year-old girl is experiencing academic difficulty, peer isolation, has attended three different elementary schools, and is very withdrawn. She has shared that her mom hired the educational assistant to tutor her and that she hates it when her mom goes to work, leaving her at home with the tutor.In isolation, each variable is not cause for enough concern to warrant a report to the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF). However, when considered together, there is a need to report these observations.
33 Always the VictimIt is important to understand and BELIEVE that a child CAN be a victim even is s/he:Did not say noDid not fightDid not tellInitiated the contactActively cooperatedAccepted gifts or moneyEnjoyed the sexual activityWhen a child appears to have cooperating sex with an adult, the adult is ALWAYS the offender, and the child is ALWAYS the victim.While it is upsetting to hear a child disclose, the child’s needs must come first. Appropriate reactions to a child’s disclosure of sexual abuse are critical, as they affect the severity of his/her overall trauma [Finkelhor, 1984].• Research shows that a child who feels supported, nurtured, and safe when disclosing abuse has the most successful chance of recovery and future adjustment.• A child who has been abused needs to understand that what happened was not her/his fault, and that s/he is not alone.
34 Tips for Handling Disclosures Listen actively – show the child you believe themControl your reaction – be aware of your body languageDo not correct language – if a child feels bad or stupid, s/he may stop disclosingNever communicate blame or imply guilt – be non-judgmentalPraise the child for telling – assure the child s/he is not at faultProtect the child and other children from overexposure – respect the child’s need for privacy and confidentiality – only disclose to those with a need to know (e.g., DCF, CPT, Principal)Show affection, support and understandingTake quick action to stop the abuse, but avoid making promises about matters that are out of your controlMake a report to DCF – CallLISTENWhat a child needs when disclosing is for you to listen. S/he fears an adult’s reaction as well as not being believed. It takes incredible courage to share such an experience. Listen attentively.Control your reactionDo not over — or underreact. Be aware of your facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice as the child will be sensitive to your reaction. A child can pick up on differences between what an adult is saying and how s/he is acting. If body language and verbal language do not match, the child will feel confused.Do not correct languageA child who has been sexually abused often uses slang or distasteful words for genitals and sexual acts. You should not try to educate a child about correct terms during a disclosure. Doing so could make the child feel bad, stupid or dirty, and might prevent the child from continuing to disclose.NEVER COMMUNICATE BLAMENever imply guilt such as “I told you so,” or “This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t…” when the child discloses sexual abuse. Be non-judgmental, both verbally and non-verbally (gestures, facial expressions). A child who has been abused needs to understand that what happened was not her/his fault, and that s/he is not alone.Praise the child for tellingIt takes tremendous courage to disclose sexual abuse and a child will often assume responsibility for the abuse. Assure the child that it is not her/his fault, and that s/he did the right thing by disclosing.Protect the child and other children from overexposureRespect the child’s need for privacy and confidentiality, and make sure that no other children are around to hear the child’s disclosure. Only adults who will be directly involved in taking action should be present.Show affectionAdults can be apprehensive to show affection to a child after hearing that s/he has been sexually abused. Research indicates that a child who discloses abuse needs appropriate affection, support, and understanding.Be supportiveThe primary focus should be on the welfare of the adolescent. Maintain a close, supportive relationship with the adolescent bybeing available and attuned to how s/he is doing. Accommodate any appointments s/he must attend as a result of disclosure, and support any goals of the investigation and therapy.AVOID MAKING PROMISESPromise the child that you will take quick steps to stop the abuse. Avoid making promises about matters over which you have no control (e.g. “I will make sure the offender goes to jail.”).Report to THE VERMONT DEPARTMENT FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES (DCF)If you suspect a child is being, or has been, abused sexually, contact the Vermont Department for Children and Families to report it. Call — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. See Chapter 7 for more information on reporting.
35 Increasing Likelihood Disclosures are Recognized Train personnel to understand the problem.Increase your overall awareness about sexual abuse.Increase the child’s awareness about personal safety using developmentally appropriate educational material.Nurture a consistent, positive relationship with the child.Listen to and appreciate the child’s feelings, hopes, and fears, and make sure the child knows you are available to listen and help.Notice and respond to changes in the child’s typical behavior.Increase the child’s awareness of boundaries.
36 Post-Disclosure Support Confidentiality - Make sure that the disclosure and information about the abuse is limited to those who need to know, and that those people are not openly discussing what happened.It is important to let children know that other adults must be told about what has happened. This is required, even when they plead with you not to tell.Information - Keep the child informed of the process and what’s going to happen next. This will help make them feel more in control of the process.Connection - Let the child know you care by communicating openly and frequently. Be available and check in with the child regularly to see how s/he is doing.Structure - Keep activities and routines the same. Structure and familiarity will offer security to the child.Boundaries - Re-establish boundaries if the child acts out. Redefining appropriate behavior with limits will provide security.
37 Post-Disclosure Support (cont’d) The post-disclosure period is often stressful and requires support based on the adolescent’s reaction and mental stateMake sure the adolescent always has access to a safe adult to discuss any concerns s/he might have about her/his feelings, the offender, or any other issuesAccommodate appointments related to the disclosure, and support any goals of the investigation and therapyIf an adolescent is not believed, s/he may become alienated and confused. Since consequences for the offender may not be immediate (as a result of logistics and/or criminal proceedings), the adolescent may be left with feelings of fear, shame, self-blame, self- harm, injustice, and/or confusion [Wolfe, 2001]
38 Vermont Statute (13 V.S.A 72 §3252) The legal age of consent in Vermont is 16 years old, with the following exceptions:The persons are married to each other and the sexual act is consensual.The older person is under 19 years old, the child is at least 15 years old, and the sexual act is consensual (without force, threat, or coercion).An adolescent (under the age of 18) cannot consent to sexual activity with someone in a position of trust and authority.
39 Trauma Initial response to the child’s disclosure The degree of trauma suffered by the victim can vary based on any of the following:Initial response to the child’s disclosureQuality of the child’s support systemPoint at which the abuse was disclosedThe child’s personalityLevel of confidentiality maintainedType of abuseRelationship of the offender to the childLength of time and extent of the abuseIf the child was groomed by the offenderLength of time since the abuse took place[Kendall-Tackett (undated); Hindman, 1999]
40 Possible Reactions to Abuse Reduced confidence and trust in authority figuresLoss of trustShame and humiliationFear and avoidance of any reminders of abuseFurther trauma stemming from the disruption to family and personal relationshipsSelf-destructive behavior resulting from emotional impactAssumed responsibility for abuseDepression or anxietyTrauma-related symptoms specifically associated with the organization in which the abuse occurred. If the abuse occurred in school, symptoms might include disinterest in learning, frequent absences, etc.
41 Possible Reactions to Abuse (cont’d) Use of coping strategies to manage the emotional pain:Engage in antisocial or criminal behavior (violence, vandalism, theft, arson)Self-harm (such as cutting)Excessively people-pleasingUnder-function or overachieveShow extreme passivityCling to othersSelf-medicate (with drugs, alcohol, food)Avoid dealing with problemsDistance self from othersUse denialBecome promiscuous
42 Children with Disabilities Abuse is more prevalent with children with disabilitiesEager to ‘fit in’ and be acceptedDon’t understand what is happening, or that the behavior is illegalMay not have a way to communicate what is happeningDon’t know they have the right to say ‘no’Children with disabilities are less likely to report and if they do, are more likely to being ignored, disbelieved or misunderstoodThe inherent dependence and vulnerability of children with disabilities increases their risk of being sexually abused (e.g., dependent on others for toileting, undressing or bathing; often cared for outside of home or one-on-one; etc.)Many children with disabilities to not have the full capacity to set their own personal boundaries
43 Teaching Personal Safety To Children with Disabilities Sensitize the child to boundariesTeach acceptable vs unacceptable touchingCommunicate that it is okay to say “No” and to tell an adult if something makes the child feel bad, uncomfortable or is wrongTeach the concept of public versus private behaviorsProvide many opportunities to rehears safety skills through role-play and community-based experiencesMake a list of safe adults the child can go to for assistanceIntegrate short and simple daily personal safety lessons (e.g., concrete questions and brief answers)
44 Why Adults Often Fail to Act Negative attitudes and beliefsIndifferenceFear of retaliationDismissing your gut feelingDenialNot believing the child victimPlacing the responsibility on the child to use the words “someone touched my private parts”Do not want to be responsible for wrecking a familyBelieve a person only has to report what can be proven of observedDo not know who to report itAre not encouraged to reportNegative attitudes and beliefs: “It really isn’t a big problem in our society”Indifference: “It’s not by problem. Let someone else handle it.”Fear of retaliation: “They know our family and where we live. What if they do something to us?”Dismissing your gut feeling: “I must be reading too much into this.”Denial: “He wouldn’t do something like that. He’s a really nice guy.”Not believing the child victim: “That child is always up to something.”Placing the responsibility on the child to use the words “someone touched my private parts”: “If a child experiences sexual abuse, s/he will tell someone immediately.”Do not want to be responsible for wrecking a family: “I don’t want the child to be pulled out of his/her home and put into foster care.”Believe a person only has to report what can be proven of observed: “I didn’t witness the abuse and I don’t have any concrete evidence, so I can’t report it.”Do not know who to report it: “If a child disclosed sexual abuse, I have no idea who to report it to.”Are not encouraged to report: “My employer doesn’t really encourage that sort of reporting here.
45 True of False? Most offenders are Strangers. False - Adults/youth who sexually abuse a child usually know the child in some capacityAll offenders were sexually abused as children.False – Although individuals who were abused as children are more likely to abuse children as adults, not all sex offenders were sexually abused as children, and not all individuals who were sexually abused as children become sex offenders.If a child is sexually abused s/he will tell someone immediately.False – Disclosure may not occur immediately after the abuse and may not happen all at once. Children often do not disclose abuse until they are adults.
46 True or False?All offenders are male, unlikeable, and look creepy and weird.False – Offenders to not fit a particular description. Many offenders are seen as nice people who are liked by kids and adults alike.Offenders may test a child’s boundaries in front of others – ‘accidently’ touching them in private areas while rubbing their backs, tickling, wrestling, etc.True - This is often used as part of the grooming process to confuse and desensitize children to inappropriate touchingAdults/youth who sexually abuse children can also be in age- appropriate sexual relationships.True
47 True or False?Sexual offenses against children are the crimes least likely to be reported to authorities.TrueSome sex offenders hold distorted perceptions of their relationships and physical contact with children, and do not see their offending as forced or coercive.True - They may believe that a child is sexually interested in them and that sexual contact is harmless because the child seemingly initiates, wants, and enjoys such contact.A sexually victimized child would never freely return to a non-family offender.False – The offender typically established an emotional bond and friendship with the child that keeps child coming back
48 True or False?Some sex offenders engage in inappropriate behavior that is sexually motivated but may not be considered criminal (e.g., adult may create opportunities where children must change in front of him/her.)TrueSome sex offenders initiate personal contact with the child outside the school (e.g., befriend the family, offer the child a job, etc.)True – This can be part of the grooming process and how the offender builds trust with the child and adults around him/her.Only offenses that include touching impact the victim.False – Sexual abuse that does not include contact can still have a psychological and emotional impact on victims.
49 Information SourceThe information contained in this presentation came from the Step-By-Step training materials provided by Commit To Kids ™, Section II: Educate, Chapter 2: Understanding Child Sexual Abuse.