Many adults expect children to tell us if they have been sexually abused but that is a difficult thing to do. As a matter of fact, I call you to the challenge...the next time you're in a crowd, I want you to pick a person and then go and open a conversation where you tell them the intimate details of your last sexual experience. For them to fully grasp what you experienced, you'll have to tell them in as much detail as possible including exactly what you did, what the other person did, how you felt, if you had an orgasm, if they used any devices. Now just for a moment, in the midst of visualizing yourself telling this story, I want you to picture that you are 6 years old and the last sexual experience you had was with your father. Does this help you to begin to understand why children rarely tell?
Not all sexual abuse is between an adult and a minor—some sexual encounters are between minors. As a matter of fact, 42% of childhood sexual abuse is at the hands of another child1,2. Sexual acts between two minors are considered abusive if there is a power differential between the minors. Differences in power include age, size, emotional maturity, advanced sexual knowledge, as well as forcing, threatening, bribing, coercing, or insisting their behavior be kept secret.
Child sexual abuse can come in several forms—contact, visual, or verbal as detailed below. Child sexual abuse laws vary by state, but below are behaviors that are typically considered illegal. Even if a state's law does not considering actions such as prolonged kissing of a minor to be illegal, it is certainly inappropriate and should cause you to suspect that child may be being abused. Afterall, where there is smoke, there is usually fire!
"Grooming" is a term used to refer to the process child molesters use to create an environment where they can sexually abuse a child without being caught and without the child telling. Child molesters use this process to establish trust, gain access to children, desensitize them to touch, develop an intimate emotional bond, isolate them from other trusted adults, create complicity, and maintain secrecy. Child molesters will typically groom children and their families for months, sometimes even years, before violating sexual boundaries. The process is identifiable, making abuse predictable and preventable.