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Sexual abuse

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Updated: 1/14/2003 1:29 pm
Sexual abuse against a minor has been defined as 'any sexual contact between a child and an adult or older child perpetrated for the sexual gratification of the older person.' It can be in the form of direct sexual contact with the victim, including kissing or touching clothed or unclothed areas of the victim's body for sexual stimulation. It also can include non-touching interactions, such as verbal harassment or exposing the child to sexual imagery, either pictures or the perpetrator's body. Psychological interactions, such as when the abuser confides personal sexual matters to a child, also are forms of sexual abuse, as is victimizing a young person through involvement in pornography or prostitution. Sexual abuse occurs in all socioeconomic levels, and often the abuser is someone the child knows, rather than a stranger. Violation of a child's trust by someone in a close relationship can be extremely damaging psychologically. Parents need to warn children about possible risks and help them become streetwise, in a way that doesn't frighten them. Teach girls about date rape and the right to say 'no.' It's not always easy for an adult to recognize when sexual abuse has taken place. Some signs may include overtly sexual behavior, disturbed sleep and nightmares, fear of being left alone, and possible physical evidence. If a child tells you he or she has been abused, don't deny the problem. Make sure the child understands he or she isn't to blame. Notify the police and local child protection services. Ongoing counseling or therapy may be required, as well. Sexual abuse is a disturbing subject, but adults must face the reality of this issue and deal with it, rather than pretend it doesn't exist.

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