Sexual emotional abuse
When most of us think of sexual abuse, we think of inappropriate touch: fondling, forced masturbation, even outright rape. But there is also an insidious kind of sexual abuse that requires no bodily contact whatsoever. Sexual emotional abuse. Sexual emotional abuse may accompany different kinds of physical sexual abuse, or it may exist completely on its own.
Either way, its effect on the child is profound and lasting.
What Is Sexual Emotional Abuse?
Sexual emotional abuse involves making sexually inappropriate comments to a child. Examples include:
- Making rude, offensive remarks about the child’s body (“Your boobs are growing huge.”) or about friends of the child
- Joking about the child having sexual relationships with other people (“Don’t save it all for your girlfriend, boy!”)
- Telling sexually explicit jokes that are not appropriate for the child’s age
- Sexualizing normal child behavior (for instance, implying that a child engaged in normal play is somehow being deliberately sexually enticing)
- Threatening to sexually assault the child
- Forcing the child to look at his or her genitals.
- Showing the child pornography
This sad, disgusting list could go on, but you get the idea.
Warning Signs of Sexual Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse is a powerful weapon because it is very subtle. Most children do not even know how to give emotional abuse a name, although they are almost universally aware that something is horribly wrong.
Unable to give words to their ordeal, children often develop symptoms to hint at what’s going on. Some symptoms may include:
Sudden change in mood or behavior. The child may become withdrawn and shy. Other children act out, becoming aggressive or abusive to peers.
Referring to their body in vulgar terms you have not heard them use before. Sexual emotional abuse objectifies the child. In turn, the child learns to objectify him or herself. For instance, a girl might start referring to her breasts as her “big titties.”
Asking sexual questions beyond what you would consider age-appropriate or that refer to another adult’s genitals. For instance, the child might ask if all women have hair down there “like Aunt Sally.”
Body shame. Your child may try to protect him or herself from further verbal abuse by hiding his or her body under several layers of clothes or behind shapeless and unflattering outfits. Your child may also start to exhibit poor hygiene and grooming.
Extreme self-consciousness. Not wanting to appear “provocative,” your child may become super aware of his or her every movement. For instance, a child who has been teased about his “cute ass” may do everything in his power to avoid turning his back on you.
Reluctance to spend time with the abuser. For instance, the child may suddenly scream and cry when left at daycare or refuse to let his once-favorite uncle take him fishing anymore.
If you suspect abuse, talk to your child. Explain that some grown-ups are mean and get a charge out of saying or doing things that make hurt kids and make them feel uncomfortable about their bodies. Tell your child that if a grown up is doing this to them, you will protect your child and make the abuse stop.
And whatever else you may say or do, make sure your child knows you love them just the way they are.