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What is Child Sexual Abuse?

What is child sexual abuse? Any sexual activity that is imposed on a child by an adult or an adolescent is a sexual assault and abuse of the power of one person over another. This also includes experiences of child to child, teen to child, teen to teen, if there is an age difference of four or more years.

The key word in this definition is imposed on a child. Children are trained to trust adults, as well they should. When an adult asks, manipulates or forces a child to do something that is against the child's best interest and welfare, they are imposing an experience that will have life long repercussions: perhaps physically, but especially emotionally. Many behavior problems can be traced to being inappropriately touched or manipulated by someone who had power or authority over a child, and used that power in a sexual way.

Sexual abuse doesn't have to involve intercourse. It can range from exhibited genitals, to fondling breasts, genitals or thighs. Some abusers are sexually stimulated by seeing children undressed or engaging in set up sexual games with adults or other children. Some offenders manipulate the child into oral sex or the actual act of intercourse. Others find it amusing to show pornography or to talk "dirty" to those who are younger than they are. Traumatic damage can be done to a sensitive child just by making suggestive references or talking in a sexual way.

Sexual abuse can also take the form of child exploitation by photographing the child in a compromising situation, with the intent to either use the photos for their own sexual stimulation or to sell them as pornography. The range of abuse is so wide and varied that it is hard to pin down a specific definition.

The fact is sexual abuse of children takes many forms, involves varying degrees of violence and emotional trauma, and is defined in a variety of ways, depending on the culture, context and purpose of the definition. However, the one consistent factor that is always present is the child does not know how to protect himself and someone bigger and stronger has power over them.

What many parents, police and others don't understand is that the fear, intimidation and loss of trust are frequently much more harmful than the actual act. It causes confusion about roles, boundaries and sexual awareness.

A child or teen that has been abused sexually will need patience, understanding, support and tools to deal with the trauma.

© Judy H. Wright, Parent Educator,

This article was written by Judy Wright, parent educator and author. Feel free to use it in your newsletter or publication, but please give full credit to the author and mention the contact information of, 406-549-9813.

You will find a full listing of books, tapes, newsletters and workshops available on finding the heart of the story in the journey of life by going to

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