Chapter Eight: What is Sexual Assault and What Can I Do to Prevent It?  Instead: What is difference bettwen Sexual Molestation and Sexual Abuse? How Can I Prevent It?

There is much debate and confusion about the difference between sexual molestation and sexual abuse. This chapter will differentiate between the two and describe warning signs and what to do about them.

Sexual Molestation vs. Sexual Abuse

The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) found that in 2005, around 9.3% of confirmed or substantiated child abuse and neglect cases involved sexual abuse. The term "sexual abuse" generally involves sexual intercourse or a deviation of intercourse. Even if an offense doesn’t fall under this exact definition, any wrongdoing that involves touching a child sexually, or even exploiting a child sexually without touching them, can be just as harmful and devastating to a child’s well-being. Touching sexual offenses include "fondling, making a child touch an adult’s sexual organs, or penetrating a child’s vagina or anus no matter how slight - with a penis or any object that doesn’t have a valid medical purpose. Non-touching sexual offenses include: engaging in indecent exposure or exhibitionism; exposing children to pornographic material; deliberately exposing a child to the act of sexual intercourse; and masturbating in front of a child."

Sexual abuse can happen across all ages, but molestation is strictly limited to younger children. Because a child’s penis or vagina is too small for physical penetration, molestation occurs when the child is "forced to perform oral sex, touched in an inappropriate manner, and/or made to watch the adult masturbate." Sexual abuse happens over a longer period of time and involves actual physical penetration, in addition to everything that is included in molestation.

It is important to pay attention to any warning signs of sexual abuse are present in your child’s behavior. Remain alert with the adults that are in your child’s life, as there may be adults who use their relationship with your child for sexual reasons. Adults who are in positions of power with your children, such as in school, and even those who are family friends or relatives have a higher chance of sexually abusing children they know. Children, in turn, are less likely to report these familiar adults and more likely to "go along" with the abuse.

Some signs that an adult is using their relationship with a child for sexual reasons include:

Since many parents believe that their family is "invincible" from sexual abuse, many adults tend to overlook obvious signs of abuse. It is difficult to believe that a family member or close friend can be capable of such acts, so many parents may minimize or overlook allegations of abuse.

Physical and Psychological Child Reactions to Sexual Abuse

Some common reactions of a child if they are being sexually abused include, but are not limited to, "withdrawal, depression, self-mutilation, psychosomatic symptoms (stomachaches, headaches), guilt, and school problems (absences, drops in grades)." Their reactions are different from behavioral signs, which include having knowledge about sexual topics that are inappropriate for their age, their behavior around other children, significant weight changes/major changes in appetite, self-harming, suicide attempts, sudden shyness, fear of physical contact, or signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. The most telltale signs of all if a child is being sexually abused are, of course, physical signs. Some of these signs include, but are not limited to, "difficulty walking or sitting, bloody, torn or stained underclothes, pain, itching, or burning in genital area, bleeding bruises, or swelling in genital area, and Sexually Transmitted Infections, especially if under 14 years old."

It is always important to remember to be open with your children and pick a time and place to talk about sensitive issues carefully. Predators sense a vulnerable child, so showing a child love, respect and understanding helps children with their self-esteem and makes them less likely to be sexually abused because they are instilled with a sense of confidence and support that will last a lifetime.