Child Sexual Abuse

Posted by in Abuse, Louise Behiel, Sexual Abuse | 19 comments

Child sexual abuse is the last and most disgusting topic in this series.  As a survivor of this tragedy, I thought I had heard and read it all and that I had recovered.  But in collecting and verifying statistics and information, I am sickened anew.  Children are constantly warned to be aware of stranger danger but sadly, their greatest risk is in their homes and their day to day lives.  Children continue to be raped and violated by parents, friends, priests, ministers, teachers and cub scout leaders.  There are no pictures, for how could I depict this depravity?  And as always, if this post triggers anything see a mental health professional or contact me.

Child sexual abuse as defined by the Government of Canada, Justice Department occurs when an older child, adolescent or adult takes advantage of a younger child or youth for sexual purposes, including for participation in prostitution, pornographic performances and in the production of pornography. Sexual abuse and exploitation is perpetrated on children of all ages, from infancy to adolescence. It includes every single type of perversion: inappropriate touching; anal, oral and vaginal rape; animal rape; gang rapes, often with simultaneous multiple perpetrators.  It can start in infancy and go on for many years.  Some of my clients began to realize in their late teens or early twenties that their father’s or brothers’ behavior was not acceptable.  But when you’ve been abused from infancy, it’s all you know and it’s normal.

Types of Sexual Abuse

Non-contact sexual abuse

  • making sexual comments to the child or youth,
  • exposing intimate body parts,
  • voyeurism,
  • having a sexual fixation on a child or youth’s clothing or body parts,
  • luring,
  • making sexually related phone calls and
  • engaging in sexually related correspondence through the Internet

Contact Sexual Abuse involves making the child or youth participate in acts such as

  • touching (fondling) or
  • digital or
  • object penetration of intimate body parts of the victim or the perpetrator.

Sexual exploitation may involve

  • prostitution
  • making children and youth participate in pornographic acts or performances for personal or commercial use.  There is an increasing international dimension to the sexual exploitation of children through sex tourism and also through the Internet.

Dynamics of Sexual Abuse

Various tactics are used to gain access to, isolate, manipulate and control victims. Typically there is a power and age differential between the perpetrator and the victim.  Perps are likely to be more knowledgeable about sexual activity. They may spend a lot of time grooming their victim, ie befriending them. Coercion in the form of threats, physical force, bribery, trickery or other forms of psychological force to gain access to, and make their victims compliant.  Usually, the abuse becomes more serious, frequent and intrusive over time.

Extent of Sexual Abuse

Because of the nature of the acts, sexual abuse of children is grossly under-reported.  The Badgley Report (1984), a cross-Canada study on the abuse of children, revealed horrifying statistics about the prevalence of these crimes in Canada. It reported that one in two girls and one in three boys were the victims of unwanted sexual advances before the age of eighteen; three out of five of these victims were threatened or physically coerced.  Ironically, once a child is victimized in this manner, they are at greater risk for abuse by other people.   (These rates are very high; more recent studies hesitate to postulate against the general population because of the low reporting rates.)

What are the Effects of Sexual Abuse?

Ironically, not everyone is equally affected in adulthood.  There is great debate and discussion about this topic and every victim/situation is unique but at this time, conventional wisdom suggests that long term effects are impacted by:

  1. The relationship between victim and perpetrator:  more damage results from a closer relationship
  2. The age of the first incident and its duration
  3. The type of sexual activity perpetuated on the child
  4. The degree of physical violence included in the abuse
  5. The response to the victim when he/she discloses the abuse
  6. The availability of a support person during and after the abuse

Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • Physical complaints – headaches, nightmares, psychosomatic complaints
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Sexualized behavior including a preoccupation with sexual organs and bodily functions
  • Behavior problems
  • Abrupt changes of behavior e.g. sudden bedwetting
  • Sudden awareness of sexual organs and sexual behavior
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Running away (in a recent study 85% of runaways were sexual victims)
  • Drug and alcohol dependence (victims are 7 times more likely to become addicted)
  • Self-harm, including cutting
  • Understanding, beyond the child’s age of ‘dirty’ jokes and ‘blue’ comments
  • Preoccupation with sex, including promiscuity
  • Self-destructive sexual behavior and prostitution
  • In adulthood, sexual dysfunction is common
  • Suicide attempts (victims are 10 times more likely to try suicide)
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder), while  not a diagnosis that is universally accepted, is one outcome of severe, ongoing, chronic abuse
  • Personally I think one third of obese women have been sexually abused.  I haven’t any sense of the numbers for men.

Beyond the obvious, victims have many issues to recover from their abuse.  One client can’t tell if her skin is dry after a shower.  She can miss places (usually on her back and buttocks) and not realize she’s still wet – thirty years after the abuse ended.   She can’t tell if she’s hurt herself – after years of violence her nerve endings don’t respond normally.

This topic could cover hundreds of pages, but I’m stopping here.  It is a very difficult topic to research and write about.  My sexual  abuse (remember babies like to suck) started in infancy and continued until I was 11.  I married my husband at eighteen,  because he was a gentle man – I knew he wouldn’t hurt me or our children.  Love didn’t matter (although I told myself I loved him); safety was all that counted.

Like many victims, I buried most of the memories.  Or distorted them.  But at various significant times (turning 30 for me, giving birth is common for others) the memories or the feelings surfaced.  And I would be thrown into a maelstrom of dis-ease and discomfort.  Fortunately for me, I was willing to get help and thus began the work of changing a life.

The journey has been long and it’s not finished yet, but for the most part I have recovered.  I have reclaimed my life.  I wish that each of you who has been victimized like I was finds the same quality of recovery; the discovery of joy; and the ability to trust and form friendships, both in person and on the net.


  1. This was so helpful today, Louise. I’m someone who is from quite a conservative European nation, and my grandfather abused me from 2-5. He’d wash me with his spit and make sexual remarks when reaching my privates, but thankfully my twin sister did not get the abuse as much because she could run away when he got to me and carried me to his room. She still had a stutter though. The abuse resurfaced during 4th grade, which was the last time I saw him prior to his death. I think having that one-year stretch made it worse because I was now more aware of what was happening and couldn’t resist it.
    My current girlfriend works in a daycare and this has caused some issues for me in this relationship. I’ve had a psychologist during college who helped me reconnect with my intimate self through our discussions of the issues and feelings, so I was very surprised when dating my current GF re-triggered this because of her work. Questions like “how many boys does she have to change?” “do the boys play with themselves at daycare during changes and if so how brief is this to avoid it becoming too private for them?”
    I shouldn’t worry about these thoughts because I trust her 100% to not take it to a sexual context, but I think because my violation was by a family member, maybe there’s something subconscious going on. I find it sad that there aren’t many resources online, particularly for male survivors who want a voice and are afraid of being labeled by their counselors. There are also a lack of articles with parenting while being a survivor, especially if the gender of your child is the same as you. I don’t know why this is, but your article / blog is at least giving some spark of hope for good resources that I might just have to Google more deeply.
    Thanks again for writing. 🙂

    • i’m glad my post was of some help to you. it is important that you find a therapist to work with. you are the customer, so find one you can trust and who understand you.

      good luck. keep up the search. you will heal.

    • Tom,

      If it helps, there is stuff like that could help. Victims No Longer by Mike Lew is great, along with The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy Maltz (very gender inclusive), and The Courage To Heal Workbook is pretty gender inclusive as well, God bless. In terms of parenting while being a survivor, there is actually a separate chapter on parenting in The Courage To Heal. It doesn’t cover parenting a child of the same sex, but it’s still a great chapter. I hope they help.

      (Sorry if I butted in, by the way)

      • thanks

  2. Just a quick clarification — and this was just something that I was thinking about/worrying about…would a mother helping her daughter out with a tampon count as object insertion?

    (Sorry about that)

    • not usually, no

      • Ah. Gotcha. I admit that…well, I’m not quite certain. My memories are pretty blurry on that front; I’ll let you know if I remember anything else. Also, I’m kind of wondering where normal family caretaking/signs of affection cross the line into sexual abuse. For example, applying cream, diaper changing, etc. Or the matter of lip-kissing — I’ve actually heard some people who’ve been divided over that one; some think it’s abusive, others think it’s okay. What do you think?

        (My apologies for the word vomit, by the way)

      • So I was molested by my grandpa when I was 11 and I never told cause he raised us and said if I told my nana that he would be taken away and that I would ruin the family so I didn’t tell and now I regret it I’m 17 and I hate sleeping because that was how it started and I’m scared of the dark and I wake up easily like if you touch I wake up real quick when someone’s wakes me by touch my heart races and I still can’t get any of it out of my head like in the middle of the night I hear strange noises and walking and there never anything there I hate people hugging or touching me I hate being alone I’m good at keep secrets obviously and well I’m tired and when I shower I always feel like someone is watching and feel the need to cover areas with my hands when I shower is this normal behavior I’m not sure but am I crazy I still have to see this so called grandpa at holidays and vacations and act like nothing happened there was one time when me and my sisters stayed at his house I was so terrified stayed up that whole night just to make sure he couldn’t put his hands on me when guys try to look me up and down I just get so nervous it scares me should I tell someone do you think I would feel better

        • What you describe are typical symptoms of someone who was sexually abused. you definitely aren’t crazy. When we are traumatized as children, the fear sometimes stays with us for years, or decades even. Not telling is also very common. Since he was your support and you believed telling ‘would ruin the family’, you kept quiet. What else would you do? You were 11. This too is very common and very normal.

          I wish I could be of some help to you but I can’t, except to say it’s important to work with a therapist who is experienced in helping adult survivors of child sexual abuse. that person will help you ease your fears and shame and guilt so that you can live a full, rich life as an adult. Best of all, by resolving these issues now, your grandfather won’t be able to ruin the rest of your life, or the lives of your children.

          good luck

  3. Very hard post to write…and read, Louise. But it’s badly needed for many people. I’m sorry things were so bad for you growing up…and for others. It’s so sad that this is such a common occurrence. In our family it was an older cousin who babysat my siblings and I. I didn’t find out until a year or so ago that he also molested my sister. In all the years between I never really felt much anger at him, didn’t really think about it at all. But it really ticked me off to find out he’d gotten to her, too. I was only six so she would have been four. I think all guys like that need to be tied to a tree, castrated and then shot in the head. LOL…not that I would ever do it. I just think that’s what should be done.

    • Isn’t it interesting that our anger is drawn because he molested a sibling and yet we don’t feel it for ourselves? I totally get that. And yet we are as victimized.
      this has been difficult to write but it is important that it be discussed and out there. and it lays the groundwork for some future info I want to share. Thanks for stopping by Kristy.

  4. Ah, Louise, I’ve long admired your strength and wisdom, and now my heart breaks for you and all the other children who have to grow up with this abuse. It’s hard enough to be a child/teenager without throwing this into the mix. And I’m sending you many warm hugs today, because I can only imagine a wee bit how difficult these posts have been for you to write.

    • The best is that we are survivors. isn’t that amazing? THX the hugs this was difficult to write but its also been cathartic. All is well.

  5. Oh Louise, this is a heart wrenching post that I found extremely difficult to read…but I had to finish it. I know this sort of abuse takes place, but I don’t think I have any idea how often it takes place. It breaks my heart. I have such respect for you and all survivors of this most horrible form of abuse.

    • DL, I am honored that you stopped by. I so respect and admire you. This was a very hard post to write, but the worst of this material is done now. there’s lots of other things to write about but the foundation for what follows is in place. Stay tuned for less disgusting material.

  6. Not being believed by those responsible for care is one of the worst traumas for victims. I’m so glad you have recovered and healed, Jill. It takes time and lots of hard work, I know.

  7. Louise, thank you for tackling such a hard subject. It took me a long time to get over my abuse since I wasn’t believed by those responsible for caring for me. Bless you and all you do to shine a light in the dark.

  8. My wife of 23 years finally started getting help about 4 years ago. I hope that some day soon both of us will finally find happiness once the pain from her childhood is resolved.


    • Bless you for sticking by her – loving someone with this abuse in their history is not easy, I’m sure. and good for her for getting help. The pain doesn’t go away but needs to be confronted and healed.


  1. 4 Stages of Healing from Childhood Abuse | Louise Behiel - [...] the abuse consisted of neglect; often it was physical, and emotional.  For many, it was sexual.  I find it…

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