Teen sexual abuse is far more prevalent than most care to acknowledge. Furthermore, since the subject has become taboo to discuss, it does not get the attention it so deserves. Approximately one out of every 9 girls and one out of every 53 boys under the age of 18 are sexually abused or assaulted by an adult. Even more disturbing, 82% of all sexual abuse victims under the age of 18 are female. Female teenagers, between the ages of 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to become victims of a sexual assault, including rape or attempted rape. And, since many cases go unreported, the actual statistics are likely much higher than those indicated here.
These numbers are astronomical, if you really stop and think about it. As a society, we all need to be doing more to stop sexual abuse. Victims often feel a sense of shame or that they were to blame for the abuse. This tends to silence victims, allowing the perpetrators to get away with it, giving them an opportunity to abuse other innocent victims and not be held accountable for their actions. Furthermore, it perpetuates the cycle of abuse, shame and self-blame. It’s about time we started empowering one another to speak out and end sexual abuse. It is so important to speak up and end this abuse, as the effects can be devastating, and can affect young victims even into adulthood.
When a child or teen is sexually abused, it can have an effect on their mental health. Victims of sexual abuse are about four times more likely to struggle with substance abuse or experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as adults. They are also three times more likely to experience major depression in adulthood. They can be prone to anxiety, have trouble in their relationships, and even suffer from eating disorders. Being sexually abused is a traumatic experience, and the trauma can stay with you for your entire lifetime, wreaking havoc on your well-being. The longer the abuse continues, the more damage it can potentially cause.
With this is mind, it is important to understand some of the signs that someone has been or is currently being sexually abused. If you are aware of the sign and symptoms, and can help even one person get the help they need, then it’s as if you’ve saved their life. If you recognize these symptoms in a friend or family member, please talk to them, or a trusted adult, and encourage them to get the help they need.
Signs and Symptoms of Teen Sexual Abuse:
- Sudden change in personality. Example: Someone who was always bubbly, social, and talkative is suddenly quiet, isolated, and withdrawn.
- Change in attire. Example: Someone who used to wear short shorts and tank tops is now wearing jeans and sweatshirts all the time. Or the opposite, someone who was always very conservative is suddenly dressing in a very provocative way.
- Crying a lot
- Sleeping or eating significantly more or less than usual
- Seems to be staring off into space and not really present.
- Making excuses not to do things they used to enjoy, such as hang out with friends or play sports
- Grades dropping
- Afraid to be alone
- Cutting themselves
- Abusing substances
- Talking (also drawing or writing) includes a great deal of sexual content, more than typical for the age and the person
- Saying things that point towards the abuse, but making it sound like a joke. Example: “My stepdad is always staring at my boobs. I know he wants to have sex with me.”
- Physical symptoms, such as pain in genital area, STD’s, pregnancy, etc.
So, what can you do if you are being abused or notice these symptoms in a friend who might be suffering from sexual abuse? As scary as it might be to speak up, it is your best option. If you don’t think your parent will believe you or be supportive, tell another trusted adult. This can include a teacher, counselor or principal. It could be a coach, religious official, or a friend’s parent. You could even tell the police. Be a supportive friend and be right there with your friend if they have to endure this, so they know they are not alone.
It’s also important to know what to expect once you’ve told someone. Depending on the details, the victim might be questioned by police, or child protective services, or both. They might be asked to have a physical exam, both to document evidence and to assess any harm done to them. The perpetrator might be questioned and/or arrested, and a victim’s advocate might reach out to guide you and support you through any potential legal processes that arise from this. Most importantly, you can get a therapist and/or a support group to help you heal from the trauma of the abuse.
It will not necessarily be easy. But the more you do to help yourself now, the better the rest of your life can be. Make sure to find a therapist who is kind, nurturing and empathetic, with specialized training in trauma and sexual abuse. Find a support group of other victims who understand what you are going through and give you hope that things will better. Let’s all do our part to end teen sexual abuse.