Child Sexual Abuse

How Widespread Is Childhood Sexual Abuse?

Statistics are sketchy because so many cases are not reported. It is estimated, however, that 1 in 4 girls, 1 in 7 boys, and 15 to 25 percent of all children may be sexually abused. Any child can be victimized, and molesters are of all ages, economic groups, and races. Most abusers are known to their victims.

How Should One React to a Child's Report of Molestation?

Children rarely make up abuse stories. Never deny what a child is telling you. Such a response adds to a child's anxiety when it is vital that he or she feel protected. It is helpful to be supportive and say something like, "It took a lot of courage for you to tell this. This is not your fault. You are not to blame. We care about you, and we're going to see that this person doesn't hurt you again."

After the Child Has Told You, What Next?

Listen to what the child has to say. Do not try to "turn off" the talking or act as if it makes you uncomfortable. If you do this, you may inhibit the child's disclosure. Do not ask questions or put the child on the spot. The social worker from Child Protective Services is trained to elicit the information needed. It is best to keep the number of people the child must talk to at a minimum. Thank the child for telling and mention that it was the right thing to do. You might say, "This is a problem we need help with. We have special people who can help. They know all about this kind of thing and what needs to be done." Call the Fairfax County Child Protective Services Hotline (703-324-7400) — any time, day or night.

What Happens to Family Relationships?

Child sexual abuse affects the whole family system — parents, siblings, extended family. All family members experience diverse emotions as a result of the disclosure and intervention. Each family member experiences these emotions at many times and in many ways. It is important for family members to receive therapeutic intervention, which is often a lengthy process. The therapist selected should have experience working with children who have experienced trauma, their families, CPS caseworkers and the court system. The CPS worker can refer to a therapist, treatment center or support groups — all helpful resources.

What Is the Role of Child Protective Services?

The safety of the children is the paramount responsibility of the Child Protective Services social worker, who intervenes in whatever way is necessary to ensure the child's safety and to prevent further harm from abuse or neglect. Protecting the child, validating the sexual abuse, and seeing to the safety of other possible victims, such as siblings or friends, are stressful issues that the family must address. The social worker helps plan and provide services to:

  • Enhance every family's ability to provide proper care and nurturance for their children within their own home,community and culture.
  • Prevent separation of the child from the family whenever possible.
  • Preserve and rehabilitate the family.
  • Provide a stable, permanent alternative placement as quickly as possible for every child who cannot return home.
  • Reunify children with families as quickly as possible.

NOTE: The following signs and symptoms do not necessarily signify that a child has been sexually abused. They may indicate that the child is in trouble in some way and point to other issues which need to be addressed. If you are in doubt about what to do, seek professional guidance through the Child Abuse Hotline, a Community Mental Health Center, or a private therapist.

Signs and Indicators of Sexual Abuse in Children

Excessive crying
Failure to thrive
Sexually explicit play/promiscuity
Extremely seductive behavior
Sleep disturbances
Runaway, prostitution
Poor peer relationships
Truancy, drop in grades
Depression/suicide attempts
Increase in physical complaints
Enticing other children into sexual play  Eating problems
Excessive masturbation
Sexual knowledge
Sudden change in behavior
Bed wetting
Drug and alcohol abuse
Poor body image and self esteem
Clinging/over dependence
Behavior problems
Trust issues, phobias
Aggressiveness, hostility

Family Indicators

Gross overcrowding in home – insufficient sleeping space
Alcoholism, substance abuse
Isolation of family, enforced isolation of child
Child given excessive adult responsibility ("parentified" child)
Unusually severe conflict with parents over dating, dressing, friends
"No talk" rules in families — no problem solving modeled or taught
Lack of privacy, nudity, inappropriate dress
Intense conflict between parents
Overly strict or, conversely, chaotic "anything goes" home
Denial that there is a problem

Some Indicators of a Pedophile (person who prefers sex with children)

Overly dedicated person who spends all his or her time with children
Skilled at manipulating children
Gives attention, affection, gifts, toys, games to children
Has opportunity, e.g., occupations or hobbies, involving children
Loner with low self-esteem
Frequent unexplained job and address changes
Arrest record
Low impulse control


To report child abuse and neglect in Fairfax County, call
703-324-7400 TTY 703-222-9452

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Fairfax County Department of Family Services
[ 12011 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035 ]
[ 703-324-7500 ]

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