Early Childhood Intervention: Module Two – Special Needs & Conditions

Category — 2.3. Children who are Abused: Sexual Abuse

Children who are Sexually Abused

Child sexual abuse or sexual molestation (see full Glossary) may be very confusing, conflicting and painful for a child.

Children are sexual beings and some sexual exploration is normal for typical development. When a child is sexually abused or molested, the child is also exposed to sexually inappropriate information or experiences. These inappropriate experiences will have a negative effect on the child developing typical understanding of sexual behavior.

The development of a child who was experienced sexual abuse is impacted in many ways, including loss of self-esteem and self-worth.  This is why sexual abuse has an impact on trust, self-esteem, and may also result in physical injury.

Loss of trust also means the loss of normal loving and nurturing. Without these, the safety and security that make the childhood years unique are no longer there. This, in turn, results in missed opportunities to play and learn, in having fewer chances for normal growth and development and losing a sense of intimacy (see full Glossary) and control over one’s own body.

Children and people with disabilities are at higher risk for sexual abuse and exploitation. This is because both are totally dependent on the care of adults. Social myths about the value of people with disabilities and a lack of protection of children and people with disabilities make it easier for situations of abuse to go unnoticed and unreported.


Sexual abuse ranges from sexual harassment (see full Glossary) to sexual activity. It includes attempted or completed sexual relations, touching or fondling genitals, exposing adult genitals, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, and voyeurism (see full Glossary).

Though there are few or no outward symptoms, child and youth victims do suffer emotionally. These emotional effects come in varying degrees, depending on the following six factors:

o   The nature of the relationship between the victim and the offender;

o   The age of the child when the abuse began and the duration of the sexual relationship;

o   The type of sexual activity the victim is exposed to;

o   The degree of physical aggression directed at the victim;

o   The response the victim receives when she or he discloses the abuse;

o   The availability of a supportive person in the victim’s life.

Intervention Options

The first step is to contact the local child protection agency. In British Columbia, Canada, this is the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

In a situation of emergency when witnessing abuse, contact 9-1-1 and ask for police assistance.

Specific counseling and therapy services are available for children who have experienced or witnessed abuse through local organizations, including Family Services of Greater Vancouver and other agencies.

Services and therapies vary depending on what the child has experienced (e.g., different types of abuse and neglect, from sexual molestation, to issues of incest (see full Glossary), rape and other abuse/harassments situations).

To learn about the impact of sexual abuse in the middle childhood years, please visit the six to 12 part of this course.

February 13, 2011   No Comments