Child abuse is an action, or lack or action in the case of neglect, that creates a risk of physical and/or emotional harm for the child. Sexual abuse is a form of child abuse. Sexual abuse can include manipulation and threatening of the victim, but the abuser, to engage in sexual acts and/or contact. Anyone in the child’s life may inflict this risk, including family members, friends, peers, and/or authority figures. KRS 600.020 provides the legal definition of child abuse, neglect and dependency in Kentucky.
Sexual abuse can take on many forms such as fondling, penetration, exposure of private parts, participation and/or viewing of pornography, and speaking to a child in a sexualized manner. All forms are serious and must be addressed by law enforcement, child protective services, and/or medical professionals.
Children disclose sexual abuse in different ways, depending on their age, developmental capacity, and many other factors. Young children may not always realize that what they are experiencing is abuse or have the words to describe it, and may, therefore, disclose accidentally, though their behaviors or in conversation. As children grow older, their desire for the abuse to end may encourage them to tell a person outside the family, such as a best friend, teacher, or sports coach. No matter how or when the child discloses, it is essential that professionals are able to investigate and assess the situation.
Abusers often use threats and manipulation to keep their victims silent about the abuse. Children may also fear that their families will be broken apart, that there will be negative consequences for the abuser (who is most often someone the child knows), or that he/she did something wrong and will be in trouble for the abuse. Very young children may not know that what they are experiencing is abuse so they may not tell until they get older. Older children are often given privileges, attention, or gifts by the abuser and may not want to lose these special thigns. Also, they may love or like the person abusing them, even if they don’t like the abuse. There are many reasons that a child may not disclose abuse, but that does not mean that the disclosure is not truthful when the child does tell.
Disclosures of sexual abuse can often plunge a family into chaos and turmoil. The child who disclosed may believe that his/her disclosure, not the abuse, caused the turmoil or that their family does not believe them. There may be pressure from those around the victim to “get back to normal” and so they may recant. Feelings of shame, embarrassment, and guilt often accompany sexual abuse and the victim may believe that, by taking back the disclosure, these feelings will be lessened. Recanting does not necessarily mean that the disclosure was false or that the child was lying, just that the victim may feel some emotional or physical pressure.
ABSOLUTELY NOT. Children are never responsible for sexual abuse – no matter what. Child abuse is a crime that the abuser makes the choice to commit despite the wishes of the child. Children are never responsible for the actions of an adult or someone larger and more powerful than they are.
No. Because of age, size and/or the nature of the relationship, adults have power and authority over children. Children, therefore, do not have the maturity to equally consent to a sexual act with an adult or much older child. Each state has laws that define the legal age at which a child can consent to a sexual activity.
Sexual abusers often “groom” their victims by giving gifts, attention, and/or special privileges. This grooming process insures continued access and secrecy with the victim. The abuser may also be a close friend, member of the family, or someone else that the victim loves or looks up to.
Although many adults would be more comfortable not talking about sexual abuse with the children in their lives, it is essential that they do. By not talking, the adult is sending the message that the abuse should be secret and that the emotions surrounding it should be kept inside. By talking about the abuse calmly and openly, the adult can let the child know that they are not alone, that the adult can care for the child, and that the abuse was not the child’s fault.
There are many factors that can cause adults to not believe children’s disclosures of sexual abuse. Some adults simply do not want to believe that sexual abuse and all the pain that is causes exists. Others may depend on the abuser economically, emotionally, or physically and would suffer if that individual was incarcerated. When the abuser is a family member/friend, the non-abusing adult may risk losing support systems such as other friends, family, or religious groups. The non-abusing adult may also fear that if action is taken on behalf of the child, the abuser may physically harm the victim and/or non-abuser.
Each child will react to abuse in a different way. A child’s development, relationship to the offender, nature and duration of the abuse, level of support felt, and level of responsibility the child feels for the abuse are all factors that affect how the child will process the abuse and the events after disclosure. Because of all of these and other factors, it is suggested that each victim is individually assessed by a professional who will consider each of his/her needs carefully. The scope and length of treatment will depend on the needs of the child, assessment by the professional and the opinion of the counselor. It is extremely important that the victim understands that the actions of the abuser was wrong and not the fault of the victim.
Child Protective Services or your local children’s advocacy center will often be able to recommend a counselor, who is specifically trained and has experience in child sexual abuse treatments, for your child. It is also important that the caregiver ask the counselor questions to insure the quality of care for the victim. Some of these questions should be:

  • Does the counselor have training in the area of child sexual abuse (workshops, classes, publications)?
  • Does the counselor have access to supervision and/or consultation?
  • How many victims has this counselor treated?
  • how long has this counselor specialized in sexual abuse treatment?
  • Is there a plan for the counselor to update caregivers on progress without telling them what the child is saying in counseling?
  • Where does the counselor place all of the blame for the abuse- on your child? On the caregiver? Or on the offender?

Finding the right counselor for the victim is very important, so do not be afraid to ask these questions – a qualified counselor will be happy and able to answer them.

The legal process is complex, and can be confusing at times. To help guide you through it, advocates are available through the prosecutor’s office, children’s advocacy centers, rape crisis centers, and some law enforcement agencies, depending on individual community resources. These advocates can help to guide victims through the legal process. These advocates may help victims and their caregivers prepare to testify, meet with the prosecutor, and become more comfortable with the entire legal process. Preparing the child for court and establishing a relationship with the child is important. If the family of the victim is not allowed in the court room during the victim’s testimony, the advocate can be a friendly and supportive face in the crowd for the child.

It is also important to let the child know that they are supported, believed, and that telling the truth was the right thing to do. The advocates can arrange appointments to see the courtroom before the victim has to testify. Regardless of the outcome of the court case, it is important that the victim has the opportunity to celebrate his or her success in telling the truth

A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an attorney appointed by the courts to represent the best interests of the child and to provide legal representation for the child. The GAL does not work for the local authority or the court involved in the case, but helps the court make informed decisions about the welfare of the child. The GAL should interview all parties concerned, study the relevant case files, and get to know the child or children involved. once the necessary inquiries are made, the GAL represents the child at hearings, writes reports to the court, and makes advisory recommendations regarding the child’s best interest.

The court shall appoint a GAL for the child in dependency court proceedings (KRS 620.100) and in termination of parental rights proceedings (KRS 625.041 and KRS 625.080)

Sex offenders are required to register with law enforcement when they move or after their release from prison/jail. A list of sex offenders registered in Kentucky can be accessed via the internet at http://www.kentuckystatepolice.org/sor.htm. This information can be obtained by calling toll-free 1-866-564-5652. At this number, an individual can register up to 3 zip codes to monitor and a phone number. When a registered sex offender moves into and/or within that three zip code area, the Kentucky State Police will notify the number provided.

Although the registration, phone verification, and website system is helpful, it is not 100% accurate. Even though there is punishment if a convicted sex offender does not register, some offenders do not register. Also, some offenders “plead out” their cases and therefore may not have to register, if their plea agreement does not include a registrable offense. Persons convicted of sex crimes before July 15, 1994 are not required to register for those crimes. Offenders who are not reported, charged, and convicted are not required to register.

Caregivers of victims also have a variety of emotions following a disclosure of abuse. Common emotions experienced by caregivers are guilt, sadness, shock, anger and even depression. If the abuse is also a caregiver, there by be worries about housing and economic issues that must be considered.

Although the caregiver’s emotions may be strong, it is important that the child does not believe that the caregiver cannot handle the disclosure or the results. The child, if he/she feels that the emotions created by the disclosure are too intense, may withdraw thinking that this will lessen the strain on the caregiver. It is vital that the caregiver speak to another competent adult, NOT THE CHILD, about their complex and strong feelings. It may be helpful for the parent to seek treatment with a counselor who is experienced in working with the families of victims.

Caregivers also must separate their own emotions from those of the victim. Caregivers can help the victim express his/her own feelings about the abuse. This can be especially difficult for caregivers who experienced about themselves as a child. Watching a loved one go through abuse may bring up old emotions. It is important that the caregiver resolves these feelings with a competent adult or counselor and NOT the child.

Support groups with other caregivers of victims can also be helpful during this time. Information on groups is available at the Center.