Protecting your family: signs of sexual assault

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - According to the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault, more than 65% of all sexual assault victims are under the age of 18. Of every 10 people, nine have identified the assailant as someone they know.

"A lot of times in working with children or even adolescents or adults who have been victims of any type of abuse, there can be a series of several different types of emotions," said Dr. Bill Smith, Clinical Manager at St. Bernard's Behavioral Health.

"If left untreated, sometimes this can result in major episodes of depression," said Smith.

Smith said sexual abuse can trigger anxiety, depression and nightmares later in life.

"A lot of emotions come to play and sometimes these emotions for some individuals can develop into some type of behavioral or mental illness," said Smith.

Smith said the best course of action for anyone suffering from sexual abuse symptoms need to seek the help of a medical professional.

According to Dr. Elmo Diaz, a psychiatrist with Families Inc, the major problem with sexual assault in victims of any age is that it often goes unreported.

"If we're able to raise awareness in the public, that number will shrink," said Diaz. "Obviously people don't recognize signs. People who are in touch with students, with the kids like the teachers or the parent itself."

"They're having emotions or feelings that kind of take them back to that abusive time. That can be very difficult the older you are. It's harder to do that sometimes," said Smith. "I think the more people are aware of this type of help in therapy and counseling can be very beneficial to children adolescents and adults."

"The first thing that we need to do is to listen to the children. Sometimes we brush off things that are not supposed to come out of a 3, 4 year old's mouth," said Diaz. "Sometimes they're telling you it's going on. What's going on?"

"If it's ongoing at the time, I would think the child is scared. The fear that they may have been threatened by the person who is abusing them or persons that are abusing them," said Smith. "They may have a fear that they're going to get hurt or that whoever the person is that's abusing them may hurt someone that they love in their family."

Diaz said one sign is that children become more isolated in society.

"Sudden avoidance of people and places, no I don't want to go, I don't want to go, that kind of thing. Pay attention to that," said Diaz.

"Fear would be probably the initial reason why the child or adolescent doesn't report that to a caregiver or a parent," said Smith.

Diaz said children tell one parent that the other is abusing them, but the report isn't recognized as believable because of denial.

"They have been sexually abused by one parent. They tell the other parent and they don't believe them. That kind of thing goes on a lot too," said Diaz. "No one sign alone will give us the clue of sexual abuse, but it's a group of things. If there is a sexual abuse, there will be a group of things."

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