Know the signs and take action vs. child sex abuse

Be aware of physical and behavioral signs and report suspected abuse.


Child sexual abuse is a relatively new concept historically.

According to K12 Academics, the first published article on child sexual abuse appeared in France in 1857. “Medical- Legal Studies of Sexual Assault” was written by Auguste Ambrose Tardieu, a French pathologist and pioneer in forensic medicine, but child sexual abuse did not become a public issue until the 1970s and 80s.

Prior to this time, child sexual abuse remained secretive and socially unspeakable. Studies on child molestation were nonexistent until the 1920s. The first national estimate of the number of child sexual abuse cases was published in 1948. By 1968, 44 out of 50 states had enacted mandatory laws that required physicians to report cases of suspicious child abuse.

Legal action became more prevalent in the 1970s with the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in 1974, along with the creation of the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect. The National Abuse Coalition was created in 1979 to create pressure in congress to create more sexual abuse laws.

Minnesota was a leader in child sexual abuse prevention in the 1980s. An article by Kevin Burger from the Star Tribune (2017) stated that the Illusion Theater, a long-standing theater in Minneapolis that featured socially charged original plays and educational works, took on sexual abuse.


The play called “Touch” was so successful that they decided to turn the play into a film. It was originally released in 1983 and went on to be the most purchased educational video of 1985. The video featured teens who acted out scenarios that the theater called the “touch continuum” – a pioneering way for children to distinguish between good, confusing, and bad touch.

The entity that brought “Touch” to mass audiences was the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. Tom Johnson, a Hennepin County Attorney, brought the play to the National District Attorney’s Conference. A lot of prosecutors were struggling with child sexual abuse cases. “Touch” was a way to talk about sexual abuse with children.

Despite all the awareness and knowledge that has been taught to children and adults, child sexual abuse is still a widespread problem. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) every nine minutes Child Protective Services substantiates or finds evidence for a claim of child sexual abuse.

There are warning signs that a child may have been sexually abused. Physical signs can include sexually transmitted infections and signs of trauma to the genital area, including bleeding, bruising or blood. Behavioral signs can include sexual behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age.

According to RAINN, other signs may include bedwetting or soiling the bed (if they have outgrown that behavior), not wanting to be left alone with certain people or being afraid to be away from primary caregivers. Emotional signs can be using talk or knowledge of sexual topics, resuming behaviors they’ve outgrown, nightmares or fear of being alone at night, or excessive worry or fearfulness.

One in nine girls and one in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult, according to RAINN. 82% of all victims under 18 are female. Females ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.

The effects of child sexual abuse can be long lasting and affect the victim’s mental health. These victims are about 4 times more likely to develop symptoms of drug use, 4 times more likely to experience PTSD as adults and about 3 times more likely to experience a major depressive episode as adults, according to RAINN.

Despite all the knowledge, awareness, and recognition of child sexual abuse, it continues to be one of the worst problems in the United States.


If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, advocates are available to help. Contact Support within Reach on our 24/7 crisis hotlines – 1-800-708-2727 for Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater or Hubbard County and 1-866-747-5008 for Itasca and Aitkin County.

Support Within Reach is a private, non-profit, community service organization serving residents and those impacted by incidents of sexual violence in Aitkin, Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Hubbard and Itasca counties. They offer victim support and advocacy through its 24-hour crisis line (1-800-708-2727) or Park Rapids office (218-237-0300).

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