Understanding teen sexual abuse

By Matt Bulkley | Blog Education Series

STAR Guides Wilderness - Understanding teen sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is a topic that is uncomfortable for most people and as a result, conversations tend to be avoided resulting in a lack of accurate information. Offenders of sexual abuse can be both teens and adults and victims of sexual abuse are often children. Sexual abuse is generally defined as unwanted sexual activity with the offender using coercion, manipulation, force or taking advantage of the victim who is not able to give consent.

Contrary to belief, the victim and the offender typically know each other. In the case of teen sex offenders, often the victim is a family member such as a younger sibling or step-sibling. Most child victims of sexual abuse are abused by a family member or family friend. One study found that 85% of sexual abuse involved family members or friends in the victim’s home. Most sex abusers are male, although females can sexually abuse as well.

Sexual Abuse takes a variety of forms including:

  • Sexual touching and fondling of the genitals over or under the clothing.
  • Rape or attempted rape.
  • Engaging children in sexting or chatting about explicit sexual topics on the internet or in person.
  • Exposing children to adult sexual activity, exposing genitals to a child or pornographic materials.
  • Asking children to undress or engage in sexual activity to be photographed or recorded.
  • Voyeurism—“Peeping” on others while undressing or engaging in sexual activity.

In the United States, one study indicated Child Sexual abuse is reported to law enforcement agencies up to 80,000 times a year, but the number of unreported instances is believed to be far higher because victims are often hesitant to report the abuse and the investigation of sexual abuse can be a difficult process for officials investigating allegations.

Contrary to belief, teens who sexually offend can rehabilitate. The statistics on recidivism are actually quite promising for youth offenders who participate in treatment. Studies of re-offending suggest that teens who successfully complete sexual offender treatment programs typically do not re-offend. However, studies on adult offenders is not as promising as the recidivism rates are much higher with the adult population. Outcome studies on treatment for sexual abuse victims is also promising as victims who participate in treatment are able to recover from abuse.

For families impacted by sexual abuse, it is important to understand that treatment is effective in bringing healing and recovery for both victims of sexual abuse as well as for teens who sexually offend. Treatment for sexual abuse works. Families can heal from sexual abuse and both victims and offenders can recover and live healthy, happy productive lives.

About the Author

Matt is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been working in the field of youth treatment and psychotherapy since 1995. He did his undergraduate work at BYU and earned his M.S.W. at the University of Utah. He has worked in a variety of treatment setting in his career ranging from wilderness therapy and residential treatment to outpatient treatment and state government.

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