There are few things as terrible and unthinkable as the sexual abuse of a child. When an adult in a position of authority abuses their power, as well as the victim’s trust in them, the young victim may suffer physical and emotional consequences for the rest of their lives.
The compassionate attorneys at Valent Legal have extensive experience handling cases involving child abuse. We have the skills and tenacity needed to hold abusers accountable for their actions and to also hold accountable the institutions that turned a blind eye and failed to protect the children in their charge.
We provide a voice for our most vulnerable victims and fight resolutely and skillfully to secure the compensation and justice they need to move forward. Contact us to schedule a free, confidential consultation to discuss your case. Call us today. We’re ready to help.
What Constitutes Child Sexual Abuse in Nova Scotia?
The sexual abuse of children and teenagers is alarmingly widespread in Canada. There were over 8,000 reported cases of child sexual abuse in a single recent year, according to a report from the Department of Justice. Compared to data reports from 2010, this number represents a 118% increase in the number of recorded cases.
Unfortunately, the actual number of abuse cases is likely much higher than the reported number. Less than 10% of victims report their experiences, according to an in-depth study from The Canadian Centre for Child Protection. This means that the majority of child sexual abuse cases go unreported, and as a result, tragically unresolved.
Nova Scotia child sexual abuse cases are characterized by several key factors. According to the Government of Nova Scotia, the sexual abuse of a child is characterized by “The improper exposure of a child to sexual contact, activity or behavior.” The World Health Organization (WHO) offers a more in-depth definition:
“Child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society. Child sexual abuse is evidenced by this activity between a child and an adult or another child who by age or development is in a relationship of responsibility, trust or power, the activity being intended to gratify or satisfy the needs of the other person.”
Within this definition, the nature of child sexual abuse as a result of an inherent power imbalance is more accurately conveyed. This means that child sexual abuse doesn’t exclusively occur between children and adults. In fact, child-on-child sexual abuse is unsettlingly common between younger and older children. For example, the large age gap between a 16-year-old and a 5-year-old creates an inherent power imbalance that the older child could easily take advantage of.
What Are the Signs of Child Abuse?
Abusers will often take careful measures to ensure their actions remain hidden, such as grooming, threatening, or otherwise coercing their victims into remaining silent. However, victims of child sexual abuse will often exhibit several physical and behavioral signs indicating their abuse.
According to a report from the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), these signs include:
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Signs of trauma to the genital area, such as unexplained bleeding, bruising, or blood on the sheets
- Sexual behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age
- Bedwetting or soiling the bed, if the child has already outgrown these behaviors
- Not wanting to be left alone with certain people or being afraid to be away from primary caregivers, especially if this is a new behavior
- Tries to avoid removing clothing to change or bathe
- Excessive talk about or knowledge of sexual topics
- Resuming behaviors that they had grown out of, such as thumb-sucking
- Nightmares or fear of being alone at night
- Excessive worry or fearfulness
These signs should be seen as red flags for sexual abuse. If your child is expressing any of these behaviors, it is extremely important to communicate with them about anything or anyone that might be making them uncomfortable.
Although it may be difficult to come to terms with the idea of your child being the victim of abuse, it is critical to understand the gravity of the situation. As soon as you feel like something is off, seek help from local resources to remove your child from any potential danger.
Signs of an Abuser
Many abusers will often go to great lengths to hide any obvious signs of their heinous actions. Child grooming is one of the most common tactics used by offenders to slowly initiate and maintain secretive sexual relationships with their victims. From a superficial perspective, child grooming can resemble a close platonic relationship between an adult and their targeted child.
Some of the most common indicators of child grooming include:
- Giving special attention to or having a preference toward a child
- Offering a child gift that may seem too generous
- Excessive hugging or touching
- Finding excuses to spend time alone with a child
- Singling out a child who may be lonely or lacking a support system
- Sharing secrets with a child, or asking a child to keep secrets
- Being excessively interested in a child’s romantic life
- Overtly ignoring a child’s physical and emotional boundaries
- Becoming a crucial part of a child’s family
Disturbingly, abusers won’t stop at grooming their victims – they will also groom their victim’s family. Sexual abusers will often establish themselves as trusted figures within the child’s family, sometimes even offering financial gifts or special favors. By doing this, the abuser earns the trust of their victim’s family, effectively gaining access to the child whenever they want. This is why recognizing the signs of an abuser is crucial in preventing child sexual abuse.
Long-Term Impacts of Child Sexual Abuse
The effects of child sexual abuse do not end with the onset of adulthood. Indeed, the long-term psychological impacts can last a lifetime. According to a study from the American Counseling Association (ACA), “Childhood sexual abuse has been correlated with higher levels of depression, guilt, shame, self-blame, eating disorders, somatic concerns, anxiety, dissociative patterns, repression, denial, sexual problems, and relationship problems.”
Sexual abuse is a heavy burden for anyone to bear – especially a child. Because they are still well within the early stages of cognitive development, every experience they have plays a significant role in shaping the rest of their lives. Survivors of childhood sexual trauma often report experiencing feelings of guilt and shame when thinking back to their abuse, and sometimes even place blame upon themselves.
There are many reasons why a survivor of childhood sexual abuse might blame themselves for their trauma. They may feel like they acted naively, or behaved in such a way that warranted the abuse. If an abuser was someone the survivor trusted, they may feel ashamed for “allowing” themselves to be taken advantage of. However, abusers often groom and gain the trust of their victims as a tactic to keep them silent. For example, an abuser may be a foster parent who acts as a mentor, or a clergy member who helps families in need.
Unfortunately, some survivors fear that they might face severe retaliation if they choose to come forward with their experiences.
How to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse
One of the most effective ways to prevent child sexual abuse is to trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem quite right about a child’s behavior, don’t turn a blind eye. Filing a report through the proper channels can potentially establish a critical trail of evidence in the event of a sexual abuse case.
If you believe a child is being neglected, abused, or sexually violated, do not hesitate to file a report with your local child welfare agency. According to Nova Scotia’s Children and Family Services Act, “designated social workers in child welfare agencies are required to assess reports of alleged child abuse and neglect.” By recognizing and acting on the signs, you can help the victim get the protection they need, and you may be able to prevent an abuser from hurting their next victim.
Trust an Experienced Halifax Child Sexual Abuse Lawyer at Valent Legal
If your child or someone close to you was the victim of childhood sexual abuse, you have every right to feel sad, scared for their future, and angry that this happened. No child should have to face the tragedies of sexual abuse, period.
At Valent Legal, we believe that every child has the right to justice if they’ve been preyed upon by someone they trusted. Although we understand no amount of financial compensation could ever undo the trauma endured, we will do everything in our power to hold all responsible parties accountable for their heinous actions.
We understand that coming forward with sexual abuse experiences can be extremely frightening. Our number one priority will always be your health, safety, and overall well-being. Our team of compassionate sexual abuse attorneys will help you through every step of the litigation process, and fight for you both in and out of the courtroom.
To discuss your rights and legal options, contact our offices for a free, confidential consultation. Together, we can discuss the details of your case and build a clear plan of action.