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In my previous blog I explained the normality of the physical exploration of children on their bodies. Yet I want to highlight that not all sexual behaviours are normal. Before we further into the topic, we should understand the impact that the trauma of sexual abuse has on children. It causes stress and tension in the child. This will lead any child to exhibit a myriad of emotions and behaviours; this is your first clue. When professionals assess symptoms of abuse they usually look for a cluster of features. I stand by what I said in my previous blog, masturbation is not a sign of abuse, unless this exploration is tainted by other negative feelings such as shame, anger or sadness. In its simplest form this equation must look at two elements; the behaviour (masturbation); and the emotion connected with the behaviour (anger). Let us take the example of a child who is touching himself. It is perfectly normal for a boy to explore his genitals whilst watching television. However if you can see the child touching himself angrily to the point of even hurting himself, that is of concern. You have the behaviour (touching) and a negative behaviour (frustration) ascribed to it.

Children become stuck in this trauma, and they may re-enact this experience in various areas of their lives. Curiosity becomes obsession. Interest becomes coercion. And natural exploration becomes outright defiance (eg children would usually stop touching themselves in public if an adult asks them to. However abused children may defy these instructions and continue to touch themselves in front of others). This trauma even taints children’s play. Coercion of other children, usually younger cohorts, is another sign. This is a rather complicated topic; very difficult to address comprehensively in a blog. I would like to conclude with an invitation to any parent with concerns to discuss with a professional of trust to seek support and clarify any doubts they may have.

– steve@willingness.com.mt