24sata: “Child sexual abuse: at home, on the beach, behind the screen – recognize the signs in right time”

“Take care of your children, because sexual predators are everywhere!”, writes Tina Kos, a 24-sata journalist in an article published on August 26, 2020, entitled “Child sexual abuse: at home, on the beach, behind the screen – recognize the signs in time”. The expert interlocutor in the topic was the psychologist of the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center, Ana Raguž. We published the text in full:

“A child cannot quite distinguish good from bad in someone’s character, nor can he foresee the dangers behind a seemingly nice man, who can stay near them or hide on the Internet. Parents are the ones who, especially nowadays, have to be vigilant about what their child does, who they hang out with, correspond with…

They themselves should be careful that their actions do not unknowingly endanger the child, for example, by posting any photos on the Internet. Also, it is extremely important to build a quality relationship with the child so that he does not hesitate to confide in the parents and tell them what is happening around him.

We talked about this topic with child psychologist Ana Raguž, master of psychology from the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center. which noted that Council of Europe data show that one in five children is a victim of sexual abuse, one in four girls and one in six boys. It emphasizes how important caution is.

– Parents completely harmlessly let their children and take them to the beach, assuming that the time was spent unencumbered, in play and entertainment, rest and enjoyment, but we must realize that there are people who use the same time as predators to target children with naked, uncovered bodies. It is important now, more than ever before, to keep in mind that a photograph of a naked body becomes viral in less than a second and enters the ‘market’ – this psychologist told us.


She notes that, although there are many to whom such caution seems excessive, we must be especially careful these days

– Unfortunately, we cannot escape the reality that such people and such intentions exist. Once a photo is published, it becomes forever part of a virtual space over which there will certainly be no control for some time, if ever. There is no doubt that children will be and stay on the beaches, spend time playing in the streets, but if we can reduce the likelihood that a child is in danger, then we are responsible and do it – she explained.

She also referred to the growing problem of posting photos of own children on the Internet and explained why it is smarter to refrain from it because someone who has bad intentions towards a child can use every detail and every piece of information.

– Parents, also with good intentions, often take photos of their children on social networks, expressing pride, satisfaction, sharing with others beautiful moments and memories. Research shows that 77 percent of parents post nude or semi-nude pictures of their children, averaging nearly 195 pictures of a child a year. Photographs or postings that refer to information about the child, location and address may become to the perpetrators not an object of admiration and arousing pleasant emotions, as was originally the idea of ​​the post, but a direct route to the child. Innocent can become very dangerous and serious, and all depending on the intentions of the people behind the screen – warned this child psychologist.


She referred to the data from the research conducted by the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center

– How much children are at risk today is evidenced by the fact that the research shows that almost 60 percent of adolescents receive sexually suggestive content through messages, photos or videos, 5 percent send them, and 17 forward. The alarming situation indicates that almost every fifth adolescent had sex under persuasion or coercion, of which 5 percent of adolescents did so with a much older person – she told us.

– Sexual abuse of children in recent times usually begins with the process of so-called. ‘Grooming’ (recruitment or enticement). ‘Grooming’ through modern technologies often takes the form of ‘sextortion’, which refers to the extortion or blackmail of sent content in order to obtain more such content or coerce live sexual activities. The fact that 35 percent of young people went to meet a person they met through social networks testifies to how real and real the potential risk behind the screen is becoming real and real – she added.


It is necessary to explore the charms of ‘online playgrounds’ together with the child

She says that it is extremely important for young people, but also for themselves to be aware of the fact that we can never be sure who is behind the screen of an (un)known profile, despite the fact that someone may seem nice and well-meaning.

– Caution is our ally, not our enemy, and spending children’s time behind the screen is also a concern for adults, just like spending time on the playground, on the street. While we can oppose the internet, be proponents of the idea that modern technologies have put children at risk, we can strongly advocate that generations without cell phones and internet access have lived much better and healthier but still despite numerous arguments we cannot dispute the fact that we still live and we will live in a digital and increasingly digital world – she explained to us.

– Just as we go to the playground with a child, see which of those peers play there and what, play with potential risks and make decisions as parents how and in what way we allow the child to stay on the playground, at this age our child needs we also take each other by the hand and explore together the charms of ‘online playgrounds’. Although parents feel that they do not know much about technology, they know what is a danger to their children, they know how to protect them. Technology and social networks are just a channel, but the dangers and risks are the same – she added.

– To acquire knowledge, children are our allies, they can teach us about the use of social networks, and we adults can teach them how to protect themselves. For the emotional world and the consequences for mental health, an isolated event makes a big difference from experiencing abusive behaviors on a daily basis, for months, and sometimes for years (both online and in the real world). Taking into account the many and varied tips on how to do everything to protect children, start with priorities – develop a relationship, invest in all its aspects and get actively involved in children’s lives to identify potential dangers as early as possible – advises child psychologist.

– Although sexual abuse has not been a myth for a long time, we are often inclined to think that sexual abuse does not happen in our environment, in our city or village, in our country. So, whatever you think or believe, Croatian and world statistics, the data of the Council of Europe show that every fifth child is a victim of sexual abuse, every fourth girl and every sixth boy – Ana Raguž told us.

She says that according to some estimates, only eight percent of cases are revealed in boys and 18 percent in girls, and on average it takes from 10 to 16 years from abuse to disclosure. The period of silence of abused children ranges from one month to 56 years.

– These data tell us that children are not trusted, and that on average we will find out about only one of the ten abused children. There are many ways the perpetrator reaches the victim: as a close or extended family member, a close friend or acquaintance of the family, strangers behind the screen looking for various links and pathways of common interest to the child. For example, sexual abuse over the internet or live is sexual abuse, there is no dilemma about that. This type of abuse is not a new concept, it is just a new channel for perpetrators. The ways and means are diverse, ingenious and increasingly advanced, the pattern is the same, and the goal is always the same – to approach the child and make them a victim who will be silent forever or as long as possible.


She described how the abuser creates a connection with the victim

– When creating this type of relationship, the perpetrator generally does not use elements of coercion. The rapprochement begins with identifying a potentially vulnerable child, takes place through a seemingly warm and supportive relationship, providing comfort, buying gifts, and recognizing needs, all of which make the relationship exclusive. With the child, the perpetrator forms an alliance based initially on seduction, indulgence, bribery, manipulation, persuasion of the secrecy and uniqueness of the relationship (it can last for years), and later can and often reaches the level of blackmail, threats and intimidation, or instilling fear for the child or people close to them – she added.

– All of the above methods strengthen the perpetrator and increasingly weaken the victim and reduce the likelihood of exposing the child to a minimum. Because in almost 90 percent of cases they are people from the child’s family and familiar surroundings, children and young people are afraid that they will not be trusted, that others will condemn them, that they will think they are to blame or at least partially responsible, they are afraid of social exclusion and stigma, loss of anonymity, insecurity, and fear of losing control of the process. If the abuser is a person from the family, the children are afraid of losing their family, ie threats due to the destruction of family dynamics – the psychologist told us.


She added that children, too, are silent because they fear threats from abusers, they are afraid because they are close and connected to the abuser. They also do not talk about abuse because they know how to feel shame, guilt and some kind of responsibility, especially if they felt pleasure.

– Also, in the case of online sexual abuse, children and young people fear that the perpetrators are ‘elusive’ and that the abuse will not be proven especially if the type of abuse is such that there was no sexual intercourse, and they often think they are guilty and responsible because for example, they sent photos or entrusted intimate information and private information. Due to the numerous reasons of distrust of children, when a child is confided in us, we should avoid the question ‘Why didn’t you say so before?’ because the child confided in a person of trust at the moment when he could and if he/she had gained strength before, he/she would certainly have done it – she noted.

– What distinguishes abusive from non-abusive behavior is the difference in power, knowledge and satisfaction of needs, ie an adult in such a relationship has a higher level of power, knowledge and relationship with a child is the satisfaction of sexual needs. The consequences of sexual abuse are deep and severe for every child or young person, but they significantly depend on the age and developmental status at the time of abuse, the type, frequency, duration and severity of abuse and the relationship between child and perpetrator – explained Ana Raguž.

– On the emotional level in children victims of sexual abuse we find anxiety disorders, depression, addiction, eating disorders and personality disorders, dissociative disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, autoaggressive urges most often in the form of self-harm or suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. The experience of sexual abuse, especially by parents or guardians, develops feelings of betrayal and mistrust in children. Sexually abused children do not distinguish emotional touches from sexual touches, and due to early exposure to sexual experiences, they are often prone to sexually risky behaviors or in adulthood they have difficulty entering into sexual relations – she explained.


She also described how to recognize abuse

– Although sexual abuse, such as physical abuse, is difficult to detect according to some external signs, it is possible to notice changes on the emotional or behavioral level. On a child we will notice that something happens accompanying changes in his behavior, sudden mood swings, reactions of resistance to an adult or going to certain places, other previously absent fears, psychosomatic disorders (stomach aches, headaches, etc.), withdrawal, but possible changes in the difficulty of regulating behavior and emotions (anger, sadness, the presence of undesirable behaviors) – said the child psychologist and continued.

– Interest in sexual activities and actions before developmentally appropriate, sexualized behavior, desire to cover the body with clothing or completely scanty clothing are also some of the signs and with the above changes on the emotional level can be a stimulus to pay attention and need to talk to child. Therefore, the most reliable indicator is a change in the child’s behavior because it indicates that something is happening to the child, ie in his emotional world – she added.

She noted that the consequences of abuse accompany children as they grow up and it is not easy to get rid of it.

– We know that the consequences will not pass just like that in the process of growing up, but children and young people carry them into their adult lives, and without an adequate reaction from families, systems and experts, they will not and cannot disappear spontaneously. Namely, the perpetrators of sexual abuse are not seemingly suspicious people, of suspicious or unusual behavior. On the contrary, they are often individuals very well integrated into their family and social environment – says Ana Raguž.


‘The biggest failure of society and the individual is to blame the victim instead of the perpetrator’

– It is the duty of all of us to report any suspicion that indicates a violation of the rights of the child, and it is the responsibility of all of us to protect them. Children need to get a message from family, society, the system ‘you are not guilty, the perpetrator is guilty’, our reactions have the task of telling victims of sexual abuse that what happened to them is important and serious enough, that the perpetrator will be recognized and punished. A child is a child, it is our task and responsibility, no matter what intense feelings of disgust, horror or personal beliefs provoke us, to protect children and provide them with the necessary support and help. The message of adults as well as society must be clear, the crime is always and exclusively the guilt and responsibility of the perpetrators. With this approach we increase the likelihood that children and young people will trust us and seek the necessary and necessary help and protection. The biggest failure of society and the individual is to blame the victim instead of the perpetrator, and it is completely unforgivable to attribute responsibility to the child and not to the adult – the perpetrator, that is the level of participation in the crime – she concluded. ”


Source: 24 sata: link: https://www.24sata.hr/lifestyle/seksualno-zlostavljanje-djece-u-domu-na-plazi-iza-ekrana-prepoznajte-znakove-na-vrijeme-711532

Disclaimer: This is unofficial translation provided for information purposes. Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center cannot be held legally responsible for any translation inaccuracy. 

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