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Sexual Abuse

The Myths of Sexual Abuse

Minnesota Sexual Violence Cost $8 Billion
August 14, 2007

More than 61,000 Minnesota residents were sexually assaulted in 2005, costing the state almost $8 billion, or $1, 540 per resident. A new report from the Minnesota Department of Health finds that there were more than 77,000 incidences of sexual assault in 2005, and many victims were assaulted more than once. State officials hope the report will serve as a benchmark against which to measure future progress in reducing this crime, and as a model for other states.

Cost of Sexual Violence in Minnesota finds that the largest cost – 88 percent of the $8 billion – was due to the pain, suffering, and quality of life losses of victims and their families, and related breakdowns in their lives and relationships. Medical care, mental health care, victim work loss, sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancy, suicidal acts, substance abuse and victim services cost $1.3 billion. Criminal justice and perpetrator treatment cost $130.5 million, only two percent of the total.

More than half the costs, approximately $4.1 billion, resulted from sexual assaults against those age 17 and younger. Only six percent involved sexual assault victims over age 45. Sexual assaults against females accounted for 76 percent of the costs.

Authors say the $8 billion estimate is only a fraction of the true costs of sexual violence, because it excludes the costs of crimes committed by people whose experiences of victimization contributed to their criminal behavior, and costs of personal and community protection (alarms and security services), family and relationship problems that arise when someone is victimized or commits sexual violence, and costs to those who are mistakenly suspected of committing these crimes.

“Sexual violence costs 3.3 times as much as alcohol-impaired driving in Minnesota,” the report says, concluding that “policy recommendations aimed at preventing sexual violence before it occurs should be vigorously pursued, adopted and sustained.”

The Minnesota Department of Health and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation prepared the report, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To view it, please visit

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Responding To Child Sexual Abuse

No. 28; Updated July 2004

When a child tells an adult that he or she has been sexually abused, the adult may feel uncomfortable and may not know what to say or do. The following guidelines should be used when responding to children who say they have been sexually abused:

What to Say
If a child even hints in a vague way that sexual abuse has occurred, encourage him or her to talk freely. Don't make judgmental comments.

  • Show that you understand and take seriously what the child is saying. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have found that children who are listened to and understood do much better than those who are not. The response to the disclosure of sexual abuse is critical to the child's ability to resolve and heal the trauma of sexual abuse.
  • Assure the child that they did the right thing in telling. A child who is close to the abuser may feel guilty about revealing the secret. The child may feel frightened if the abuser has threatened to harm the child or other family members as punishment for telling the secret.
  • Tell the child that he or she is not to blame for the sexual abuse. Most children in attempting to make sense out of the abuse will believe that somehow they caused it or may even view it as a form of punishment for imagined or real wrongdoings.
  • Finally, offer the child protection, and promise that you will promptly take steps to see that the abuse stops.

What to Do
Report any suspicion of child abuse. If the abuse is within the family, report it to the local Child Protection Agency. If the abuse is outside of the family, report it to the police or district attorney's office. Individuals reporting in good faith are immune from prosecution. The agency receiving the report will conduct an evaluation and will take action to protect the child.

Parents should consult with their pediatrician or family physician, who may refer them to a physician who specializes in evaluating and treating sexual abuse. The examining doctor will evaluate the child's condition and treat any physical problem related to the abuse, gather evidence to help protect the child, and reassure the child that he or she is all right.

Children who have been sexually abused should have an evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional to find out how the sexual abuse has affected them, and to determine whether ongoing professional help is necessary for the child to deal with the trauma of the abuse. The child and adolescent psychiatrist can also provide support to other family members who may be upset by the abuse.

While most allegations of sexual abuse made by children are true, some false accusations may arise in custody disputes and in other situations. Occasionally, the court will ask a child and adolescent psychiatrist to help determine whether the child is telling the truth, or whether it will hurt the child to speak in court about the abuse.

When a child is asked as to testify, special considerations--such as videotaping, frequent breaks, exclusion of spectators, and the option not to look at the accused--make the experience much less stressful.

Adults, because of their maturity and knowledge, are always the ones to blame when they abuse children. The abused children should never be blamed.

When a child tells someone about sexual abuse, a supportive, caring response is the first step in getting help for the child and reestablishing their trust in adults.

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