Responding to children and adolescents who have been sexually abused

WHO publishes new guidelines

Millions of children and adolescents across the globe are subjected to sexual abuse, including sexual assault or rape. A 2011 study estimates that 18% of girls, and 8% of boys worldwide have experienced sexual abuse. This abuse is a major public health problem and a grave violation of human rights. Health care providers have an important role in identifying abuse and providing child or adolescent-centred care to disclosure of abuse.

They also have an important role in connecting survivors to other services that they may need.

About the guidelines

The new WHO Clinical Guidelines for responding to children and adolescents who have been sexually abused are grounded in human rights standards and ethical principles. They recommend that healthcare providers put the best interests of children and adolescents first by assessing and promoting their safety; ensuring confidentiality and privacy; offering choices in provision of care; respecting their autonomy and wishes; and addressing the specific needs of boys and girls with additional vulnerabilities, such as LGBTI adolescents, children and adolescents with disabilities, and those from low socio-economic groups and indigenous populations, and ensuring provision of care to them without discrimination.

Consequences of sexual abuse

Girls and boys who experience abuse often face a number of short and long term negative consequences for their mental, physical, sexual, and reproductive health and well-being. Boys and girls who are sexually abused face higher risks of lifetime diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, externalizing symptoms, sleep disorders, and having thoughts of suicide and self-harm. They are more likely to engage in unsafe-sex, abuse of drugs and misuse of alcohol, placing them at higher risk for STIs and HIV and for other negative health outcomes that last into adulthood. For girls there is also increased risk of pregnancy and gynaecological disorders...read more

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