Unfortunately, ANY child is at risk of sexual abuse. Hoping… denying… pretending… that this can’t happen to your child will not lower your child’s risk of being sexually abused and it does not prepare them to get help quickly and effectively if the worst does happen. The reality of Child Sexual Abuse is a terrifying one – but its something that every parent needs to face because knowledge is power.
Some of the important information that children need to learn and understand are:
- Body awareness. Children need to know about their bodies, their private parts and how their bodies function.
- Communication. Children need to know how to express their emotions and how to set boundaries.
- Sex education. Children need accurate age-appropriate information about sexual development, sexual behaviors, consent and reproduction.
- Touching. Children need information about good and bad touching and about privacy.
- Secrets. Children need to understand what secrets are and how to tell a secret when they feel unsafe.
- Encouragement to tell and not hold secrets. Children need to know that parents want them to tell secrets and understand why telling secrets helps.
- Healthy relationships. Children need to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. They need to learn how to judge people and situations in relationships as safe or not safe.
- Assertiveness training. Children need to learn how to say “no” and how to be heard.
- Self-defense. Children can be taught how to fight back when it is safe to do so.
- Safety. Children need information about sexual abuse, recognition of unsafe people, recognition of feelings, and instruction regarding maintaining safety with strangers, community members, and family.
Be involved in the child’s life.
Being actively involved in a child’s life can make the warning signs of child sexual abuse more obvious and help the child feel more comfortable coming to you if something isn’t right. If you see or hear something that causes concern, you can take action to protect your child.
- Show interest in their day-to-day lives. Ask them what they did during the day and who they did it with. Who did they sit with at lunchtime? What games did they play after school? Did they enjoy themselves?
- Get to know the people in your child’s life. Know who your child is spending time with, including other children and adults. Ask your child about the kids they go to school with, the parents of their friends, and other people they may encounter, such as teammates or coaches. Talk about these people openly and ask questions so that your child can feel comfortable doing the same.
- Choose caregivers carefully. Whether it’s a babysitter, a new school, or an after-school activity, be diligent about screening caregivers for your child.
- Talk about the media. Incidents of sexual violence are frequently covered by the news and portrayed in television shows. Ask your child questions about this coverage to start a conversation. Questions like, “Have you ever heard of this happening before?” or “What would you do if you were in this situation?” can signal to your child that these are important issues that they can talk about with you.
- Know the warning signs. Become familiar with the warning signs of child sexual abuse, and notice any changes with your child, no matter how small. Whether it’s happening to your child or a child you know, you have the potential to make a big difference in that person’s life by stepping in.
Encourage children to speak up.
When someone knows that their voice will be heard and taken seriously, it gives them the courage to speak up when something isn’t right. You can start having these conversations with your children as soon as they begin using words to talk about feelings or emotions. Don’t worry if you haven’t started conversations around these topics with your child—it is never too late.
- Teach your child about boundaries. Let your child know that no one has the right to touch them or make them feel uncomfortable — this includes hugs from grandparents or even tickling from mom or dad. It is important to let your child know that their body is their own. Just as importantly, remind your child that they do not have the right to touch someone else if that person does not want to be touched.
- Teach your child how to talk about their bodies. From an early age, teach your child the names of their body parts. Teaching a child these words gives them the ability to come to you when something is wrong.
- Be available. Set time aside to spend with your child where they have your undivided attention. Let your child know that they can come to you if they have questions or if someone is talking to them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. If they do come to you with questions or concerns, follow through on your word and make the time to talk.
- Let them know they won’t get in trouble. Many perpetrators use secret-keeping or threats as a way of keeping children quiet about abuse. Remind your child frequently that they will not get in trouble for talking to you, no matter what they need to say. When they do come to you, follow through on this promise and avoid punishing them for speaking up.
- Give them the chance to raise new topics. Sometimes asking direct questions like, “Did you have fun?” and “Was it a good time?” won’t give you the answers you need. Give your child a chance to bring up their own concerns or ideas by asking open-ended questions like “Is there anything else you wanted to talk about?”
- Use your own experience to tell a safety story. Sharing your own experiences can make these conversations relevant and feel more real to teens. If you don’t have an experience you feel comfortable sharing, you can tell a story about someone you know.
- Talk about caring for their friends. Not just about their own behavior. Talking about how to be a good friend can be a powerful way of expressing to your teen that you trust them to do the right thing without sounding like you’re targeting their personal behavior. It also gives you the chance to communicate safety practices they may not otherwise be receptive to.
- Talk about sexual assault directly. For some teens, safety issues like sexual assault aren’t on the radar. On the other hand, they may have misconceptions about sexual assault they’ve picked up from peers or the media. Bring up statistics that relate to them, such as the fact that 93 percent of victims who are minors know the perpetrator. Explain that no one “looks like a rapist,” and that seven out of 10 instances of sexual assault are committed by someone known to the victim.