Tips on how to protect your child from sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse has become the subject of great concern in our society. It violates physical and emotional boundaries. Children who have been abused may see the world as unsafe and unfair in many situations. Parents need to be actively involved in their children’s lives and help them feel more comfortable talking to them if something isn’t right.

Child sexual abuse involves any sexual activity with a minor. This may include penetration of the vagina or anus (by a penis, finger, or any object), oral sex, touching of the breasts or genitals, masturbation, exhibitionism (exposing oneself), voyeurism (spying/watching), exposing a child to or involving a child in pornography, and soliciting a child to engage in sexual activity. When a perpetrator engages with a child this way, they are committing a crime that can have lasting effects on the victim for years.

Child sexual abuse can be categorised into touching and non-touching behaviors

Touching behaviors include:

  • fondling of a child’s genitals, buttocks or breasts;
  • penetration of the child’s mouth, anus, or vagina by the abuser or with an object;
  • coercing a child to fondle him/herself, the abuser, or another child.

Non-touching behaviors include:

  • exposing oneself to a child;
  • viewing and violating the private behaviors of a child or teen (e.g. while undressing, bathing, etc);
  • taking sexually explicit or provocative photographs of a child;
  • showing pornography or sexually suggestive images to a child; or
  • talking in sexually explicit or suggestive ways to children in person or by phone
  • sending sexually explicit or suggestive messages to children by internet or text message.

Tips on how you can protect the children from sexual abuse: 

  • There should be no secrets.Teach your child early and often that there are no secrets between children and their parents.
  • Show interest in their everyday 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 their 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. Don’t allow sleepovers in homes you don’t know well. 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 afterschool 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.
  • 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. Learn more about talking to children about sexual assault.
  • 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?”
  • Be cautious. Be careful about adults who express unusual interest in your child, offer special gifts/toys or special outings or events, or make up excuses to spend time alone with your child.

Reporting suspected child sexual abuse is everyone’s responsibility – whether a mandated reporter or a private citizen. If you suspect a child has been sexually abused contact your local child protective services.

Categories: Parenting

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