Let’s Talk About Sexual Abuse . . .

If you’ve followed the news over the past few months, like me you’ve seen cases of child sexual abuse being reported at an alarming rate.

Studies have shown that approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by the time they are eighteen.  And sadly, the abuser is known and trusted by the child and their family in 90% of the cases.

While these statistics are sobering, as a parent you can use these facts to help protect your child from being a victim of sexual abuse.  Here’s how:

1.  From a young age, teach your children about the parts of their body that are “private.”  Use language that is appropriate for their developmental level, but try to get the message across that no one should touch them in their private parts.  Children should also be taught early that they should not show their private parts to others or touch anyone else’s private parts.

2.  Help your children understand the difference between good secrets and bad secrets.  Good secrets are usually short-term and fun.  For example, not telling someone about the present you bought them is a good secret.  It’s happy and exciting, but it’s not a secret that has to be kept forever.  Bad secrets can make you feel upset, scared, or confused.  They may be never ending, like “you can never tell.”  Unlike good secrets, bad secrets shouldn’t be kept by children.

3.  The theory that there is safety in numbers is especially true in the prevention of child sexual abuse.  Try to reduce situations when a child is one-on-one with another adult.  Encourage instead group activities or situations where there will be more than one adult or child present.   When one-on-one situations do occur, schedule outings that are in public or drop in unexpectedly.  Since 80% of child sexual abuse occurs in one-on-one situations, reducing those opportunities will greatly reduce a child’s risk of being victimized.

4.  Although it can feel like an uncomfortable topic, start talking to your children at an early age about sexual abuse.  Let them know that it is important for them to tell you or another trusted adult if someone ever touches them inappropriately or behaves in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.  Encourage your kids that if something feels wrong that it’s always okay for them to say no and tell their parents, even if the person making them uncomfortable is someone they know.  Don’t forget to assure them that they will not get in trouble for telling no matter what.  This is a tough one for kids, since we usually teach them just the opposite – not to be a tattle tale!

5.  And last but not least, if your child comes to you and tells you that they have been abused, then you need to tell them that you believe them, praise them for having the courage to tell you about it, and provide them your unconditional love and support.  Immediately make sure that your child is not in danger and has no further contact with the alleged abuser.  Then contact the police and/or the Department of Human Resources to file a report and begin an investigation.

If you suspect abuse or have questions, call the National Child Abuse Hotline, ChildHelp, at 1-800-4-A-CHILD for guidance 24 hours a day.  Child psychologists and child advocacy centers in your area can also provide needed assistance and therapy services.  Together we can work to protect our children from child sexual abuse, when the issue is in the headlines and especially when it’s not.

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About Dr. Polly Dunn

Child clinical psychologist, wife, and mom of four blogging about her 'Perfectly Imperfect' parenting solutions.

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  1. [...] the statistics say otherwise.  That’s why it’s just as important to teach our kids how to stay safe in general, from both strangers and people that they [...]

  2. [...] issue.  Talk to your children, uncomfortable as that might be (For tips on this check out my post Let’s Talk About Sexual Abuse).  By talking about it openly, we can shift the inaccurate perception that child sexual abuse is [...]

  3. [...] this year I wrote a post about how to talk to your kids about sexual abuse, and I forgot to include one very helpful conversation starter.  Books!  As a child psychologist [...]

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