Sexual abuse can have detrimental effects on children, cognitive, emotional and social development. It is known that most of the perpetrators for sexual abuse and close family and friends who are the people who are trusted the most and spend most time with children. As I speak to parents of children who have been sexually abused I often get asked: what could I have done differently? How could I have prevented this from happening? Sexual abuse can happen anywhere from schools, sports, extracurricular activities, sleepovers, play dates.
According to the US Department of Justice (nsopw.org) only 10 percent of perpetrators were strangers to the child and 23 percent of the perpetrators were children themselves. These statistics are extremely scary and if it were up to many of us we would want to keep our children in a bubble away from everyone and everything. Since children do go out into the world and interact with others we can help them by taking precautions ourselves and teaching how to protect themselves from an early age.
Some of the steps to follow in order to prevent sexual abuse are:
Teach Your Child the Names of Body Parts and Which are Private
Teach your child the correct terms for each body part and refrain from calling it by other names such as “bottom, wee wee”. Using the correct terminology can assist in getting comfortable using the right wording and for children to talk more openly in case something happens. Let them know which parts of the body are private “and not for everyone to see”. You can let them know that only mommy and daddy will see them naked and at which times (bath time, diaper change, change of underwear).
Teach Your Child That Secrets are Not Allowed
Let your child know that secrets are not allowed and that no one should ask them to keep a secret. Perpetrators might use different tactics to manipulate the child into not saying anything including telling them that it is their little secret or threatening to hurt them or someone they love. Tell your child that no matter what anyone says it is never okay to keep a secret and should always tell their caretaker. Let them know that they will never be in trouble for saying something.
Teach Your Child Boundaries About Their Body
Tell your child that no one should touch their private parts and that no one should ask them to touch somebody else’s private parts. The second part of that sentence is very important as perpetrators will usually start with having the child touch them or someone else.
Let Them Know t is Okay to Leave and Teach Them Ways to Do So
Let your child know that if someone asks to touch them or have them touch someone it is okay to say no. Since saying the words might be difficult for some children, especially if the perpetrator might be a peer or older child, teach them ways to leave. Teach your child that they can always say they need to go potty to leave the situation and reach out to an adult as soon as possible. If they are not home, teach them a code word they can use when communicating with you so that they feel comfortable talking.
Tell Your Child That These Rules Apply Even with People They Know and with Other Children
This point is very important as we now know that most perpetrators are close family and friends, When telling your child that no one can touch them or ask to touch them or someone else let them know that it includes friends, aunts or uncles, teachers or coaches. Tell them that even if they really like them or think they are in charge, they should still not touch your private parts.
Even though we can not avoid the risk of sexual abuse completely, having these discussions can certainly raise awareness and prevent potential cases. Continue to have these conversations with your child throughout their childhood as a way to remind them, reinforce the points, and provide them with assertiveness skills and boundary setting that can be helpful throughout their life.