As parents we make choices every day to keep our children safe. The intention of keeping our children healthy and well, both emotionally and physically, is an overriding motivator in almost everything that we do. While some wellness issues are frequently discussed and subject to widespread educational efforts, many parents unintentionally miss opportunities to discuss sexual abuse with their children. But we know that loving, open communication between parents and children is a significant factor in reducing the risk of child sexual abuse.
A big welcome and thank you to our guest blogger, Rachel Thielmann. Rachel is the Prevention Education Specialist for Foothills Child Advocacy Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, a non-profit, accredited agency designed to provide a coordinated system of effective response and intervention to children who have been victimized. Foothills Child Advocacy Center believes that all children are entitled to be safe,healthy, nurtured, and valued.
Child sexual abuse is:
- Any sexual contact between and adult and a minor or sexual contact between two minors when one exerts power over the other.
- Forcing, coercing or persuading a child to engage in a sexual act. It also includes non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, exposing a child to pornography.
- Communicating in a sexual manner with a child via phone or internet.
While it is difficult to pinpoint exact statistics on child sexual abuse, experts estimate that 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday (some studies indicate prevalence as high as 1 in 4 children experiencing abuse). Ninety percent of children that are sexually abused know their abuser. children that experience sexual abuse are at significantly higher risk of long term mental and physical health problems, dropping out of school, becoming teenage parents, substance abuse, incarceration and numerous other negative consequences.
- Teach children the correct names for body parts. This empowers children to say no to unwanted touch and reduces shame about their bodies.
- Teach children about their bodies and about sex in an age appropriate manner.
- Remember that the greatest risk to our children is not abuse by strangers but by people we know. If a situation or individual makes you or your child uncomfortable, take precautions.
- Let your child know that it is okay to say no to adults and to friends, even adults that they know. Regardless of the relationship, there are certain things that are never acceptable. Use clear and specific examples of actions and behaviors that would not be okay (‘if Mr. So-and-so, your teacher that you like very much, wanted to show you a picture of someone without any clothes on, that wouldn’t be okay’).
- Let children know that you will believe and support them if they say no to unwanted touch. This means allowing children to give and receive affection freely. Sometimes this means helping a child politely decline unwanted affection from friends and relatives. While parents sometimes find this embarrassing (‘your uncle really wants a hug! Be a nice girl/boy and hug him!’), it is a wonderful opportunity to let children know that their bodies and their affection are their own. Rather than try to coerce the child, parents can let the child and others know that this is okay.
- If a child discloses abuse or your suspect abuse, listen calmly. Let the child know that you are glad s/he told you. Try not to ask leading questions about the abuse. Report suspected abuse to Child Protective Services/Department of Social Services.
Child sexual abuse is a traumatic experience for children and their family members and poses a significant health risk to our kids. Additionally, the spillover from children being abused impacts all of us. But parents can empower themselves and their children to dramatically reduce the risk of abuse. Foothills Child Advocacy Center (www.foothillscac.org) provides free training for parents and concerned adults that want to learn how we can better protect our children. To learn more, visit www.beaheroforkids.org!
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