We all know how to talk with our children about stranger danger, but child abuse, especially sexual abuse, is a difficult topic to discuss for most adults. It's uncomfortable to think about your child or a child you care for being harmed or mistreated in any way. But, when it comes to our kids, we have to step up to the plate, be aware of the signs and act responsibly. The fact of the matter is, sexual abuse is a reality and it happens every day. It's likely you know a child who has been or is being abused. Do you know what to do about it? As a parent, here's what you need to know about sexual abuse:
Step 1: Learn the facts
- 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by the time they are 18.
- 90% of them know and trust their abuser - it's not a stranger hiding in the bushes.
- 40% of abusers are older or larger than children
- Over 6,000 Oklahoma children were sexually abused in 2014
Step 2: Minimize Opportunity
Eliminate or reduce one adult to one child situations where your child is alone with another adult. You have the power and the right to protect your child.
- Choose group situations carefully.
- Make sure interactions can be observed and interrupted.
- Demand best practices in schools and organizations that serve your children: background checks, in person interviews, reference checks, code of conduct, policies in place, prevention training for staff.
Step 3: Talk about it
One of the best protections against abuse is our relationship with our children. Encourage open conversations with your children regularly. Only 29% of parents talk with their children about personal safety. Ask your child to unplug from their computer or phone for a few minutes and talk about the tough issues.
- Understand why children are afraid to tell.
- Know how children communicate
- Talk openly. If an incident does arise, you don't want any confusion about what happened when your child tells his or her story to the police.
- Talk often. Have regular dialogue with your kids about lots of different topics so you're both comfortable talking when the subject of abuse is brought up.
- Have touching rules. Your family has rules about not getting in a car with strangers or crossing the street safely. Include rules about right touch and wrong touch in your family rules. Explain to your child that private body parts (or bathing suit areas) are their own parts and no one is supposed to touch them there.
- Make sure children know that it's OK to tell if someone touches them inappropriately.
Step 4: Recognize the signs
Physical signs of abuse are not as common as emotional and behavioral signs. Look for:
- Anger, rebellion, defiance
- Fear of situations or people
- Sexual behavior or language
- Failing grades or rising grades
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- A change in behavior
Step 5: React Responsibly
If your child tells you someone has touched them inappropriately,
- Be calm.
- Listen carefully.
- Don't rush.
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Believe the child.
- Tell them he/she has done nothing wrong.
- Affirm the child's courage/
- Seek professional help.
Commit to having open and honest dialogue with your children. Get out of your comfort zone and talk to them about personal safety. Your relationship will grow as a result and your children will be safer.
For information on how to talk with your children or to schedule our More than Stranger Danger workshop for your group, contact Family builders at 405.232.8226 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.