A child's safety is an adult's job. Children are often taught in schools on how to keep themselves safe from sexual abuse and that's important for them to learn. However, that's no substitute for adult responsibility. We make sure our children wear seat belts. We walk them across busy streets. We store toxic household cleaners out of reach. Why, then, would we leave the job of preventing child sexual abuse solely to children and, "the system"?
Click to the next slide to learn what you can do...
Talk About It
Learn some simple steps that you, as an adult, can do to protect children:
Learn the Facts:
People who abuse children look and act just like everyone else. In fact, they often go out of their way to appear trustworthy to gain access to children. Perpetrators gain trust in the child and the child's parents. This process, called grooming, can sometimes last for years. Physical contact with the child often begins with "out-in-the-open" touches that appear appropriate and normal--a pat on the shoulder, an occasional hug, a tickle on the back of the neck... As the child becomes accustomed to these touches, the perpetrator moves towards inappropriate touching.
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to absolutely guarantee that your child will not be abused. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the chances of abuse occurring. There are also steps you can take to increase the likelihood that your child tells right away when inappropriate touching occurs. Understand that abusers often become friendly with potential victims and their families, enjoying family activities and earning family trust.
Understand why children won't tell...
-Children are afraid of disappointing their parents. They're also afraid of disrupting the family.
-The abuser sometimes threatens the child or a family member.
-The abuser shames the child, points out that she let it happen, or tells her that her parents will be angry.
-Some children who did not initially disclose abuse are afraid or ashamed to tell when it happens again.
-Some children are too young to understand. Many abusers tell children the abuse is 'okay' or a 'game.'
Know how children communicate:
-Children who do disclose sexual abuse often tell a trusted adult other than a parent. Training for people who work with children is especially important.
-Children may tell 'parts' of what happened or pretend it happened to someone else to gauge adult reaction.
-Children will often 'shut down' and refuse to tell more if you respond emotionally or negatively.
-If your child does not talk to you, don't think it's a sign of poor parenting.
Talk openly with your child:
-Good communication may decrease your child's vulnerability and increase the likelihood that he will tell you if he is sexually abused.
-Teach your child that it is your job to protect him.
-Teach your child that it is not his/her responsibility to protect others.
-Demonstrate daily that you will not be angry, no matter what your child tells you about any aspect of his life.
-Listen quietly. Children have a hard time telling parents about troubling events.
-Teach your child about her body, about what abuse is. Teach him/her words that help her discuss parts of the body comfortably with you.
-Tell the child the NOBODY should touch his/her private parts unless it's to help keep him/her clean or healthy.
-Start early and talk often. Use everyday opportunities to talk about sexual abuse.
Contrary to popular belief, there probably will not be any signs of sexual abuse if a child is molested. Physical findings are not common. However, redness, rashes or swelling in the genital area, urinary tract infections or other such symptoms should not go ignored. Also, physical problems associated with anxiety, such as chronic stomach pain or headaches, may occur.
Emotional or behavioral signals are more common. However, some children do not show any obvious emotional distress. Some children can be abused and maintain "honor roll" status. If there are emotional changes, these changes can run from 'too perfect' behavior, to withdrawal and depression, to unexplained anger and rebellion.
Make A Plan
If your child breaks an arm or runs a high fever, you know to stay calm and where to seek help because you've mentally prepared yourself. Reacting to child sexual abuse is the same. Your reactions have a powerful influence on your child(ren). Stay calm (or at least fake it in front of your child). Reassure your child that you're proud of them for telling. Don't show anger. Ask the child, "Is there anything else you want to tell me about that right now?" Don't question the child for specific details (who, where, when, how many, why?). Don't promise it will never happen again--that's a promise you can't guarantee. Instead, promise you will do everything you can to help him/her--and follow through with that promise! Believe your child. Contact authorities to seek help for your child and your family.
Paulding CAC provides prevention training programs that educate adults to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child abuse, and motivates them to take action when abuse is suspected. The program is designed for organizations serving children and youth. Contact us for more information or to schedule a training.
The curriculum can be used by individuals or organizations who are:
The program includes:
Paulding Child Advocacy Center · PO Box 703 · Dallas, GA 30132 · (678) 363-7234