Sexual abuse…it’s something we dread and hope will never happen to our children.
However, if we follow the current news events, politicians, Hollywood VIPs, even priests, and teachers – people that we think we could trust with our kids – are guilty of being child abuse perpetrators.
As the primary guardians of our children’s welfare, what can we do to protect them from the advances of abusers?
Good News, Bad News
The growing number of reports we see, hear and read every day about sexual assault against kids is very alarming but advocates against child abuse guarantee that in actuality, new sex crimes against children are declining steadily.
“This isn’t a new epidemic. People are just becoming more aware. Many cases are coming out because of this awareness, an improvement to the secrecy and silence in the past,” says one. As a matter of fact, there’s a 65% decline in the reported child abuse cases in the United States.
Alarmingly, though, 90% of child sexual abuse committers are someone the victim knows. From this number, 30% are family members. Only 10% are actually strangers.
What steps can we do, then, to keep our kids as safe as we possibly can?
- Teach them about body awareness at an early age.
Once your child starts learning how to talk, use the correct names for the parts of the body including the genitals as you talk about them to him during bath or diaper changing times. You also have to teach him at an early age that nobody should touch his private parts except his parents, the caregiver or the doctor and that those should be momentary touches. In the case of the doctor, the touching should happen in the presence of a parent or another adult.
Furthermore, it’s best if you don’t force your child to dole out his affections on relatives or other adults close to the family.
“You can certainly suggest it but if your child says no, leave it to that and don’t scold him for being disrespectful. Allowing them to make decisions such as these enforce the concept that their body belongs to them, that they don’t have to force themselves to give their affection as a sense of obligation or to make someone else happy,” says one public health professor.
- Teach them intuition above manners – if they feel uncomfortable, they should run, look for and talk to someone safe.
Because of the manners we ingrain in them, kids feel like they should stay put and keep things to themselves even if they already feel uncomfortable in a situation for fear of being rude.
“Teach them that they don’t have to respond or be polite when they feel like the situation isn’t right at all and they feel uncomfortable. They should just leave and look for a safe adult,” one child doctor states. “One way to practice them saying No and actually reinforce what you’re trying to teach them is through role-playing with you.”
- Let them know that you’ll always have their backs.
Kids might feel scared to report any sexual misconduct done on him especially if he thinks you, his parent, wouldn’t listen or side with him. It’s important that you tell him that if something happens, you’ll always support him no matter what and that he wouldn’t be in trouble.
One of the scare tactics abusers adopt is telling their victims no one will believe them or that if they do report the misdeeds, they’ll lose the special relationship they have with the abuser, especially if he is a relative or a friend.
“It’s important to stress out to your child that you’re going to believe in him and support him no matter what,” says a child psychologist who specializes in dealing with kids who have been through various abuses.
- Lastly, keep a vigilant watch on your child’s behavior.
If you see your child displaying signs of distress or emotions that seem to communicate that something is wrong, talk to them and ask them about it. It could be that he is experiencing something but is just too afraid to say anything about it.
“When your child tells you someone assaulted him, don’t dismiss it as something trivial,” says one pediatrician. “How you act will play a vital factor in his recovery from sexual abuse later on.”
Not one of us wishes for something bad to happen to our own kids. But there’s nothing wrong with being ready.