Written by: Rebekkah Witten, LCSW, TF-CBT Certified
So what can you do to prevent child sexual abuse from happening? One of the most effective tools you have to protect your family from child sexual abuse is your willingness to talk about it!
- Teach children that no one should EVER ask them to keep “secrets” from their parents – if they do, tell your parent right away!
Predators rely on “secrets” to commit this crime, so the more freely you can talk to your kids, the less likely a predator will be able to target your child. If someone is asking your child to keep a “secret” from you, it is a red flag that you should know what is going on.
- Teach children the real names for their body parts.
Sometimes it feels a little weird for parents to teach small children words like “penis” or “vagina,” but these are simply names for body parts just like your knee, elbow or belly button. By teaching kids the real names for these parts of our bodies, we take away the power of secrecy and shame that sometimes gets associated with these body parts, which allows kids to report inappropriate touching much more easily. (And, sadly, it is a lot easier to prosecute these crimes if a child reports sexual abuse using correct anatomical names.)
- Teach children body autonomy.
“Body autonomy” means YOUR BODY BELONGS TO YOU. It means teaching children which parts of their bodies are “private” and which parts are ok for others to touch. It means teaching children that they have the right to say NO or DON’T TOUCH ME, even to adults. It means showing your kids that even grown-ups need to respect kids’ bodies!
You can do this by asking for hugs or kisses and waiting for your child’s consent (or respecting it when the answer is “no”!). You can support your child’s body autonomy by sticking up for them if other adults try to insist that a child “has” to give hugs or kisses. You might help your child find an alternative greeting (such as a high five or fist bump) if they don’t want to give hugs or kisses. It might hurt Great-Aunt Franny’s feelings if a child doesn’t want to give her a hug, but it is far more harmful to a child to be forced into giving hugs because that’s when they learn that adults are “allowed” to do things to their body even without the child’s consent.
- Know who your kids spend their time with.
Obviously, you know who is with your child. But since we know 90% of children know their abusers, unfortunately we can’t just assume “Oh I know that person, they would never do anything like that.” Instead, watch for warning signs that this is not a safe adult / older child, such as:
- Refusing to allow a child appropriate privacy (such as walking in while the child is going to the bathroom or changing clothes)
- Insisting on physical affection, such as hugging or kissing even when the child does not want it
- Insisting on touching games (such as tickling or wrestling) even when the child does not want it
- Asks about or makes comments about the sexual development of a child/teenager
- Insists on spending time alone with a child without interruptions
- Offers to babysit or keep kids overnight for free
- Spends the majority of their time with children (or younger children, if an older teen); does not spend much time with people their own age
- Buy expensive gifts or gives them money for no reason
- Playing “favorites” with a particular child or picking on a particular child
Unfortunately, there is no way to ensure your family members are safe at all times. But by teaching children about their bodies, modeling and enforcing respect for children’s bodies, and creating an environment in which a child can talk you about anything, you will be giving your child the tools they need to set limits and ask for help when it’s needed.