If you’ve followed along on the blog these past two days you know how vital it is to educate yourself and your children about the issues involving sexual abuse and ways to protect your kids.
What you should Know:
- Surveys show that less than 30% of parents have talked in-depth with their children about sexual abuse and of that percentage even fewer mentioned that the abuser could be a family member, female, family friend, or another child.
- The smaller the circle you create of trusted figures, the less chance you have of your child submitting to the will of a predator. The fact is that in more than 90% of child sexual abuse cases, the family knows and trusts the abuser.
- When kids have an image of someone forcefully pushing them into a dark room and touching them, they may not be able to understand how lines have been crossed or if they should tell you when a family friend sits them on their lap with you in the next room and happens to touch them inappropriately, whispering it’s just a special game they play.
- The situation can become even more complicated when other children are involved because the idea of tattle tailing and getting in trouble may be a hindrance to confessing what happened especially if they’ve waited to tell.
What about situations where it’s ok to be touched or looked at?
- When boundaries are broken don’t just assume your kids will understand the difference. As adults we can tell the difference easily between non sexual touch and inappropriate touching but a predator will be much more difficult for a child to distinguish.
- When kids see someone in authority, like a doctor, touching them in the presence of a parent and are told to obey, especially when he’s squirming and doesn’t want to open his mouth or hold still and is scolded, you are enforcing that to be a good child you will do what the adult or authority says. You then reward them for good behavior with a sticker on the way out.
- Predators often groom their targets by building camaraderie, trust, and authority. They reward them for ‘good’ behavior in much the same way with gifts, affection, or affirmation.
Be specific and dialogue about situations where boundaries would look different from normal.
- When you go to the doctor, explain what will happen during an examination. Be there with them. Explain that while you are there, you are watching over them but if you’re not there, they have the right to say no to being touched or looked at by another person. Be specific about when and where this would be ok such as if they were in the emergency room and a doctor or nurse had to remove their clothing or examine them.
Teach them to establish personal boundaries regarding touch.
- Let your kids establish their own physical boundaries in your presence. Don’t tell your daughter that she has to kiss her grandpa or she’s being rude.
- Don’t pressure your child into physical contact they don’t offer themselves.
- It may be innocent, after all who wants to hurt grandpa’s feelings when you know he’s not a threat, but she doesn’t yet, and that’s what is important.
- She needs to get comfortable saying no until she’s learns to have good instincts.
- If you override her ability to say no and set boundaries, she won’t necessarily be prepared to own her autonomy when needed.
Be a safe place.
- Explain that inappropriate touching is something they should never feel ashamed to tell you.
- No matter what the circumstances, they will not get in trouble.
- Teach them you are a safe place and you will always listen to them, love them, and do your very best to protect them.
Teach them boundaries and privacy without shaming them.
- This is a touchy subject but kids often realize at a young age that manipulating their genitals brings pleasure. I’ve seen toddlers happily fondling themselves before horrified parents in a roomful of people. And of course, their parents teach them about privacy in a hurry. And maybe they get in trouble or feel ashamed that something they didn’t know was wrong, suddenly is not okay and even embarrassing.
- Teach your child to respect their body and talk openly about body parts and their functions. You don’t have to be graphic with young children but they should have a firm understanding that those parts are private.
- Teach your child that sexual abuse can be emotional as well as, or independently of touch. Exposure to pornography, sexually explicit talk, or exposure to nudity/sex acts can be just as traumatic and confusing for a child. Teach them they should tell you about anything they come across or are exposed to that is mature in nature. Sometimes abusers will gauge the reaction of a child by exposing them to an initial sexual situation such as showing a child a pornographic image.
Get to know your child.
- If they don’t want to go to school anymore, it could be that they aren’t getting along with another kid, or that they are just tired, or that they’re struggling in math. But it can also be a sign of something more.
- Get to know the rhythms in your child’s life. When something is off, don’t just assume it’s a stage or nothing.
- You are your child’s advocate and you know them best. If they are pulling back, withdrawing, abnormally moody, or irritated, it may be a missed nap, or hormones, or nothing. But you won’t know unless you are involved.
Be aware of signs but don’t depend on them.
- Be aware of some of the signs. This can be tricky because there can be no signs. There may be some that turn out to be nothing.
- Physical signs can include rashes, bruising, or swelling in the genital area or anus, urinary tract infections and signs of anxiety like persistent stomach and head aches. However, these can all be attributed to other things as well so the other steps of prevention are essential.
- Overtly sexual behavior, striving for perfection, rebellion and anger, depression, disordered eating and loss of interest in things around them could indicate they’ve been abused.
Be prepared to talk.
- It’s not a conversation a parent ever wants to have but being prepared and knowing how to handle it if your child discloses abuse can be the difference between them opening up or shutting down.
- So, if you do find yourself having this conversation someday, don’t panic.
- Don’t become over emotional or angry. The child might believe it is directed at them and recant.
- Let your child know you believe them and that you love them and are proud of their courage for coming and telling you.
- Do not ask a child why they didn’t tell you sooner.
- Don’t bring up the other prevention methods you’ve discussed or ask how something happened.
- Encourage your child to talk but don’t ask about specific details or leading questions like, “did they touch you there or do that?” This can damage a testimony or be seen as leading when prosecuting an offender.
- Use questions that are open-ended like, “and then what happened?”
Trust your gut and don’t worry if people think you’re overprotective.
- Don’t be afraid to trust your instincts and even be unpopular or uncool. I don’t let my children play in people’s houses that I don’t know very well. My two youngest don’t play in anyone’s house without me present unless they’re relatives or very close friends. Part of this is because of their ages and part of this is because of their personalities. My little girl is a sweetheart, a peacemaker and a people pleaser. She wants to be liked and that scares me in the worst of ways. While she is a joy to have around, I know she struggles with peer pressure even among her little friends.
- If the neighbor kids want to play they can be out front where I can see them. It’s not because I think their parents are a threat or because I am paranoid or suspicious of everyone. It’s simply that I’m not willing to take that chance. Even if it is miniscule, and by the national statistics it’s not.
What about clubs, church, and activities?
- Don’t allow for one adult/one child time and be suspect of any organization that allows this. Upwards of 80% of sexual abuse cases happen when an adult becomes trusted and then has the opportunity to be alone with your child. Advocate for a child sexual abuse policy in place and safe practices to be in use at all the places your child attends. This includes background checks, references, and accountability with no alone time either with adults or older kids.
How can we break the cycle?
- Teach your kids about respecting and loving one another. The only way this cycle of abuse will ever end is if little boys and girls grow up to know that this kind of behavior is never okay. Teach boys to love and respect the women and girls in their lives. Teach girls to value themselves and their bodies. Teach them that God made them beautiful and pure and right and nothing can take that away.
- Get on your knees. When it’s all said and done, there are no guarantees that any of us will escape this world without being thrashed by the evil of this age.
- As parents we must have faith in a God who protects our babies, no matter the circumstances.
- We must pray for them, and do our very best to guide and nurture them, but in the end every second of parenting is a leap of faith. A laying down of our control and embracing the God who loves our babies more than we ever could.