Sexual abuse can happen to any child regardless of their race, socioeconomic group, religion, or culture. The world is a dangerous place, so it’s important that we recognize this ongoing crisis and try to prevent it as much as we possibly can.
We can’t afford to lose hope in our efforts to protect every child from such abuse and neglect, as they’re our future. Today the Children’s Advocacy Center of Hidalgo and Starr Counties are here to provide steps you can take as a parent or adult to minimize this risk.
If something happens to your child, remember not to blame them or yourself, and if your child is in danger, call 911. If you aren’t sure about the situation but you suspect the child is being harmed, you can take steps to determine the situation and stop the abuse before it takes place.
Engage in the Child’s Life
Being actively involved in a child’s life can make warning signs of child sexual abuse more apparent. The child may feel more comfortable coming to you if something is off, so if you witness something that’s a cause for concern, you can take action to protect them.
Here are some ways you can engage them in their life:
- Show interest in their daily lives. Ask them in full detail about their daily activities and who was a part of it. Who did they sit with at lunchtime? What games did they play after school? Did they enjoy themselves?
- Familiarize yourself with the people in your child’s life. Get to know who your child is spending time with, including other children and adults. Ask them about what children they go to school with are like, the parents of their friends, and other people they may run into like teammates or coaches. Talk about these people openly with your child and ask questions so that they can feel comfortable doing the same.
- Choose caregivers wisely. Whether it’s a babysitter, a new school, or an after school activity, take your time when evaluating caregivers for your child.
- Talk about the media. Reports of sexual violence are constantly covered by the news and portrayed in television shows. Ask your child questions about this to initiate a conversation. You can ask questions like, “Have you ever heard of this happening before?” or “What would you do if you were in this situation?” to try and signal your child that these are crucial problems that they can discuss with you.
- Know the warning signs. Learn about the warning signs of child sexual abuse, and notice any changes with your child, no matter how small. Whether it’s happening to your child or a child you know, you have the potential to make a big difference in their life by stepping in.
Encourage Them to Use Their Voice
When someone knows that their voice will be heard and taken seriously, it gives them the courage to speak up when something is wrong. You can begin having these talks with your children as soon as they start expressing their feelings or emotions. Don’t worry if you haven’t started discussions around these subjects with your child—it’s never too late.
- Teach your child about boundaries. Let your little one know that no one has the right to touch them or make them feel uncomfortable. This includes receiving hugs from grandparents or tickle fights from mom or dad. It is vital to let them be aware that their body is their own. Remind them that they also don’t have the right to touch someone else if that person does not wish to be touched.
- Teach your child how to talk about their bodies. From an early age, teach your child the names of their body parts. Teaching a child these words helps them learn to be able to go to you when something isn’t right.
- Always make time for them. Devote time to spend with your child where they have your unwavered attention. Let them know that they can come to you if they have questions or if someone is talking to them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. If they do approach you with questions or concerns, stick to your word and set that time to talk.
- Let them know they won’t get reprimanded. Many perpetrators may use “secrets” about your child or other types of threats to keep children quiet about abuse. Remind your child at all times that they won’t get in trouble for talking to you, no matter what they have to say. When they do come to you, follow through on this promise and don’t punish them for speaking up.
- Give them the opportunity to bring up new topics. Sometimes asking simple questions like, “Did you have fun?” and “Was it a good time?” won’t tell you enough of what you need. Give your child the chance to raise their own concerns or ideas by asking open-ended questions such as “Is there anything else you wanted to talk about?”
Prevention Matters: The Children’s Advocacy Center of Hidalgo and Starr Counties Works to Protect Children
Use this opportunity to remind your circle of loved ones that children abuse is often left unheard, and that now–more than ever–is an important time to have these kinds of conversations with children, especially those who are at high risk.
We need our communities to know that our organization is still here, still working to protect children, and still needs your help to continue to do so. Let’s engage our communities to be aware and on the lookout for warning signs of child abuse.