Preventing child sexual abuse begins with adults taking responsibility for protecting children. Know what to communicate to your child, behaviors to look out for, and steps to take to keep them safe.
Body Parts & How Things Work
Children with knowledge about healthy sexual development are better protected from sexual abuse.
It’s common for parents to have questions regarding what healthy sexual development is at different stages of a child’s life. How comfortable you are talking about this subject with your children will depend on your own upbringing, how your parents may or may not have explained sexuality to you as a kid, or even your own history.
Keep these things in mind when speaking with your child:
- Understand age-appropriate behaviors and communicate them to your children during their childhood. Ensure your children know they can come to you to answer questions about sex rather than someone else who may be misinformed, manipulative, or even abusive.
- Keep conversations truthful, respectful, and developmentally-appropriate. This helps lay the foundation for open communication between you and your children about all sorts of subjects.
- Use the proper terms for all body parts, including genitals. Giving children the right language empowers them to comprehend their bodies, ask questions, and inform you about any behavior that could result in sexual abuse. It also sends the message that their bodies are special and their own, and nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.
- Practice difficult conversations before having them. Seek windows of opportunity and “teachable moments,” and don’t send the message that these topics are off-limits or restricted to a one-time discussion.
Boundaries, Privacy, and Consent
When everyone is aware of rules and expectations, everyone is safer.
Teach your children about boundaries, privacy, and consent, and let everyone who cares for your child know and agree to abide by your family rules.
- Teach children that they have the right to say “no” when it comes to their bodies. Some perceive “no” from a child in regards to physical contact as being disrespectful and disobedient, but this is a critical way to teach and respect consent when it comes to their own body. Reinforce this boundary in everyday interactions including wrestling with siblings, hugging or tickling, so when your kid says “stop” or “no,” ensure that the behavior stops.
- Be concise with adults and children about the difference between OK touch and inappropriate touch. Talk to your child about “personal safety zones,” and help them pay attention to their own feelings of uneasiness when someone makes them feel uncomfortable in their personal space. For younger children, teach more concrete rules like, “Talk with me if anyone – family, friend, or anybody else – touches your private parts.” Also, teach kids that they’re also NOT allowed to touch anyone else’s body without consent.
- Explain the difference between a secret and a surprise, and that no adult should ever ask a child to keep a secret. Abusers use secrecy to gain and keep access to their victims, so everyone must know how secrets can endanger kids. Talk about how surprises are okay and a fun way to plan something special for someone we love, but secrets exclude others and hurt people.
Remember: you are your child’s number one role model. Show your child that these rules apply to everyone!
Observe, Intervene, and Speak up
Do NOT hesitate to ask questions or intervene in concerning situations. Take the time to plan for safety, talk, listen, and voice your concerns:
- Ask questions about your child’s daycare, school, and recreational activities. Every organization that cares for your child should have policies in place to prevent abuse, such as background and reference checks for staff members, professional training for preventing sexual abuse, and rules regarding unsupervised or one-on-one time between adults and children.
- Let people know you’re aware and observing. Drop-in unexpectedly on your child’s activities every now and then to ensure their caregivers know you’re watching. Safety is increased when everyone around your child knows that you’re an active, observant caregiver!
- Reduce isolation. Most sexual abuse cases take place during one-on-one situations, so limit the time that adults or older youth have alone with your child/children. And be aware of children and families who may be especially vulnerable, including children with disabilities or families in high-stress situations.
- Speak up when you observe concerning or inappropriate behaviors, even if the person exhibiting these behaviors is a member of your family or older youth. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable having tough conversations, but remember that a child’s safety is more important than our own discomfort or embarrassment. If you feel you can’t have a conversation with someone who is being inappropriate, find someone who can and who will help you intervene.
- Trust your instincts. Report anything you know or suspect might be sexual abuse to the child abuse hotline: 1-800-25-ABUSE. It’s never easy to report abuse, especially if it’s somebody you know. But remember, it’s our responsibility as adults to speak up and stop abuse.
How CACHSC Helps
Every day we fight to protect children from their abusers, and help children and families overcome trauma from their experiences. These conversations are heavy but necessary for us to spread awareness.