Prevent devastating sex abuse by educating your child
an adult in my office, disclose past sexual abuse for the first time.
Although accurate child-abuse statistics are somewhat elusive because so much is not reported, RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organisation, has said that one in nine girls and one in 53 boys under 18 will be the victim of sexual abuse by an adult. This is a topic that needs to be addressed and discussed with children in a frank and open way.
Here are suggestions from experts on how parents can talk to their children about sexual abuse and their bodies:
Start talking to them about their bodies early. “At the youngest ages (even changing diapers) we can teach children the correct names of their body parts and model respect for their bodily autonomy and boundaries,” says Laura Reagan, a licensed clinical social worker in Maryland. “Do not force children to give hugs or kisses or sit on anyone’s lap. Teach them that they are the only ones who are allowed to touch their sexual body parts, except when a doctor or caregiver needs to examine those body parts for a specific reason related to health or hygiene.”
Experts emphasise that these conversations are ongoing and evolving and should never stop. Dalal Musa, a social worker at the Center for Post-Traumatic and Dissociative Disorders Program at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington adds that parents should avoid spanking their children.
“The use of corporal punishment profoundly undermines children’s sense of dignity, safety, and privacy – this practice is completely contrary to teaching children to respect their own and other’s bodies and self-esteem,” Musa says.
Start talking about the basics of sexual reproduction when children are around 5 years old. Musa says that around 4 or 5, children become curious about where babies come from, and you can talk about sex in an accurate and simple way without having to get too detailed. For more tips on discussing this topic and what to tell kids at various ages, visit Family Education’s website. Do not shame children about masturbation, their bodies or sex. “Teach them that touching their own bodies is something that we do only in private, not in public,” Reagan says. “Avoid sending the message that sex is something shameful or bad.”
Model an environment of calmness, openness and safety to ask questions. “Throughout childhood and teen years, parents modelling calm, support and openness, rather than confrontational questioning, encourage children and teens to feel safe to raise topics for discussion over time,” Musa says. Tell your children that they can come to you about anything and you won't get angry with them.
Protect children from pornography. “Although this seems obvious in the age of extremely easy digital access, the exposure to pornography – much of it highly explicit, violent and degrading – is occurring earlier and earlier; estimates now are that boys ages 8 to 11 have seen such material online,” Musa says. “What’s worse is that more and more often, younger teens – especially young girls – are sharing explicit “selfies” with their boyfriends,” says Stacie Rumenap, president of Stop Child Predators, a non-profit group that combats the sexual exploitation of children nationwide. “It’s important to warn teens against sending raunchy photos as jokes or as love notes. Too often, when a relationship disintegrates, those pictures can be sent maliciously elsewhere. Kids’ lives are being ruined.”
When it comes to prevention, it’s a matter of trust. All the experts I spoke with emphasised that it's important for a parent to listen to only leave their child with people they trust. Children who have been sexually abused are most often abused by someone they know, and on multiple occasions.