With the Penn State tragedy and recent news out of Syracuse this past week, most parents have thought of, and/or worried about sexual abuse more than once this month. The wretched reality is, we will keep getting reminded about sexual abuse in children because it is so common. Thankfully, we can help our children define, get words for, protect against, and support them in their understanding about how to prevent sexual abuse. You can start this today.
If you’re worried or unsure how to proceed at any moment, it’s always okay to visit the pediatrician or clinician your child sees for support, help, and a check-up.
Open up channels of communication about preventing sexual abuse as early as age 3. Start by defining “good touch” from “bad touch.” Use anatomic terms (vagina or penis) and answer questions your children have. Return to these conversations occassionally, every few months, every single year. Always trust your instincts if something doesn’t feel right. Explore and ask questions if your child expresses concern, confusion, or fear.
Preventing Sexual Abuse
- Trust your child. Children rarely will lie about sexual abuse.
- A great overview on preventing sexual abuse including possible signs of sexual abuse (at the end)
- A hand-out defining sexual abuse, some statistics, and characteristics of abusers composed by perpetrators of child sexual abuse while in recovery. A note on this–I found this upsetting to read but did gain insight from it.
- HHS information about programs and curriculum for children (and adults) on preventing sexual abuse
Please share tips, strategies, research, or wisdom you have in helping educate parents and children in preventing sexual abuse here:
Kim Estes is a great local resource for education and tips on keeping kids safe.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Thanks, Judith. Specifically, here’s the link for local resources if you’re in the Puget Sound Area.
Thanks for posting this! These resources you posted and the books in the PDF cover a l of ground. All I want to add is a few words about boundaries. One of the key ways we can protect our children is to never force them to show affection to, be held by, or sit on someone’s lap against their wishes. Today at the mall I saw numerous screaming children on Santa’s lap. I know there will be thousands of children forced or cajoled to give holiday hugs, kisses, high fives to friends and relatives. You can’t teach your kid about asserting their boundaries, that they have integrity as a person, and that “no always, always means no” if you violate that rule yourself. The other thing I’ll say is to back them up when they do assert themselves. We have 11 grandkids in my family and they ALL love tickle fights except my daughter. She dislikes tickling and also dislikes anyone in her personal space. During the holidays and other family gatherings, I am deliberate in backing her up so she feels safe and supported.
I have found a couple of good kid’s books that teach about this subject in an age-appropriate way.
They are: “I Said No! A kid-to-kid guide to keeping your private parts private” by Kimberly King and “Your Body Belongs To You” by Cornelia Maude Spelman.
Both are geared to kids age 4 years to 7-8 years, affordable, and easily available.
Great topic Wendy Sue!
Sabrina Sessa says
Thank you Wendy Sue for highlighting such an important topic. So many people are either unaware of this silent epidemic or afraid to talk about it. Since Kim at Savvy Parents Safe Kids has a primary focus on development & safety for the tween years, I thought it would be helpful to know that we at PEACE Of Mind,Inc. http://www.pomwa.org focus on protection and prevention of child sexual abuse and abduction for children of the younger ages. Our prevention program is appropriate for children as young as 2 years and is specifically designed to grow with them into the tween years. Organizations, businesses, schools, PTA’s and private individuals all host our 90 minute workshop. We know this can be a scary topic, but we promise to shed some light on this dark topic and leave you and your family feeling empowered. PEACE of mind has been educating in the PNW community & beyond since 2007. I have a handful of books to add to the list of those that Rachel posted. Here’s the link: https://pomwa.org/RecommendedReading.aspx Additionally, Pattie Fitgerald, who helped us pioneer our curriculum has a new book out: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0984747206/ref=as_li_tf_til?tag=safelyevera06-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=0984747206&adid=1DE8VH2BKYN6T4ZECAQW&&ref-refURL=http%3A%2F%2Fsafelyeverafter.com%2F Some of you have heard me speak of Pattie, she was formerly with Megan’s Law. Again, thanks for the platform to discuss Wendy!
Another resource for this area is King County Sexual Assault Resource Center. The 24 hour resource line is 888-998-6423, and the office also has resources on prevention. As somebody who used to work in this field as a training specialist, I also want to add a note of caution about using the good touch/bad touch approach to prevention education. Sex offenders often go to great lengths to groom children and gradually get them used to more and more inappropriate touching, and the touching often doesn’t actually feel \bad.\ So, kids can be very confused – they may know something is wrong, but it doesn’t match their understanding of \bad.\ Another possibility is to talk in terms of safe/unsafe touch, or in terms of secret touch. With my daughter, the safety rule I talk about is that secret touching is never OK. It’s never OK for a grown up or older kid to touch the private parts of your body, or ask you to touch theirs, and tell you to keep it a secret. Then we talk about reasons why a grown up might touch her body (e.g. doctor, parents to help bathe her, etc.) but that there’s never a reason for those touches to be secret. Good luck, everybody, with talking with your kids. I think keeping the issue front and center in a very matter of fact way, whenever a natural opportunity arises, is one of the most important things we can do to help keep our children safe, and make sure they know they have resources and support if something does happen.
Deb zaret says
POMWa (above) is great, as is the Kidpower website. “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin de Becker is a comprehensive go-to guide for parents as well.
Janice Palm says
Thank you for this clear information about child sexual abuse! The information complied from child molesters, although difficult to read, is particularly helpful. The usual safety focus on educating children about abuse is helpful, but does not take into account the traumatizing nature of sexual abuse. When children (and adults) are traumatized they are rarely able to act to protect themselves. Keeping children safe from sexual abuse is an adult responsibility. Our website offers resources to keep children safe https://www.shepherdstherapy.org/learnmore.aspx and help for adults who have been sexually abused as children.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, for this post. I’m sending the link to many friends and family members!!!
Very good. I will be forwarding to all my contacts.
THANK YOU for posting this! This is a topic that has been a source of anxiety for me since I first became a parent, because I am myself a victim of childhood sexual abuse. It is so hard to know what to tell children so that they are empowered and protected without creating fear or exposing them to too much too young. The words you use like “secret touch” are so great, and I love the comments of the commenter above about not forcing children to show affection to others and backing them up when they create their own personal space. Great info!! I have always told my littles that no one other than mom or dad, or a doctor WITH mom or dad in the room, can touch their private parts, but your comment about no one but themselves after 3 has me thinking – I think you are right, that really no one else needs to touch. Sometimes my daughter might show me a rash or something, but I don’t touch. It is so SAD for me that this problem even exists, not to mention how prevalent it is, but your video was very reassuring and makes me feel less helpless.
Going to talk to my girls tonight!
attorney Harris County says
This is very informative. Children would come to understand that they too have rights. This would be a big help to protect themselves from abusive people.
DWI Harris County says
Many children these days are victims of sexual abuse. Sadly, a great number of offenders are their very own family members or relatives. This information you have shared regarding its prevention are very helpful. Thanks for sharing a very relevant article.