Today, I would like to speak to the parents and caretakers of children.
I realize that some of them might be a bit concerned. When someone who seemed “normal” turns out to be an enemy of children, parents get anxious. I don’t blame them.
One of my favorite audiences to speak in front of is parents of small children. They always have a large number of questions and our discussions last for days.
No, really. A few of them continue to contact me via email days later. I love it. They often resolve to make changes right away. AND, they share tips with other parents.
I pick up tips quite a few tips myself.
YES! This is a Win.
Today I want to share 6 questions parents ask most often, along with my response:
“I’ve heard a few different things. Which is it, are most kids
abused by a stranger or somebody they know?”
Some people are under the impression that children are most likely to be abused by a stranger. According to the American Pediatric Association, about 80% of children who are sexually abused are abused by someone they know. Darkness to Light cites a study that puts the number closer to 90%.
These people may include neighbors, teachers, coaches, family friends, religious leaders, etc.
About 30% of children who are abused are abused by a family member.
“When you say that abusers can make children confused and afraid to even talk to their parents, as a mom that scares me. Are there any ways that you can make sure that kids feel comfortable talking to you?”
Yes. Children need to be reassured about the outcome of what will happen if something horrible happens. One weapon that child sexual abusers use against children is the “fear of the unknown”. Children don’t know what will happen if they tell someone what is happening.
Will their parents be angry?
Will the abuser kill their parents, like he may have said he would?
Will anyone believe them?
Will things be worse?
When I volunteered on the RAINN Hotline, I spent a lot of time on online chats with young people who had been sexually assaulted. These young people wanted the violence to end, but they feared what might happen if they told someone. Many are terrified. They suffer in silence.
Children need to KNOW that someone will be there.
It isn’t complicated. You just have to repeat three statements on a regular basis.
“I will do everything that I can to keep you and our family safe.”
“I will not blame you”
“I will believe you”
“Do you always say, “I will believe you?” What if the child is lying? Kids don’t always tell the truth.”
What we know from unbiased and objective studies is that child sexual abuse like most crimes that fall along the spectrum of sexual violence are under-reported. One of the barriers to telling someone is the fear of not being believed.
Bearing the weight of all that comes with being the victim of sexual violence is a never ending nightmare. It is beyond difficult to deal with, especially alone. Every child should know that there is at least one safe adult in their lives that they can turn to who will believe them even if others may have doubts.
“My son has a disability. Is he at a higher risk of being abused?”
Child sexual abusers tend to target certain children because these children may be the children whom they have less difficulty keeping silent.
Children in the following 7 categories are at an elevated risk for sexual abuse:
Children from single parent homes
Children within stepfamilies
Children who are emotionally distant from their parents.
Children who have been abused before. Some estimates are as high as 1000%.
What age should I start talking with our children about body safety?
When I tell parents that they should really begin as early as possible, their eyes get big.
I understand. Believe me, I do.
They forget to use their inside voice one day while you’re out with friends at a crowded restaurant.
They say THAT word and oh no!
The “cutesy” words at least have a chance of gliding by unnoticed in a room full of people.
Inside voice? By the time I finished refreshing my son’s memory about what exactly an “inside voice” was he had made about 65% of my most recent personal business public.
Try to keep it simple. Teach your child the proper names of body parts. If you start early it tends to go more smoothly because they are curious and just happy for the information. One of the tools that I recommend is books. There is a growing library of books on body safety.
I realize that currently, many parents are more comfortable discussing boundaries around toys than body parts. But if you don’t talk about it with your children, someone else might. That person may be harmful, dangerous, and evil. You must make conversations about how to respect personal space and body parts a habit.
“How do you explain to a toddler which parts of the body are private?”
It can be challenging to teach children the difference between ‘private parts’ and ‘not so private parts’. One classic way to teach children about their body parts is to share the “bathing suit rule.”
Bathing suit rule: Whatever portion of skin that a child’s bathing suit covers are the parts of their body that are private. And those are the places that are off limits to others. These are the parts that should not be shared with others beyond a select few and for a select purpose.
For example, of course it may be necessary for medical personnel to examine a child at some point. Even still children should never be asked to keep this a secret from anyone. And if something feels unusual and strange they should tell someone that they trust immediately.
The main thing is that you start talking. When you make it normal, it becomes normal to the child. Pass on the gift of awareness, integrity, self-esteem, dignity, and pride to your children. Show them how valuable they are by talking to them about body safety and child sexual abuse prevention.