It's best to start talking with children about sexuality in early childhood — but it's never too late.
Sexual Abuse Awareness – Information for Parents
Adapted with permission from Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts' The Parent Buzz – Volume 1, Issue 12 – October 2008
Experts estimate that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthdays. Sixty-seven percent of all reported sexual assaults happen to children ages 17 and under. Despite these alarming statistics, there are steps you as a parent can take to reduce your children’s risk of being sexually abused.
Know the Facts
- Sexual abuse is a sexual offense against a child, such as rape, sodomy, engaging a child in sexual activity, or engaging a child in – or promoting a child’s – sexual performance.
- Don’t believe the myth that all child molesters are strangers, mentally disabled, “dirty old men” or addicted to drugs or alcohol. The reality is that the greatest risk comes from friends and family, not strangers. Ninety-three percent of victims know their abusers; 34 percent are abused by family members; 59 percent are abused by someone trusted by family.
- Perpetrators often try to earn the trust of potential victims and their families. This enables them to more easily gain time alone with the children. Abusers are drawn to settings where they can easily gain access to children: schools, sports leagues, clubs, etc.
- More than 80 percent of sexual abuse cases happen in one-adult/one-child situations. Think carefully before leaving your child alone with one adult. If possible, seek out group situations instead. If you can’t avoid leaving your child alone in one-adult/one-child situations, drop in unexpectedly.
- Monitor your children’s internet use. Perpetrators may use the internet as a tool to interact privately with children, with the ultimate goal of luring children into physical contact.
Communicate with your Child
Open, honest communication may be the best sexual abuse prevention tip. Communication, early and often, about sex and sexual abuse may decrease your child’s vulnerability to abuse and increase the chance they will tell you if they are abused. Here are some tips:
- Always talk to your children about their daily activities. Show interest in their feelings. Encourage them to share their concerns and problems with you. Teach your children about their body, what abuse is, and about sex. Teach them words that will help them feel comfortable discussing sex with you.
- Explain that no one has the right to touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable, including adults whom they know and trust.
- Teach your children that it’s your job to protect them, and that you can protect them only if they tell you when something is wrong. Teach your children that adults who say that are wrong, and that your children can share anything with you.
- Make sure your children understand that if someone does make them feel uncomfortable or confused, you will not blame them. Reassure your children that sexual abuse is never the fault of the children.
Children who have been abused often keep it a secret. The more you know about why children keep it a secret and how they communicate when they do try to tell, the easier it will be for you to break down barriers to communication.
- They are afraid of upsetting or disappointing their parents. They may be too embarrassed to tell their parents.
- The abuser may threaten to hurt the child or the child’s family.
- Children who do not disclose after the first encounter may be afraid or ashamed to tell when it happens again.
- Young children may not understand there is something to tell. They are taught to respect and obey adults, and many abusers tell children the abuse is “OK” or a “game.”
- Children may communicate in a roundabout way by saying something such as, “I don’t like to be alone with Mr. Jones.” They may tell parts of what happened or pretend it happened to someone else to test an adult’s reaction.
- Children who do disclose abuse may tell an adult other than a parent.
- If adults respond emotionally or negatively to a disclosure, children may stop talking
Just in Case, Have a Plan
Know where to go and who to call for helping in case your child is sexually abused. If you suspect your child has been sexually abused, immediately call one of the hotlines listed below and report the abuse to the authorities such as the local or state police or sheriff’s department.
You can find help for your child and support for yourself, as well as information about sexual abuse and treatment programs by calling the 24-hour Child-At-Risk Hotline at 1-800-792-5200, Prevent Child Abuse Massachusetts program at 617-742-8555 (or visit their website at www.MassKids.org) or the 24-hour Childhelp’s National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453.