Alright folks, it’s time to get real about protecting our children. There is a very dangerous misconception out there that child abuse will not touch your family or community. Child sexual abuse does not discriminate. Offenses occur in every race, religion, and socioeconomic status.
Experts estimate that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday
35% of child victims are 11 years old or younger
I know most of you have probably talked with your kiddos about stranger danger, but let me tell you- that is not enough!
90% of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser
60% are sexually abused by people the family trusts
We need to be talking to all children about their bodies and boundaries. Children need to know the anatomically correct terms for ALL of their body parts. Talk about your child’s penis or vagina the same way you would a nose or a mouth. When we don’t use the correct terms we are conveying that children’s private parts should not be talked about and in the event that children need to notify a trusted adult about a violation to their bodies it is important that they have the language to do so. Children need to be taught about safe and unsafe touches. Be specific! Play the “What would you do if…” game to get a sense for how your child would respond in tricky situations. Children need to be taught about the “uh-oh” feeling- that little voice in our heads or unease in our bellies when something just doesn’t feel quite right. We need to empower our children to use their voices when they get that “uh-oh” feeling. And lastly, children need to know that it is never ok for anyone to ever touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable (this includes us!). If your kiddo doesn’t like the way he or she feels when grandma gives a kiss good-bye, then offer for him or her to give a handshake or a high five instead. If your child shouts out “stop!” while you are playing a tickle game, stop and tell him or her you did so because you were asked to. Not all “uh-oh” feelings mean that sexual abuse is happening, but if we want our children to be confident using their voices and setting boundaries we need to respect the boundaries they set with us. Sometimes this requires us to redirect family members and friends which can feel uncomfortable, but you are validating that your child has a voice and that voice has been heard.
Offenders avoid children who know about their bodies and who feel confident setting boundaries. Offenders also avoid families and communities where prevention and safety is talked about openly and regularly.
Another misconception is that if you lock your children away at home that they will be safe from harm. Unfortunately in this day and age of technology this is no longer the case. Offenders can reach children even when they are safely in their homes.
9% of all 10-17 year olds receive unwanted sexual requests while on the Internet
We need to be talking with our children about safety online and we need to be monitoring device usage. An internet/device/social media contract can be a helpful tool for setting clear and specific expectations about how your child can stay safe online. Some families chose to institute a no devices behind closed doors rule or require that children share all passwords with parents.
I am not writing this to scare you, but rather to empower you and give you the information you need to protect your families and communities. Child sexual abuse ceases to exist in a community of aware and diligent adults. If you have more questions about prevention, please feel free to reach out to me. Two great online resources with information about safety are www.D2L.org and www.netsmartz.org.
Finkelhor, D. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles. Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center.
Jones, L., Mitchell, K. Finkelhor, D. (2012). Trends in youth internet victimization: Findings from three youth internet safety surveys 2000-2010, Journal of Adolescent Health 50: 179-186.
Julia Whealin, Ph.D. (2007-05-22). “Child Sexual Abuse.” National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, US Department of Veterans Affairs.
National Crime Victimization Survey, Statistics calculated by staff at Crimes against Children Research Center. 2002.
Townsend, C., Rheingold, A.A., (2013). Estimating a child sexual abuse prevalence rate for practitioners: A review of child sexual abuse prevalence studies. Charleston, S.C., Darkness to Light. Retrieved from www.D2L.org.