5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Preventing Child Sexual Abuse
Life was different before entering the world of forensic interviewing. I was naïve to the prevalence of child sexual abuse in the United States. Currently, research suggests one out of ten children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. This is entirely too many. So here are 5 tips on how to help prevent child sexual abuse:
Learn the Facts
What is child sexual abuse? Well it occurs in many ways, including but not limited to any sexual acts, graphic photographs, and/or elicit communications involving a minor or minors. The numbers tell an ugly tale, but the truth is children are 2.5 times more likely to be raped than adults. A third of all sexual assaults reported to the authorities involve victims under the age of 12. So what can parents do to help reduce these numbers? You can take the Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children™ training. It is the only evidenced-based training in the US to prevent child sexual abuse. Results have demonstrated for every 1 adult trained, 10 children are protected!
You Can Also Talk About It…
Child abuse is often a taboo subject. If I was given a dollar every time I heard, “How do you do what you do?” I would be set to retire at the age of 35. Collectively as a society, it’s easy to pretend bad things don’t happen. The harsh truth is it does. Reread #1 if you think otherwise. As a culture, we need to adjust the way we teach our children about sex and reflect on how we can help them navigate difficult situations.
Parents should begin by teaching their children rules for their bodies and how to tell someone they trust (have regular conversations about who your child trusts!) if one of those rules are broken. If parents don’t talk to their children about body safety from a young age, they’re setting their kids up for failure. Open age-appropriate discussions help form a protective bond between parent and child, ultimately increasing confidence and knowledge making children less vulnerable to predators. So as an adult, it’s your responsibility to set boundaries and stay alert! If you see something, say something no matter how small the concern.
… and Use the Correct Words
It is so important to teach your children the correct words for their body parts. Adults often feel some form of embarrassment when it comes to the words penis, vagina, and breast (Anyone having flashbacks to high school Biology?); however, if parents can overcome their own discomfort, your children will be better protected. It also teaches children there is nothing negative about their bodies. In addition, the correct vocabulary can help other adults protect your children if something were to happen to them. Hearing “He touched my vagina” is so much clearer to an unassuming adult than “He played with my purse.” or “He put his special thing in my china hutch.” Both of these statements are examples of disclosures I’ve heard at forensic interview training, and both increase the risk of a trusted adult dismissing a child’s cry for help.
Stranger Danger is a Thing of the Past
Research suggests 90% of children sexually abused know their abuser. 30% of children are sexually abused by their own family members, and 60% are abused by people the family knows and trusts. This makes it much more pressing for the conversations to take place between parents and children. Parents need to make themselves familiar of the people in their children’s lives and not be afraid to set boundaries or ask questions. In my field, we have a “trust your gut” rule. If you feel uneasy about something, speak up! This rule should apply to parenthood, too! If your gut tells you your child shouldn’t be alone with someone, then don’t let them be alone with them. With that being said, it’s just as important (if not more important) to trust your child’s gut, too!! They are often pretty good indicators of what makes them feel uncomfortable.
Making Small Adjustments to Parenting Techniques Can Go a Long Way
I recently read a post about how parents miss child sexual abuse. The information was spot on! It talks about how if parents learn to ask the right questions, they’ll begin to know more accurate details of their child’s daily interactions. Today’s parents need to find ways to make small adjustments in their parenting techniques. Think of traditional southern teachings: it’s impolite to correct adults, do as you’re told, respect your elders, what happens to the family stays in the family, so on and so on. As parents, we can adjust the way we teach manners by encouraging children to speak up politely when they have those “gut” feelings – no matter the situation. For example, recently at a family gathering, my husband’s godchild was told by her Paw-Paw to give me a hug and kiss hello. I could see the wheels spinning in her head: “I don’t want to! I’ve only met this lady a few times, but I don’t want to get in trouble. Why do I have to kiss someone I don’t know?” So to ease the tension, I offered a high-five and she quickly obliged with a smile on her face. Simple adjustments, such as instructing a child to verbally say “hello” instead of giving a hug and a kiss, still teach politeness while respecting your child’s boundaries. If parents take a minute to slow down and look at everyday interactions through a different lens, our children can live in a safer world.
Do you want to learn more about how to recognize, react responsibly, and report child sexual abuse? Go to www.D2L.org for a list of local training available in your community!
Remember, raising a child is hard work no matter the age. When times get tough and stressful, ask for help before you’re overwhelmed. Your local Children’s Advocacy Center is a great place to look for resources such as community education opportunities, clinical services, and advocacy. For more information, visit your local Children’s Advocacy Center’s website: Children’s Advocacy Centers of Louisiana, New Orleans Children’s Advocacy Center, Jefferson Children’s Advocacy Center, Hope House Children’s Advocacy Center, or Child Advocacy Services.
Also if a child discloses abuse or you are a witness to abuse always report it to the authorities. The Louisiana Department of Children & Family Services Child Abuse Hotline is 1-855-4LA-KIDS (52-5437). Child abuse can also be reported to your local law enforcement agency via their non-emergent line or 911.
About Ashleigh Fuller, MA
Ashleigh Fuller, MA is a proud native of New Orleans. Following high school, she received a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Louisiana State University and immediately entered the business world. After a few years, she decided she wanted to pursue a more social serving career to fulfill her passion of helping others. Ashleigh learned what it means to miss New Orleans when she moved to Denver, CO to pursue a Master’s degree in Forensic Psychology at the University of Denver. Shortly after graduating, she eagerly returned to Louisiana and joined the Child Advocacy Services staff as a Forensic Interviewer in August 2014. During this time, she has participated in over 250 hours of clinical training, including two forensic interviewing protocols and the Crimes Against Children Conference. As an authorized facilitator of the Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children, Ashleigh has trained over 140 people in how to recognize, react responsibly, and report child sexual abuse. When Ashleigh is not advocating for children, you can find her spending time with her loving husband Kevin and their puppy Fenway.
The best way to prevent child abuse on a large scale is quality sex or sexual education from very early on. It isn’t to promote sex, but to teach kids about sexuality as a healthy part of being a human,and it teaches them about love and relationships. His allows them more autonomy over their bodies, which in turn is a powerful protective factor against abuse.
I couldn’t agree more. I have worked with vulnerable children and families for 20 years and have seen the true horror of all kinds of child abuse and neglect. I was trained by barnados in the delivery of raising awareness and co-wrote a training programme that was used to highlight child sexual abuse and exploutation.