Susan Cohen Esquilin, PhD recently spoke about the topic of sexual abuse of children. Here is a brief outline of what parents can do to reduce the chances of their children becoming victims, and to recognize the signs of abuse if your children become victims. Perhaps most important is that we empower our children so that if they are victims, they will feel safe reporting the abuse, knowing that it is not their fault.
Preventing Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse hurts children. Unfortunately, children often do not tell anyone about abuse. Not telling allows the abuse to continue and this makes the effects much worse. Children suffer in silence and do not get the help they need.
These negative effects can be addressed by helping children SPEAK about what happened.
Children do not speak because:
They are confused
They do not have words
They are afraid
They do not want to upset their parents
They think it is their fault
They do not think they can say no to an older person
Here are things you, as a parent, can do to help children speak:
Teach children not to keep secrets from their parents. Tell all the adults in your children’s lives not to ask them to keep secrets. [A secret is forever. A surprise is different from a secret---it will be revealed at a designated time.]
Teach children that body parts beneath bathing suits are private and no one should ask to see or touch those parts. In order to make this clear, encourage children’s control over their bodies as early as possible. Teach them to clean and wash themselves, and allow them to decide whom they want to kiss and hug.
Give children words for the private parts of their bodies as part of teaching them words for other body parts. Answer their questions about reproduction and sexuality in age appropriate ways. Do not make it uncomfortable for your child to get this information from you.
Encourage your children tocome to you with questions about behaviors they have seen anywhere. Give them the message that you will take their concerns seriously and will not be angry with them for asking. Give them the message that they have a right to ask questions about anything that is confusing for them, and that you will not automatically assume that anything that an adult has done is correct.
Know what is age-typical sexual interest and what is not. Pre-adolescent children do not typically engage in or try to mimic adult sexual activity (oral, anal, or vaginal sex). They do not attempt to coerce other children into any sexual activities. They have curiousity about sex, but it is not the only thing they are interested in. Exploration usually involves activities done with eyes and hands, not with mouths or genitalia. If you see atypical behavior, seek professional help.