According to the US Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by the time they are 18, and 44% of rape victims are under age 18. Sadly, but not surprisingly, victims of sexual assault are three times more likely to suffer from depression, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and four times more likely to contemplate suicide according to the Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN).
Recognizing the real threat of sexual abuse against children is only half the battle. Talking to children and having what we may consider to be uncomfortable conversations, is actually necessary to keep them safe. Unfortunately, many caregivers, particularly those of younger children, have a hard time talking to their kids about personal boundaries, good or bad touch, and sexual abuse as a whole.
Here are some of the top reasons parents don’t discuss sexual abuse with their children:
Child Sexual Abuse Doesn’t Happen in My Community
Wrong. Child sexual abuse happens everywhere, from big cities to small farming communities and everywhere in between. No matter your location, religion, race, or yearly income, your life can be affected by it.
Our Children Know Better Than to Talk to Strangers
Sadly, 93% of all child sexual abuse happens at the hands of someone the child knows and trusts (i.e., grandparent, extended relative, family friend, or even a parent). In many cases, perpetrators spend time building relationships with their victims through a grooming process in preparation for the abuse. “Sexual Grooming” is when a perpetrator gradually gains a person’s trust with the intent to be sexually abusive.
My Child is Too Young to Handle This Discussion
You may be surprised to learn that the appropriate age to begin discussing the topic of child sexual abuse prevention is when a child is three years old. You can teach your young child about appropriate and inappropriate touch by saying something like, “Did you know that the parts of your body covered by your bathing suit are private and are for no-one else to see or touch?” Be sure to include any exceptions to this rule for potty training, hygiene and doctors’ visits. Also, explain that if someone attempts to or does give them the “bad kind of touch,” that they are to tell Mommy or Daddy or their teacher.
I Don’t Want to Scare My Child
You most likely don’t refrain from teaching your child about traffic safety for fear that your child will be scared to cross the street. Teaching body safety is equally important and, if done properly, can empower children. Discussions about bodies, personal boundaries, and safety are important conversations to have with your child to help them understand the difference between safe and unsafe touch. For instance, safe touch may be holding mommy’s hand, a hug from a sibling, or a pat on the back. Unsafe touch may be when someone touches or asks to touch private parts, or inappropriate/excessive tickling that makes a child feel unsafe, confused, or uncomfortable.
My Child Would Come to Me if Something Ever Happened
Most children don’t immediately tell their parents. Typically, the perpetrator convinces them that the act is “their secret”, their parents will be angry with them, someone may get hurt, or the child will be in trouble. Perpetrators often use fear, intimidation, or manipulation to discourage the child from disclosing. Be sure to tell your children that you would never ever be angry at them and they should come to you immediately if anyone ever made them feel uncomfortable.
Children who have been victims of sexual assault will require love, support, and understanding. Caregivers of victims should consider seeking the guidance of a trained professional who can help the child communicate facts, manage feelings, work through negative beliefs that may have developed about themselves, and process and heal from the trauma. It may also be beneficial to learn more about trauma and how it impacts your child.