“Babysitter arrested for abusing one-year-old!” Such news headlines about sexual abuse in children catch our ears almost every day. They not only cause distress but also make other parents wonder how they can keep their children safe in this dangerous world of sexual predators. No doubt, the incidents of sexual abuse in children are increasing and it is very difficult to eradicate the problem; but you can reduce the risk of your child having to suffer from it! Here is how you can raise your child while keeping them safe.
Understand the magnitude of the problem of sexual abuse in children
Most parents of sexually-abused children say that they had not imagined in their wildest dreams that this could happen to their child. You must know that sexual abuse in children is way more prevalent than you realize.
Fact: About 1 in every 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday!
These statistics are alarming, aren’t they? Your child is prone to such instances everywhere – their schools, day-care centers, playing areas, and even their homes! You need to be very vigilant.
Be aware of the possible sexual abusers
A common mistake parents do is trusting their children with the wrong people, which leads to the rising incidents of sexual abuse in children. Hence, it is very important to know who the possible abusers are. The answer is simple: A sex offender can be anybody! Those who molest children may not be strangers or dirty old men loitering in the streets.
Unlike what most people perceive, they look and act just like everybody else. They may be around you. And they can be a threat to children of all ages – your toddler in the cradle, your 14-year old child! Moreover, your male child is as susceptible to sexual abuse as your female child.
The Myth of “Stranger Danger”
“Do not talk to strangers. They are bad people.” Most parents inculcate this concept in the minds of children. Though frequently used by parents, it is a wrong approach. While most strangers can be good people, most “known” people can be bad.
- 90% of the children know their abusers.
- Approximately 30% are abused by family members.
Most children are abused by people they know and trust: a neighbor, a family member, a family friend, a babysitter. You need to change the concept of “the bad guy” for your child.
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Your child may not be safe with another child
Parents are likely to believe that a sex offender must be an adult, and our children are safe when they are in the company of other children.
- 40% of children are abused by older or more powerful children.
Look out for those who seek exclusive contact with your child
Do not allow unknown adults to spend a measurable amount of time alone with your child. Look out for people who try to do so. These people are likely to cause sexual abuse.
Do not ruin their trust in this process of preventing sexual abuse in children
It is important to maintain a balance between protecting your children and encouraging them to trust people. You shouldn’t give them a message that the world is a bad place or they should be scared of everybody. Do not make them unduly distrustful of everybody.
Get involved in your child’s life
Negligence is a major cause of increasing sexual abuse in children. So, no matter how busy you are, you must manage to spend appropriate time with your children. Give them your undivided attention when they need it.
Show interest in their day-to-day activities
Ask them what they did all day. What did they do and who did they do it with? Who did they spend most of their time with?
Get to know their friends
Invite their friends to your home. Make sure your child is in the company of good people. Establish a good rapport with the families of their friends.
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Know exactly where your child is at all times
“Where is your child?”
“Must be playing outside! I don’t know.”
This is a very common answer by negligent parents. You must know exactly where your child is at all times. Check and recheck.
NEVER leave your child unsupervised
If your children are very young, never leave them unsupervised or with people you do not trust. And choose their care-givers wisely and carefully.
Let’s talk about sexual abuse with our children
Let’s come to the part you find extremely hard! Many parents find it uncomfortable to talk to their children about it. You teach them about kitchen safety and road safety; then why not body safety? Educating your child is the most powerful deterrent to sexual abuse in children as most of the victims do not even know something wrong is happening to them.
Teach your child the proper names of body parts
Every family has its own names for the private parts of the body. However, experts argue that it is very important to teach your children the proper terms for their body parts to prevent sexual abuse in children at a young age. When they are taught they have a nose and two eyes, they also need to know they have a “penis” or a “vagina”.
Research shows that using euphemisms can make your child think there is something shameful about those body parts or can create confusion. Make them feel comfortable using these terms so that they can report any harm in proper terms.
Define private areas
It is very important to tell your children that some parts of their bodies are private. You can use the swimsuit analogy i.e. all the parts a swimsuit covers. This includes their genitals, buttocks, and breasts. “Nobody should touch your private parts or ask you to touch theirs.”
We often forget the second part while many sexual perpetrators ask children to touch their body parts.
Tell them the people who can see or touch these parts are their parents while cleaning or a doctor in the presence of their parents.
Discuss the “No Secrets” rule
Most perpetrators tell the children in a friendly way: “It is our secret; your mother shouldn’t know it! Good kids don’t tell secrets.” Tell them there are NO secrets from parents.
“This is my body and I am the boss”
Teach them about body boundaries. It is your body; nobody can touch it without your consent.
Explain a good, bad and secret touch
This is the talk of the town these days when sexual abuse in children has become so prevalent. You must tell them:
- A good touch is any touch that feels pleasant and is meant to show care. For instance, when your mom hugs you or your father gives you a goodnight kiss.
- A bad touch doesn’t feel good e.g. a hit.
- A secret touch is when somebody tells you to keep it a secret.
What to do in case of a bad touch?
Your child must know what to do when he/she senses danger. “Say No and Tell Mom” is the rule.
- Firmly say NO!
- Immediately leave that area.
- If you can’t, shout for help.
- Always tell your parents.
Encourage your children to speak up
Though sexual abuse in children is so common, 60% of victims never tell their parents about it even when they know it is happening to them. The reason could be strict parents or parents who fail to build a bond of trust with their children.
You can tell me anything!
You must tell them that they can trust you with anything and they will not get in trouble for this.
Sexual abuse is never your fault
Your child must know what abuse is and abuse is never the fault of the victim! Thus they will not be scolded if anything happens to them.
I’ll believe you
Most sexual abusers threaten the children, “If you tell your parents, I will say that you started it.” You need to tell your children that they will be believed and listened to. This enables them to speak up in cases of sexual abuse in children. Listen to them and NEVER tell them they are wrong to feel that way or it might have been a misunderstanding.
Look for signs of sexual abuse in children
You should know that your child might never tell you in spite of having a friendly bond with you. However, most children show signs of abuse which are often overlooked by negligent parents. These signs may be physical, behavioral, or emotional. Notice these signs to prevent further sexual abuse in children:
- Unexplained bruises
- Sudden loss of appetite
- Going quiet
- Avoiding eye contact
- Resuming bed-wetting or thumb-sucking though they have outgrown these habits
- Not wanting to be left alone with people
- Being afraid of certain people
- Trying to avoid removing clothing or bathing
- Crying when alone
- Does your child get upset after a particular class?
- Does your child hesitate or feel uncomfortable around certain people?
These are the red-flags of sexual abuse in children but do not jump to conclusions. They may have other reasons to dislike people. Talk to your child openly and politely. Lastly, taking action isn’t easy but it is important when you realize it is happening to your child. Never ask your child to suppress it or hide it.
For all parents, the safety of their child is the foremost concern. With the rising cases of sexual abuse in children, it is important to keep your child safe as such incidents may leave everlasting impressions on their innocent minds. You may have to face eye-rolling by people or you may be labeled as “overprotective” when taking appropriate measures, but it is better to be safe than sorry! Save your child from this lifelong trauma!
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