How to Protect Your Child From Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse includes any type of sexual act or behavior with a child including non-contact behaviors such as showing or taking pornographic images of children. The best way for parents to prevent sexual abuse is through knowledge, education and understanding.

Most sex offenders are not strangers to a child. Sexual abuse is most often committed by someone who knows the child. This may be a friend, relative, teacher, coach or neighbor. Someone in a position of authority is commonly the perpetrator and children who are compliant, respectful and obedient are especially susceptible to abuse. In almost all situations the abuser intimidates the child to remain silent and not say anything or tell anyone about the abusive behavior. Often the child assumes a personal responsibility for the actions of another and feels he or she is the cause of the abuse. With time progressive guilt and shame deepen the silence and may actually block out memories for many years or even a lifetime.

Common signs and symptoms of being sexually abused include depression, oppositional or destructive behavior, anxiety, social-withdrawal, new academic difficulties, aggressive behavior, high risk behaviors and self-injurious behaviors. Parents must be aware however, that children who are being abused or who have been abused in the past do not always show signs or symptoms of abuse.

The risk of molestation can be decreased by establishing and supporting an ongoing parent-child relationship focused on open and trusted communication and connection. By spending time with your child and talking about sexuality you will be providing your child information on how to respond if an abuse occurs. Parents who believe their child is not at risk for abuse are hiding behind a mask of ignorance and denial. By talking openly and directly about sex and sexual abuse, using age and developmentally appropriate terms, your child will be able to respond in the right way and at the right time to sexual abuse. There must be no secrets between parents and children.

Children must recognize, understand and respond to the boundaries and limits of sexual behaviors and sexual exploration. Discussions must be open, non-judgmental and shame, fear and guilt must always be avoided.  Your child must understand the meaning of privacy and how certain body parts of his or her body are private and cannot be touched, looked at, talked about or photographed without permission. Children must be taught to allow their own feelings to lead their response. If a child feels scared or uncomfortable he or she must say no and immediately notify a parent about the incident. If a parent is not available then a teacher or guardian should be immediately notified.

When your child is outside of your care special precautions are necessary. Be cautious of adults who take your child on unsupervised outings or special events and make sure your child is adequately supervised during overnight stays away from your home. Verify who is in the away household where your child is staying overnight and talk to those adults directly. Alcohol and drugs must be avoided since both encourage risk taking behaviors by children and adults. If concerned about a location or situation then consider being a chaperone or making an unscheduled visit to check on your child. An open door policy allowing parent visits is always best.

By listening to your child with love and sensitivity you will encourage openness and increase your child’s willingness to share any concerns. This prevents embarrassment and decreases the chance your child will keep the incident or behavior hidden. Never discount your child’s feelings or blame your child for his or her part in an abusive situation. By providing ongoing support, professional counseling and unconditional love to your child healing can begin.

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