Sexual abuse in children can be a difficult topic for parents to broach with their children, but it is becoming increasingly important to create open channels of communication about it within families. Many parents feel awkward about discussing child sexual abuse with their children because they feel:
- Children should not know about the darker side of human nature
- Discussing sex with children makes them more likely to experiment with it at an earlier age
- Their own social circle would never harm a child so there is no need
- Their parents never discussed it with them and they turned out fine
- It’s not possible that an adult could look at or treat a child in a sexual manner
The Importance of Teaching about Child Sexual Abuse
Children are exposed to risks of sexual abuse at the hands of parents, siblings, relatives, teachers, older children, clergy members, childcare providers, family friends or neighbors, and from strangers on the Internet. Making them aware of the risks will reduce the chances of them being sexually abused or molested. It is not possible to protect a child from the outside world for long, and just as you would warn a child about fire or electrical points, teaching them about inappropriate sexual behavior will keep your child safe.
Initiating Communication about Child Sexual Abuse
Children develop a healthy curiosity about their genitals between the ages of 3-5. Starting from this point, creating a healthy atmosphere of communication and answering questions can actually keep your child safe from sexual abuse in children. Start by teaching your child the real names for body parts at an early age. Explain the difference between boys and girls genitalia. Also teach the concept of private body parts by explaining that anything covered by a swimsuit is private.
Age-Appropriate Teaching for Child Sexual Abuse
Between the ages of 5-8 is also a time to teach children about inappropriate touching from anyone. Reinforce the idea that they are not to blame for child sexual abuse and that they should feel free to tell you if something happens to make them uneasy. As children begin to go to school and play outside the home, teach them about safety away from home. Not talking to strangers, not accepting candy from people they don’t know, and avoiding lonely places are basic safety norms to teach children. Teach children that if they are uneasy about being touched or asked to do something, saying No once and getting away is the best tactic to adopt.
Encourage sharing of scary experiences or something that made them uneasy. Make sure these conversations about child sexual abuse take place when the child is comfortable and feels safe. Sometimes, it is a good idea to start these conversations when children are playing a game or helping in the kitchen, so they don’t feel forced to talk.
As children get older, discuss dating, date rape, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and behavior that your family accepts or finds distasteful. Talk to your children’s school about starting an age-appropriate sex education program which includes these concepts, or discuss your questions with a pediatrician or counselor.
1. Child Sexual Abuse. NLM NIH Gov/Medline Plus
2. Child Sexual Abuse: What is it and how to prevent it. ERIC Digests
3. Say No! Protecting Children Against Sexual Abuse. OCFS State NY US