Every parent teaches their child about the potential danger of interacting with strangers. But statistics show that most child abuse cases don’t involve strangers. The National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse says the vast majority of children who are sexually abused are abused by someone they know — most often a family member or a trusted adult. As a parent, you can protect your child from sexual abuse by talking to her starting in preschool.
“Children as young as 3 or 4 can understand that there is good and bad touch if you explain it to them,” says Katherine Peatross, clinical services program manager with Youth Villages, a private nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children with emotional, behavioral, and mental health issues. “Unfortunately, far too few parents talk to their children about it, even though we tell children about everything else that is right and wrong to do.”
If you don’t talk with your child about sexual abuse, then she or he won’t know how to respond should happen. As a result, she may remain silent instead of telling you about the incident.
“By talking to your child about sexual abuse, you can instill confidence in them that they are safe if they report it to you,” says Peatross. “It’s crucial that children who have been abused get professional help quickly.”
In addition, Peatross recommends parents teach their children to report inappropriate touching by anyone, including family members, teachers, coaches, church officials, youth group leaders, and other children. Be aware that roughly one-third of child sexual abuse is committed by minors.
How To Talk About Sexual Abuse
• Tell your child about good touch: a hug or a pat on the back, and bad touch: when someone touches your private areas. • Tell your child nobody — no family member, teacher, another child or an adult — is allowed to touch those areas covered by a bathing suit because these are your child’s private areas. • Tell your child he or she needs to tell any adult who touches them in their private areas, “No!” • Tell your child that if anyone ever touches him or her in any way in their private areas, he or she needs to tell a parent, trusted adult, or teacher immediately. • If you need help talking about this, order My Body Belongs to Me, by Jill Starishevsky. It is written for young children and will help them understand this important lesson. • mybodybelongstome.com.
Get Help Immediately
If you suspect your child has been abused, act immediately. Call the Crisis Center Hotline: (901) 274-7477. Tennessee law requires all adults report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect. This includes doctors, police, teachers, parents, mental health professionals, childcare providers, dentists, family members and friends. Or call the National Child Abuse Hotline (800) 4-A-CHILD, at childhelp.org.