Thoughtful Parenting: Preventing child sexual abuse
March 6, 2016
This topic is difficult, but it affects many children. Adults should learn about protecting children from sexual abuse. This overview and the quotes therein are from Darkness to Light's 5 Steps to Protecting our Children. Learn more at D2L.org. Remember, "sexually abused children who receive support and psychological help can and do heal."
Step 1: Learn the facts — One in 10 children will be sexually abused before age 18. 90 percent of victims know their abuser, and 60 percent of victims are abused by someone their family knows and trusts. Abusers are often family members. Nearly 40 percent of sexually abused children are abused by older or larger children. You likely know both a child who has been sexually abused and an abuser.
Step 2: Minimize opportunity — More than 80 percent of sexual abuse cases occur in isolated, one-on-one situations. Eliminating such situations dramatically reduces the risk of abuse. Choose group situations. One-on-one time with trusted adults can be healthy and valuable for a child. Nurture such relationships while still protecting the child by dropping in unexpectedly, talking to the adult about specifics, ensuring things are observable by others, talking with your child afterwards and letting your child's caregivers know that you and your child are educated about sexual abuse. Monitor Internet use.
Step 3: Talk about It — Children often keep abuse a secret and may be afraid to tell. The abuser may shame, threaten or confuse the child. Children who disclose abuse often tell a trusted adult other than a parent. Children may shut down if an adult responds negatively. Adults working with youth should be trained about sexual abuse. Have open, age-appropriate conversations with your child about bodies, sex, boundaries and the child's right to say "no." Discuss sexual abuse with adults.
Step 4: Recognize the signs — Physical signs, although uncommon, include redness and swelling in the genital area, urinary tract infections and issues associated with anxiety, such as chronic stomach aches or headaches. More common emotional and behavioral signs range from acting "too perfect" to withdrawal, depression, unexplained anger and rebellion. Non-age-appropriate sexual behavior and language can be a red flag. If you find suspected physical signs of sexual abuse, D2L suggests having the child physically examined immediately by a professional who specializes in child sexual abuse.
Step 5: React responsibly — Very few reported incidents of child sexual abuse are false. If a child discloses abuse to you, don't overreact. Offer support. Praise the child's courage. Thank him or her for telling you. "Encourage the child to talk, but don't ask leading questions about details." Seeking the help of a professional who is trained to interview children about sexual abuse could be critical to the child’s healing and to any criminal prosecution. Report suspected or discovered sexual abuse to law enforcement immediately. You can also report to 1-844-CO-4-KIDS, Colorado Child Abuse Hotline, or 970-367-4056, Routt County Child Protective Services Hotline. Northwest Rocky Mountain Court Appointed Special Advocates will soon offer local trainings on child sexual abuse prevention.
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Sue Fegelein, J.D., is Northwest Rocky Mountain CASA's executive director. NWRM CASA provides volunteer advocates for abused and neglected children. Visit the group online at rockymountaincasa.org
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