Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse
Contributed by the Center for Child Protection
Sexual abuse is perhaps a parent's greatest fear for their child, but there are many ways we can help protect our kids. It starts with awareness, and it succeeds with courage.
What Can Parents Do To Protect Their Children From Sexual Abuse?
- Talk to your child. Communication is key. Know your child's friends and their friends' parents. Know their teachers. Keep an open line of communication with your child so they know they can come to you about whatever is happening in their life. Talk to your child about their world - both physical and online - and ask three specific questions for both:
- Where are you going?
- Who are you hanging out with?
- How long are you going to be?
- Ask specific questions. Has anyone ever touched you in a way that made you feel uncomfortable? Has anyone ever asked you to keep a secret from me? Has anyone ever invited you into their home?
- Listen to your child. Trust your gut and your child's gut instinct as well. If your child tells you they feel uncomfortable around a particular person or in a particular place, believe them and ask questions. If your child tells you they have been abused, believe them and take action by making a report. Make sure children understand that no matter what has happened, they can tell you without fear of being blamed or punished.
- Educate your child. Teach your child from a very young age about their bodies, and when age appropriate, about sex. Tell them which parts of the body are private and should not be touched by others. Explain that their mouth is also a private part. Use examples with situations and people in their lives. Explain these touching boundaries are for everyone - even parents, family members, older youth, babysitters and friends. Teach children the proper names for their body parts. Teach them they have your permission and the right to say "NO" to unwanted or uncomfortable touch. Demonstrate appropriate boundaries by never forcing them to give affection if they say no.
- Minimize Opportunity. Eliminate or reduce isolated, one-on-one situations to decrease the risk of sexual abuse. More than 80% of child sexual abuse incidents happen in these isolated, one-on-one situations.
Are There Signs That Parents Can Look For?
Look for physical injuries or problems around the:
Physical signs are not common but have your child immediately examined by a medical professional if you notice anything different.
Changes in emotions and behavior are more common signs of abuse.
If your child is acting very differently and something seems wrong, try talking to them and find out what is happening in their life. Sexual behavior and language that are not age-appropriate can also be red flags.
Is There A Way To Tell If Someone Will Abuse A Child?
Children are often abused by people they know and not always by adults:
- 30% by family members
- 60% by people the family knows and trust
- 40 % of sexual abusers are older, more powerful children
People who sexually abuse children look for settings where they have easy access to children like:
- Sports leagues
- Faith centers
Never assume that a person isn't the "type" to abuse a child and instead focus eliminating isolated, one-on-one interactions. Watch for "grooming behaviors," where potential offenders test the waters and gradually work on getting closer to the child.
What Should Parents Do If They Suspect Or Know A Child Has Been Abused?
- Call the Texas statewide child abuse hotline at 1-800-252-5400.
- Call 911 if there is an immediate threat of danger.
You do not need to have proof of sexual abuse to make a good faith report.
The Center for Child Protection offers educational opportunities to professionals, parents and community organizations on identification, reporting and prevention of child physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. These programs are offered free of charge and are available in English and Spanish.
Much of the information provided in this article comes from the Stewards of Children training program by Darkness to Light. You can schedule a training for yourself or your school, company, church, or organization through the Center for Child Protection - visit our website to learn more.
For More Information
About the Expert: The Center for Child Protection is a nationally accredited children's advocacy center and the only nonprofit organization in Travis County, Texas involved in the investigation of crimes against children. For more than 25 years, the Center has been the first stop for children in Travis County who are suspected victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect and for children who have witnessed a violent crime. The Center is a child-friendly, specially-equipped facility where children go for recorded forensic interviews, medical exams, counseling and intervention during the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases.
The Center's goal is to end the cycle of child abuse by supporting current victims of abuse and empowering them to break the cycle of abuse in their own lives, through timely, strategic, effective and evidence-based intervention with the Protective Parenting Program. Further, the Education Services Department trains professionals and other community members on how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child abuse if they have suspicions of abuse.
All Center for Child Protection services are provided to children, their protective caregivers and community members at no charge and are available in both English and Spanish.