Sadly, sexual abuse of children is a very real and prevalent occurrence in our society. In fact, 15 percent of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 12, and of these juvenile victims, 93 percent knew their attacker. Contrary to popular belief, these heinous perpetrators are not mysterious masked men in the shadows; a child molester is almost always someone that the victim knows and trusts, such as a babysitter, a relative, a neighbor, a friend’s parent, etc.
As frightening as these statistics are, the truth is that parents can still be a powerful protective force for their children. Consider the following ways you can help safeguard your children from predators:
Empower your children with knowledge. As parents, we want to protect our children’s innocence as long as possible. For this reason, some parents resist giving their children accurate sexual knowledge. They nickname their genitals (e.g., “Mr. Winky” or “Cookie”) and gloss over sexual facts (“The stork brings babies to parents” or “Babies grow from seeds planted in a garden”).
While young children do not need a full session of Sex Ed 101, they do need to know the accurate terms for their genitals, as this can help to identify if someone is crossing the line. For example, you can tell your child, “This is your vulva. It’s your private part and no one is allowed to touch it. Also, you shouldn’t touch anyone else’s private parts. If anyone tries to touch your vulva, tell me or your teacher right away. Or if someone asks you to touch his or her private parts, tell me or your teacher.” Should the unthinkable occur, your child will be able to explain what happened without being hampered by inaccurate nicknames that other adults might not understand or find amusing and laugh at.
Leave shame at the door. Additionally, by using accurate terminology and speaking openly about these issues, you will help your child understand that he or she does not need to be ashamed of this part of the body. Parents often act uncomfortable or embarrassed during these discussions of anatomy, and children pick up on this awkwardness and internalize that shame. Unfortunately, this means that if someone does start to make your child uncomfortable or cross the line, he or she may be too embarrassed to come forward and tell you what is going on.
Have an open-door policy. Hence, not only should you give your child accurate sexual knowledge, you should also make it clear that he or she should never be afraid to tell you anything. Explain to your children that their bodies are their own and that no one should ever touch them or make them feel uncomfortable in any way, but if someone should, then they should come to you right away without fear of being embarrassed or getting in trouble.
Teach street (and cyber) smarts. Talk to your children about how to keep themselves safe. Tell them to never speak to a stranger or get in a car with someone they don’t know, even if the stranger says that Mommy and Daddy told him (or her) to. If your children use the Internet or play video games, make sure to keep these systems located in a central location where you can keep an eye on them. Remind them also to never speak to or give personal information to strangers on the Internet, even if they claim to be fellow classmates.
Most importantly, keep the communication lines open and talk to your children about how their bodies are theirs and theirs alone. Teach them that they have authority over their bodies, and that no one should ever persuade or force them to do something they don’t want to do. Don’t make this a one-time talk, but rather part of an ongoing conversation that you visit again throughout the years as your children get older and face new and unique challenges.
For more information on abuse and how to find help, visit our abuse resources page.
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