I am close friends with a woman, I’ll call her Julie, who was sexually abused as a child. Julie is comfortable enough with me to refer to her abuse from time to time. Sexual abuse is at the top of my list of parental fears so, not long ago, I asked Julie for some advice. I prefaced it by saying that it was perfectly okay if she didn’t want to discuss it, but did she have any suggestions on ways of keeping Nora safe from sexual abuse?
She set her jaw and thought for a moment. She said her abuser was a member of her extended family. Her mother had been a very trusting person. It never occurred to her mother that she wouldn’t be safe with family. Julie’s mom taught her all about stranger danger, but was oblivious of the dangers closer to home and unwittingly left her in the care of an abuser.
We talked about my approach to prevention, given Nora’s young age. Ben and I teach Nora that she is the only one allowed to touch her private parts, except for mom and dad to help clean, and the doctor. Julie liked this distinction, again, she had been taught not to let strangers touch her — not that she was in charge of her own body.
Julie also said she would never advise me to leave Nora alone with a male care provider. This made me think. Nora has two male teachers at daycare who we consider fantastic. I would probably hire them to sit on a weekend should the need arise. True, most abusers are men, but sex abuse by women is not unheard of. Would not hiring trusted male teacher to babysit at home be crossing the line into paranoia? Probably?
What’s great about a daycare center, as opposed to daycare in a private home, are the controls put in place. There are usually two teachers to a room, and management is always walking among the rooms –the chance of getting caught prevents possible abuse. In an in-home setting, you don’t know who’s in the house all day. There are no controls. Same with hiring someone to sit in your home – unless you want security cameras set up all over the house.
At the end of our talk, Julie thanked me for asking her advice. She said it was empowering to provide information that might keep Nora safe. I was glad I asked, and realized I had much research to do. Turns out, April is child abuse prevention month. I found some great tips on preventing sexual abuse at stopitnow.com. They have loads of information on prevention, which is obviously the goal, and also how to create an atmosphere where your kids will talk to you if (GOD FORBID) something should happen. They also have sharable tip sheets on different topics, such as what is (and is not) appropriate sexual behavior by age group.
Here are some prevention techniques from stopitnow.com:
- Teach your children that their “no” will be respected, whether it’s in playing or tickling or hugging or kissing. For instance, if your child does not want to give Grandma a kiss, let the child shake hands instead.
- Explain the difference between a secret and a surprise. Both the adults and children in your life need to know how secrets may make kids unsafe. Surprises are joyful and generate excitement in anticipation of being revealed after a short period of time. Secrets exclude others, often because the information will create upset or anger.
- Be clear with children about the difference between okay touch and inappropriate touch. For younger children, teach more concrete rules such as “talk with me if anyone — family, friend, or anyone else —touches your private parts.” Also, teach kids that it is unacceptable to use manipulation or control to touch someone else’s body.
Some statistics that stood out for me:
- In as many as 93 percent of child sexual cases, the child knows the person that commits the abuse.
- Most are acquaintances but as many as 47% are family or extended family.
- More than a third of those who sexually abuse children are under the age of 18 themselves.
Let’s be about making sure our kids don’t become a statistic. Arm yourself and your child with prevention techniques. Start now.