Child sexual abuse – Part III: Prevention

A younger child can learn to say ‘I need to go’ and just get away.

July 10, 2019 17:35
4 minute read.
Child sexual abuse – Part III: Prevention

‘BODY SECRETS are not OK.’. (photo credit: PXHERE)

There are many strategies in the prevention of child sexual abuse (CSA), including community educational models, teacher education, social service initiatives and cooperative work with law enforcement agencies. In this article I will focus on the role of parents in helping to prevent their children from becoming victims of sexual abuse.

1. Start teaching your children at a young age the correct names of body parts.
Typically, when toddlers reach one or two years of age, they can identify a few body parts. Small children quickly gain the ability to identify many body parts. It is very important to teach children to call each body part by its real name. Use “penis,” “vagina,” “buttocks” or “anus” rather than referring to them by such nicknames as “wee-wee” or “tushy.” Correct naming of body parts enables younger children to communicate clearly in the event that a child or some other adult does something untoward to them. 
2. Teach them that some body parts are private. 
Young children commonly run around naked, especially after a bath before they get dressed. However, as kids get older, it is a good idea to teach them about the privacy of their bodies. Children do not adequately understand the concept of privacy until age five or six. Parents must drive home the idea that our bodies are our own, and that no one has the right to touch us in ways that make us feel uncomfortable.
3. Teach good touch/bad touch.
Parents should teach their children that there are both good and bad touch experiences, and how to distinguish those differences. For example, if someone like mom or dad or a relative gives them a hug and they feel OK about it, it is a good touch. Giving a friend a high-five also feels good. 
Children can learn about the four zones of the body (the mouth, chest, parts between the legs and buttocks) that should not be touched by others. Exceptions to this rule include parents giving young children a bath or dressing them. Moreover, doctors often need to touch private body parts during an examination, but this should always be in the company of the parent. Most importantly, parents should clearly communicate to their children that if someone touches them in a way which makes the child feel uncomfortable, shy or scared, it is a bad touch. Children should be instructed to trust their feelings, move away from the person and tell a parent or other responsible caregiver.
 4. Tell your children that “body secrets” are not OK.
Most perpetrators will tell a child victim to keep the abuse a secret. Some children keep these secrets hidden because they are afraid they are the cause of the abuse and that their parents will be angry with them. Other children may fear that their parents’ friends will ostracize their parents if the secret comes out. Tell your children that no matter what anyone tells them, body secrets are not OK, and they should always tell you if someone tries to touch them inappropriately, even if the abuser pressures them not to tell anyone. 
5. Tell your children that no one should ever take pictures of their private parts.
Unfortunately, there are pedophiles who take pictures of naked children and trade the pictures online. There have been cases where teenagers have convinced friends to pose for nude photographs, only to later find the nude photos online. It is important to explain to your children that no one should ever take nude pictures of them. Teens need to know that the risk of possible harm by these compromising photos is real and epidemic. 
6. Teach your children how to get out of scary or uncomfortable situations.
When sensing danger, some kids run away while others just freeze, become immobilized and feel helpless when in a threatening situation. This warrants open and frank discussions with your children about the need to trust instincts that signal danger. A younger child can learn to say, “I need to go” to an older person, or even a teen or peer, and just get away. Tell your children to run away and even scream if need be. It is important to reinforce the idea that no one is allowed to talk them into doing something they feel is wrong or unsafe. In addition, if something does happen, the message is: Tell someone, a parent or other responsible adults. 
7. Don’t force affection.
Some parents unintentionally force affection by insisting that children give someone a kiss or a hug. However, if you want to really empower your children to feel that they have control over their own bodies, let affection flow naturally. No parental suggestions are necessary. 
8. Parents should teach children to be aware of strangers. 
Children should never go anywhere with a stranger. Parents should tell their children to never take any gifts, presents or food from strangers, and to tell a parent if this happens.
9. Practice or role play.
Parents can role play various scenarios with their children. This allows children the opportunity to practice effective behavioral responses to cope with high-risk situations and learn how to confront a would-be abuser. 
CSA is a widespread serious problem. However, parents can be effective at teaching their children the necessary life skills to prevent abuse, and the knowledge of what to do when facing danger.

The writer is a marital, child and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana.,

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