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How to Talk to Your Child About Sexual Abuse

A parent’s fundamental goal is to keep their child safe, happy and healthy, but all too often this objective is threatened by sexual predators.

According to Feather Berkower, author, child abuse prevention specialist and founder of Parenting Safe Children, in a high school graduation class of 1,000, approximately 225 students will have been sexually abused.

While this statistic may seem shocking, the lesson that needs to be learned is that sexual abuse IS happening. So how can you protect your child from becoming a victim of sexual abuse?

Body Safety Rules

In order to end the epidemic of sexual abuse, children and parents must be educated. The Body Safety Rules designed by Berkower can be used to teach your children the fundamentals.

  • “No one is allowed to touch your private body parts, unless you need help cleaning them or if they’re hurt or sick and the doctor or nurse needs to examine them.” (Including siblings)
  •  “You are not allowed to touch someone else’s private body parts.”
  • “No one is allowed to make you kiss or touch them if you don’t want to.” (Including relatives) “No one is allowed to kiss or touch you if you don’t want them to.” You are allowed to choose who you kiss and touch, and when you kiss and touch people.”
  • “You have permission to say NO and get away if anyone tries to touch your private body parts or tries to break any of your body-safety rules. You never have to do what an adult (or anyone) tells you to do if the person is breaking a body-safety rule or making you unsafe.” Example: touching private parts or keeping secrets.
  • “If someone tells you to keep a secret about touching private body parts, don’t keep it. Tell a trusted adult.”

Read Berkower’s book, Off Limits: A Parent’s Guide to Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse, for more body safety rules and tips and advice on how to keep your children “off limits” to sexual abusers.

How to Teach Children the Body Safety Rules

According to Berkower, the best way to teach the Body Safety Rules is through “teachable moments.”

“When you are bathing your child and you hand your child the washcloth you say, ‘it’s time to wash your body, wash your eyes, wash you hair, wash your face, wash your legs and make sure you wash your vagina,’” said Berkower. “You just weave in the terms for them and then when you are talking about private areas say, ‘remember no one is allowed to touch your vagina because that belongs to you.’ You just weave the information in as often as you can, when it is relevant.”

When teaching young children about safety, the use of anatomically correct terms is extremely important, since slang terms can make children more vulnerable to abuse. “Sex offenders, when they hear children using the term cookie or flower or thingy about their genitals, they assume that no one is teaching them correct information and no one is talking to them about private parts and safety” said Berkower.

Playing games such as the “What if game” are also important tools in abuse education. By saying “What if someone touches your vagina?” or “What if someone makes you touch their privates?” you are cultivating your child’s knowledge as well as reiterating points made during “teachable moments.”

Signs of Sexual Abuse

If a child is being abused, they will often exhibit physical and emotional signs. It is important to listen to your child and talk regularly about day-to-day activities. Here is what you should look out for.

Emotional Signs of Abuse:

  • Regressed behavior
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • The refusal of a child to go with a particular person
  • Advanced sexual knowledge or activity
  • Aggressive or abusive behavior toward other children
  • Sleep disturbance

Physical Signs of Abuse:

  • Bleeding in their underwear
  • Repeated urinary infections that are ruled out by a medical doctor
  • Resists removing clothes when appropriate times (bath, bed, toileting, diapering)
  • Trouble sitting down or standing up

Are you interested in learning more about sexual abuse prevention? Visit Berkower’s website or sign up for a Parenting Safe Children Workshop which focuses on parent education, child empowerment and caregiver screening.

If you suspect that a child is being sexually abused, it is important to call your local police department or social service agency immediately.

Check back next Sunday for a follow-up post and more information about sexual abuse prevention.

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6 Comments

  1. Thank you for putting this important info out there for parents, Nicole! A childhood friend of mine was abused by a neighbor and I was called in as a witness to his odd character (one of the most difficult things I had to do in my young years) – and let me tell you, there were SO many signs…he should have had a warning on his forehead. Such a sad, unfortunate situation that should have, and could have, been prevented. Communication is key!

    • I’m so sorry to hear that Jaime. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for you and your friend. But you are right, communication is key! Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. very important topic and so hard to bring up sometimes.

  3. I believe that most children that are abused, are assulted by someone they know. A family member or friend of the family, a neighbor, or someone in an organization they attend. As a mother of 2 kids i taught my children that in our family there are no secrets, that is why it is important that you as a mother or a father build up trust with your child so that they feel safe telling you everything. Secrets with threats of something bad happening if you tell anyone are tools frequently used by abusers. Children don’t want bad things that happen to their family member and are easly frightened into keeping secrets to keep their families safe. They have to know they can tell you everything, that you will believe them and take action to keep them safe. I found an article by anationofmoms about a service that can protect your family via your cell phone. And, at the bottom there is an opportunity to enter a drawing for 6 months of that service just by liking them on Facebook. You might find it interesting: http://anationofmoms.com/2011/08/protect-your-family-giveaway.html

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