Your children are your most precious assets. And though you can’t protect them from all dangers and risk factors, you can lower their risk of being targeted by making smart, proactive decisions about where they go and who they spend time with.
Child Sexual Abuse: A Peek at the Numbers
Sexual abuse among children is far more common than most parents realize. Without attempting to scare parents or mislead them into assuming the worst, here are some of the statistics published by the National Center for Victims of Crime:
- 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of sexual abuse at some point during childhood.
- Studies show that 20 percent of adult females and 5-10 percent of adult males can recall a childhood sexual assault or abuse incident.
- Children are most vulnerable to sexual abuse between the ages of 7 and 13.
Children who are victims of prolonged sexual abuse are likely to develop low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, and an abnormal or distorted view of sex. The sooner sexual abuse is identified, the sooner healing can occur.
How to Protect Your Children From Sexual Abuse
You can’t protect your child from every harmful or dangerous situation, but there are certain steps you can take – particularly when they’re young – to lessen the risk of sexual abuse. Here are a few practical suggestions:
- Be Aware of Your Child’s Inner Circle
Perhaps the most alarming data point of all is the fact that 90 percent of sexual abuse victims know their abusers. In other words, if your child is sexually abused, you probably know the abuser as well.
Make sure you’re aware of the people who are closest to your child. This includes relatives, friends, friends’ parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, neighbors, etc. These are the people who are most likely to commit an act of sexual abuse.
- Limit Overnight Stays
The risk of sexual abuse increases when children are removed from their normal home environment for prolonged periods of time and put in isolation with other adults during vulnerable moments. Overnight stays are a prime example.
For example, there’s been a steep increase in the number of sexual abuse cases stemming from Boys & Girls Clubs of America. These cases of abuse typically happen at overnight camps where older campers are allowed unsupervised access to children. The same could be said of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and even religious youth organizations.
You don’t necessarily need to prohibit your children from joining organizations like these, but you should play a more active role in protecting your children from unnecessary harm. This may look like volunteering with these groups so that you can be closer to your child.
- Equip Your Child With Knowledge
Children need to be comfortable with their body and know the difference between body parts, which ones are private, and what sort of boundaries are necessary.
“Name body parts and talk about them very early. Use proper names for body parts, or at least teach your child what the actual words are for their body parts,” clinical social worker Natasha Daniels suggests. “I can’t tell you how many young children I have worked with who have called their vagina their ‘bottom.’ Feeling comfortable using these words and knowing what they mean can help a child talk clearly if something inappropriate has happened.”
By sheltering your child from this knowledge, you’re actually creating more room for confusion and abuse. The ultimate goal is to teach your child how to protect themselves by being less vulnerable to manipulation.
- Communicate With Your Child Regularly
You and your child should be having regular conversations about deep issues and serious matters. They should feel comfortable coming to you with questions and concerns (and you should feel comfortable asking them). Having open channels of communication will give you the opportunity to speak truth in your child’s life and help them confront issues proactively, rather than reactively.
Adding it All Up
As a parent, you have a certain responsibility to care for your child and protect them from undue harm. And though you can’t keep them safe from every danger lurking in this world, you can do your best to safeguard them from high-risk scenarios.
When it comes to sexual abuse, a proactive plan is the best measure of defense.