Reducing Children’s Vulnerability to Sexual Abuse
It can be very hard to talk with your child about sexual abuse, but as a parent it is one of the most important things you can do to protect your child. You give your child important safety messages every day: look both ways before you cross the street, don’t play with matches and wear your helmet when you ride your bike. Think of personal safety as another lesson to add to your daily routine.
How do I get started?
- When? Decide when you want to talk with your child- at bed time, at dinner time, etc.
- Where? Decide where you want to talk with your child- in the living room, at the kitchen table, child’s bedroom?
- How? Decide how you want to start the conversation- do you want to talk to the child alone, involve the whole family, read a story?
If possible involve the whole family, and try to work the information into your every daily conversations and activities. If your child feels like talking about personal safety is a normal part of their activities the information may feel less scary. You do not have to talk about all the information at once, start slow and add new information as you and your child feel comfortable.
What do I talk about?
It’s Your Body!
- Teach your children that they are special and important. Help your child to feel good about themselves. Tell and show them that they are special and important, and that they deserve good touching. If children feel good about themselves they will be more likely to feel that they have a right to protect themselves.
- Teach your children that their bodies are special. Help your child learn that their bodies are special and belong only to them. Teach them that they get to decide when and with whom they want to “share” or “not share” their bodies.
- Teach children the proper names for their genitals. Start with the idea of private as something that belongs only to them. People should ask if they want to touch or use their private things (such as their stuffed animals, book, bedroom, cubby at school). Then talk about and name the private parts of their body: breasts, vulva, penis, buttocks. Children need to know that these are important parts. By naming the private parts, we let children know that it is okay to talk about them. If they are sexually abused, they will be able to better talk about what happened.
- Touch. Ask your child to tell you about the different kinds of touch: good (hug, back rub, hand shake), confusing (tickle that lasts too long, bear hug), and bad (hit, kick, touch on their private parts). Sometimes it can be hard for a child to tell the difference between a “good” or “bad” touch. Sometimes a “good touch” from one person may not feel “good” from another person. (A hug from someone they know v. a hug from a stranger). And while we know that sexual abuse is a “bad” touch, children may feel like it is a “confusing” touch, especially if they are touched in this way by someone they know and trust. Let your child know that touch should never be a secret.
Trust Your Feelings!
- Talk about the different feelings we have: happy, sad, angry, shy, excited, confused, lonely, proud, etc.
- Teach your children to trust their feelings and to listen to their “inner voice” and what it is saying to them. Tell them: “If something feels wrong to you, then it is not okay.” When children listen to their feelings, it will be easier for them to figure out what kind of touch is “okay” or “not okay.”
It’s Okay to Say No!
- It is okay to say no to an adult who gives you a bad or confusing touch EVEN IF IT IS SOMEONE YOU KNOW AND TRUST.
- Give examples of the kinds of touch/activity that children can say no to. Adults cannot:
- Put their hands down your pants
- Touch your private parts
- Ask you to touch their private parts
- Take off your clothes
- Take pictures of you with your clothes off
It is also important to let your children no they can say no to any kind of touch at any time, even “good” touch. If they do not want to give someone a hug that day (even from you), that is okay.
- Help your children practice saying no. Play the “What If Game.” For example, “What if your uncle wanted you to sit on his lap and you didn’t want to?” or “What if you got a “yucky” feeling when an adult gave you a hug?” Give your children words to use. “No. Don’t touch me. I don’t like that.” “It’s my body.”
- Teach children that it is “okay” to say no, NOT that they “should” say no. We want to make sure that children know that if something bad happens and they didn’t say no because they were scared or confused they are NOT to blame. We do not want to place guilt on the child who is unable to say no.
- Teach your child that it is important to tell secrets that worry, scare, hurt or confuse them.
- Children should know that it is okay to break promises not to tell EVEN IF IT’S SOMEONE THEY KNOW AND TRUST.
- Teach your child that if something bad happens they need to tell, and keep telling until they get the help that they need.
- Help children make a list of all of the people in their lives that they can go to for help. (You, family members, teachers, counselors, etc.)
It’s Not Your Fault!
- Child sexual abuse is NEVER the child’s fault. The adult (or teenager) is ALWAYS responsible for his or her actions.
Remember- Children need to hear these messages over and over again. Children who are confident and who feel good about themselves are less vulnerable to abuse.
If you would like more information talking to your children about child sexual abuse prevention, are interested in books and other information about teaching prevention or are concerned about a child, call the Advocacy Center 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.