The thought of anyone harming our children in any way, especially sexually, is horrifying. As a parent, I wish I could live in a world where I don’t have to worry about shielding my children from sexual abuse, but the fact is we all have to be proactive when it comes to protecting our children.
I’m honored to have my friend Melissa Clark, a licensed professional counselor, guest posting about what may be a triggering subject for some. This post will discuss sexual abuse of minors- warning signs to look for, and how to talk to your children about it.
I hope you will share this incredible resource with your friends, support groups, and other parents in your life.
I’m not sure what specifically I was doing the first time it happened. Maybe putting my books away in my locker or walking to my next class. I was the new kid in middle school. I do remember feeling fear, panic, and confusion. A boy from one of my classes took delight in touching me inappropriately as I passed from class to class, while we waited for the teacher to come in or stood in line to go to lunch. It happened so often that I don’t remember the details. But I remember the panic and the frozen feeling of powerlessness. And the fear— there was a lot of fear. Would something else happen? Why can’t I stop this from happening? That year, I began taking Benadryl to help me sleep, and I started getting lots of stomach aches. I skipped as much school as I could without getting into trouble because I didn’t want to be there. And I’ve never told anyone about this until just now.
I’m telling you now, dear parent, because I want to help protect your sweet littles from people who want to abuse and take advantage of your children.
I’m a counselor now; I sit with individuals who have faced all kinds of horrific tragedies of abuse and trauma. In addition to my own story, I want to share what I’ve learned from the hundreds of amazing, brave, strong women and men I have met with, as well as helpful research and resources to help you protect your children.
Know the facts (even though you may not want to).
- 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.
- 30% of children are abused by family members.
- As many as 60% are abused by people the family trusts.
- 27.8% of boys are age 10 or younger at the time of their first rape/victimization.
- About 35% of victims are 11 years old or younger.
- The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12 to 14 years old and the average age for boys is 11 to 13 years old.
- Nearly 40% are abused by older or larger children.
Stranger danger is a MYTH.
We tend to think that strangers pose the greatest risks to our children, but research shows that sexual predators are usually friends and family.
People who abuse children look and act just like everyone else. In fact, they often go out of their way to appear trustworthy, seeking out settings where they can gain easy access to children, such as sports leagues, faith centers, clubs, and schools. (www.d2l.org)
Teach with your kids about personal boundaries.
I recently went to a workshop where the presenter spoke on boundaries for kids. She stated she asks her kids for a hug and kiss, giving them the option to say no. The intention is to teach them they have choice and control over their bodies. This helps children become less vulnerable to people who would violate their boundaries.
- Use anatomically correct names for body parts or at least teach your child what the actual words are for their body parts. It’s uncomfortable (at least for me!) to say the correct terms, but children need to know.
- Talk to your children about what parts of their bodies others should not touch. Talk to them about which parts of their bodies are private.
Reduce risk. Protect children.
Think carefully about the safety of any isolated, one-on-one settings. Choose group situations when possible. More than 80% of sexual abuse cases occur in isolated, one-on-one situations.
If you eliminate or reduce isolated, one-on-one situations between children and adults, as well as children and other youth, you’ll dramatically reduce the risk of sexual abuse. (www.d2l.org)
- Think carefully about the safety of situations in which older youth have access to younger children. Make sure that multiple adults are present who can supervise.
- Set an example by personally avoiding isolated, one-on-one situations with children other than your own.
- Understand that abusers often become friendly with potential victims and their families by participating in family activities, earning trust, and gaining time alone with children.
Monitor your child’s Internet use. Offenders use the Internet to lure children into physical contact.
- Teach children not to give out personal information while using the Internet, including email addresses, home addresses, and phone numbers.
- Tell your child that no one should take pictures of their private parts.
Watch for changing patterns.
- Bleeding, bruises, or swelling in genital area
- Bloody, torn, or stained underclothes
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Frequent urinary or yeast infections
- Pain, itching, or burning in genital area (www.rainn.org)
- Changes in hygiene, such as refusing to bathe or bathing excessively
- Develops phobias
- Exhibits signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
- Expresses suicidal thoughts, especially in adolescents
- Has trouble in school, such as absences or drops in grades
- Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviors
- Nightmares or bed-wetting
- Overly protective and concerned for siblings, or assumes a caretaker role
- Returns to regressive behaviors, such as thumb sucking
- Runs away from home or school
- Shrinks away or seems threatened by physical contact (www.rainn.org)
My signs were becoming withdrawn, avoiding school, stomach aches, and self-medicating to numb the pain.
Perpetrators ask children to keep secrets, to not tell anyone about the abuse. They inform the child that they won’t be believed or threaten to harm a family member if the child doesn’t keep the secret. Inform your kids that body secrets are not okay and to always tell you if someone threatens them. My daughter was punched while in kindergarten. The child told her not to tattle, warning her something bad would happen if she did. Trembling and so frightened, she bravely told us. Because of her courage, my husband and I advocated for her.
I never told anyone about what happened to me at school because I was afraid I wouldn’t be believed. I was afraid that it was my fault and somehow I caused that boy’s behavior. I kept the secret buried until now. Talk to your kids. Believe your kids. It’s tough and heartbreaking, but they need you to teach, advocate for, and empower them.
Melissa is a licensed professional counselor in Dallas, TX. When she isn’t counseling, speaking, or blogging, you can find her sifting through clearance racks or perusing online for her next travel destination. She lives in the Dallas area with her handsome hubby and two cute kiddos (and a crazy rescue dog). For more information, please follow her at melissaclarkcounseling.com.