10 tips for sexual abuse prevention
From a podcast by Meghan Backofen
Meghan Backofen is a therapist who has specialized in treating child sexual abuse for twenty years. The experience of children and parents have helped her to develop practical prevention strategies for caregivers, and professionals who work with children. Since child sexual abuse is often an overwhelming topic for parents, she has tried to make the information more tolerable by simplifying it into 10 Tips for Sexual Abuse Prevention as an iTunes podcast, a Spotify podcast and an Amazon one.
This information will help caregivers to feel empowered. They will learn specific strategies for how to talk with children about this difficult topic and how to respond if sexual abuse is suspected. These tips identify misinformation caregivers have that put children at greater risk for sexual abuse trauma.
Here is a quick review of the 10 most important tips in sexual abuse prevention:
1. Understand why children need to know about sexual abuse
The pervasiveness of child sexual abuse really demands that prevention happens in every home. Children need to know that sexual abuse exists and that it happens to many children. Often parents avoid telling their children about sexual abuse for fear of scaring them or giving them information about sex when they are too young. Meghan gives parents a script to help guide as they broach the topic: “I want you to know that sometimes grown-ups or other kids, even people we know, might want to look at, or touch, your private parts. They might want you to play games with, or show you pictures of private parts or even make you look at or ask you to touch theirs. If this ever happens, they are trying to break a rule and I want you to tell me about it so I can help you”. This simple information can be given to a child at any age, and I encourage parents to talk to their children like this from a very young age.
2. Caregivers should know who sexually offends
Many caregivers rely on sex offender registries and “stranger danger” and thus inadvertently misinform their children. Over 90% of the time the child has a relationship with the offender. Sexual abuse is not likely to happen in a “grab and go” situation but is more likely to happen in the context of a relationship that the parent is aware of. Both children and caregivers need to know that sexual abuse by a stranger is incredibly rare and in most cases of abuse there is a relationship with the perpetrator. The element of betrayal in a sexually abusive relationship is one of the things that makes sexual abuse so traumatizing and difficult to report.
3. Watch out for grooming behaviours.
There have been too many instances where a parent says, "But he is such a nice guy, I can’t believe he could do something like that!” “But she always wants to be with her uncle, she LOVES him!”. Sexual offenders work to ensure that if a child does disclose abuse it will be difficult to believe them. It is in their best interest to be perceived as a “nice guy” or a “trusted person” and so they work to manipulate and charm the child, the parents, and the entire community.
4. Secrets are not safe
In order to truly understand sexual abuse trauma, one needs to understand why children feel that they cannot tell. Child sexual abuse victims rarely tell about the abuse right away, and this makes for a much more substantial negative impact. From asking many children, “What made it hard to tell?”, the most common responses are, “I didn’t want my mum to cry”, “I didn’t want my dad to get in trouble for hurting him”, “I was embarrassed”, “I didn’t want to get into trouble”. In order to truly understand the trauma of child sexual abuse one must understand the secrecy in which it thrives. A very important message for caregivers to give their children is “Secrets are not safe!” Children should know the difference between secrets, surprises, and private things.
5. Who's the boss of this body
One of the best ways that caregivers can educate their child to prevent sexual abuse is to teach them, “You are the Boss Of Your Body”. Meghan wrote a children’s book “Who’s the Boss of this Body”, so that caregivers would have a useful tool to help start this this conversation. Children need to know that no one has the right to look at or touch their private parts, and no one has the right to make a child look at or touch their private parts.
6. Make Child Sexual Abuse Prevention part of your everyday parenting
Many caregivers confuse a conversation about sexual abuse with “the sex talk”. Parents think “Well I think they teach the kids about that in middle school”. Talking about sex and talking about sexual abuse are completely different. Sexual abuse prevention is not a one-time awkward conversation, but more a style of parenting that empowers children to know their boundaries and not keep secrets.
7. Know the signs of Child Sexual Abuse
Although there are no definitive signs of sexual abuse, there are certainly red flags that parents should look out for. Children often communicate through behaviours and there are some that may indicate sexual abuse. Parents should familiarize themselves with emotional. behavioural, physical, and sexual signs of sexual abuse.
8. Know how to respond
All too often a child is faced with a “dead end disclosure”. This means that even though the child tells, the report goes no further. Sometimes well-meaning caregivers think that this is the best way to protect their child - “They have been through too much, I didn’t want to make them go through even more”. A caregiver's response to disclosures of sexual abuse is critical to a child's recovery. A sexual offender has one simple rule they want followed - “Don’t report me to the police”. If the child tells and then the caregiver also joins the offender’s team by following their rule of silence, the child is even further traumatized.
9. Know the risk and protective factors
While no child is immune from sexual abuse there are some risk factors that may increase their likelihood of abuse. Understanding what protective factors can be put into place will ultimately reduce the risk of being traumatized by abuse. Caregivers who seek to be informed about sexual abuse and are willing to believe the possibility that abuse could happen to their child, actually reduce the risk of victimization. Homes that encourage secrecy, where there may be domestic violence, substance abuse, or high conflict divorce, put children at greater risk. Offenders have been known to say they seek out children who are good at keeping secrets. Additionally, children who identify as LGBT, preschool children, and children with disabilities are at greater risk for sexual abuse.
10. Raising resilient children
Child sexual abuse victims who continue to be stuck in their trauma are at risk for re-victimization. All children who have experienced sexual abuse should be assessed to see if they need mental health treatment, and if so, they should attend an evidence-based trauma focused therapy. Caregivers need professional support so that they are not only preventing further abuse, but they are also preventing post-traumatic stress.
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