More than 300,000 children are sexually abused each year. Here are 10 ways to teach your child body safety to reduce the risk of sexual abuse in your family.
1- TALK ABOUT BODY SAFETY OPENLY AND OFTEN
The first step in prevention is education – for you and your child. You must be informed and know the facts to educate your child – in doing so you can greatly reduce the risk of your child being victimized sexually. For some parents this is going to be a difficult and perhaps uncomfortable process – for the simple fact that we want to protect our children from the ugliness of it all. Believe me, I get it. However, this will be a conversation just as important as any other safety talk you have with your child. Education starts at home so it’s up to you. The relationship and trust you build with your child now will set the stage later and they will know there is nothing they can’t talk to you about. That’s a lesson that will stay with them a lifetime. Sexual boundaries, privacy, and safety should always be discussed openly, honestly, and often at home.
2- TEACH CORRECT TERMINOLOGY FOR BODY PARTS
As a former child protection investigator working countless child sexual abuse cases I want to tell you the best thing a parent can do when teaching anatomy to their children is teach the correct anatomical names for the body parts and that includes using your grownup words like vagina and penis. Those body parts should be as easily identifiable to your child as “knee” or “eyes.” For investigators, it is so frustrating and complicating when parents teach their kids to use silly or “food” names for their vagina. Do you know how difficult it is to work a child sexual abuse investigation when a little girl says, “Daddy touched my cookie” or “kissed my cookie?” Not only does this hinder the investigation but it seriously jeopardizes there being criminal charges and justice for the victim. Defense attorneys will have a field day with that kind of disclosure from a child. God forbid anything ever happens to your child but if it does make sure your child is able to use correct terminology for a clear prosecutable disclosure.
3- BODY PARTS ARE PRIVATE
One of the easiest things to teach is the “bathing suit rule,” which is anything under the bathing suit is off limits to everyone but a doctor and only when a parent is in the room. That means no one is to touch them in the private areas and they are not to touch anyone there either. We probably remember “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” growing up as kids. Sexual exploration is a normal childhood developmental milestone; however, children need to be taught early on as to lessen the risk of them becoming a sexual abuse statistic. Teach your child privacy and body boundaries in the home.
4- PHOTOS OF PRIVATES ARE OFF LIMITS
In today’s age of technology we are all aware of child pornography and online Human Trafficking dangers, yet talking to our kids about pictures and body safety is all too often overlooked. Your child should be taught that no one is allowed to take pictures of their privates and they are never to take pictures of anyone else’s privates. Again, the only exception is a doctor of course. (If your child is sexually assaulted during the forensic evidence collection and SANE exam – photographs will be taken so we don’t want to scare and traumatize a child even more if they are taught photos of privates are never ever allowed.) Smart phones are not too smart for younger children. Believe me, kids will take pictures of anything and everything. They will snap a picture of their penis as quick as they will a slug on the sidewalk. They are innocent and their minds are not developed enough to know why that’s not a good idea. Remember, it’s up to you to educate your child about the dangers of taking naked pictures of themselves or others, or allowing anyone else to take naked pictures of them. Let’s hope the earlier they learn that lesson you won’t have to worry about sexting later on in the teen years. Oh yeah – the joys of parenting!
5- DANGER ISN’T ALWAYS A STRANGER
Don’t scare your child about stranger danger and the creepy guy in the white Chevy van, as 90% of children are sexually abused by someone they know and the family trusts. Of course, you want to teach your children about the dangers of going with strangers – that’s not what I’m saying here at all. But, the facts are your child is safer playing at the park, walking home from school, and running the neighborhood with friends than they are out of sight behind closed doors with someone you know and trust. A good reminder to all you helicopter parents.
“People who sexually abuse children often go out of their way to appear trustworthy”
6- NO SECRETS – ALWAYS TELL
Abusers will tell the child “It’s our secret”, “don’t tell anyone”, and even threaten that if they tell no one will ever believe them. Explain to your child that there is nothing they cannot tell you and that you will always believe them when it comes to body safety. They have to feel safe with you – remember someone who may be sexually abusing a child is usually a person of trust in the family and that makes it very hard for a child to differentiate. Your child needs you to reiterate to them often that you are always there for them and that you know what to do if someone ever crosses a line. You must never threaten to harm an offender as the child may love the offender and not want harm to come to them. Just explain you are an adult and know how to protect your child and don’t give details of what you will or would do to the perpetrator if your child discloses to you.
7- NO MEANS NO / STOP MEANS STOP
This should be a general practice when teaching children social skills and is especially important when teaching children safety. It’s the same if your child runs out into the street after a ball and you yell STOP – you want your child to stop immediately for their own safety. Teach them to respect someone when they say “no” and to practice this at home often. When someone says “no” or “stop” – stop immediately. They must also practice saying “no” – as children have a hard time telling adults “no.” It’s no wonder as we raise our children to be respectful and I know with my own children I’m the first to say, “Don’t you tell me no!” Children need to learn there is a difference between defiance, respecting their parents and authority, and body safety. They need to know if they are ever uncomfortable around someone or someone asks them to do something that makes them uncomfortable or against the “rules” then it is always okay to say “no.”
8- PAY ATTENTION TO THAT INNER FEELING
A child is never to young to learn to listen to that inner small voice that will help protect them throughout their life. No matter what you call it – intuition, conscious, Holy Spirit …. they need to know it’s there to protect them. Also, pay attention to your child’s behaviors if they show any signs that they are not comfortable around someone.
9- THE BUDDY SYSTEM / DON’T BE ALONE WITH ADULTS / MINIMIZE THE OPPORTUNITY
More than 80% of child sexual abuse incidents happen when the child is isolated in one-on-one situations with adults or other youth. Teach your child that they should not be alone or out of sight of others with an adult or older youth. They need to always have friends or other adults around them. This is tricky – I know – but you can teach your child safety now as there are things you can make rules in your home that your child can follow at other people’s homes. Start with an open-door policy – if an adult is ever in a room with a child the doors stay open at all times. This means the bedroom, bathroom, where ever. Teach your child hygiene independence early so they do not need assistance bathing or wiping longer than developmentally appropriate. Make sure your child is able to dress themselves without assistance. Both of those will help reduce risk of sexual abuse. Predators look for opportunity and you want to take that opportunity away from them.
10- BUILD YOUR CHILD’S SUPPORT NETWORK
This is important so if your child is ever in danger or feels uncomfortable they know who are the safe people to talk to and go to immediately for help. Get other adults involved (your best friend, close neighbor, aunt) and make sure they all know your child is educated on body safety.
Parents, this is tough stuff I know. However, the more you and your child are educated the risk of abuse will go down. Here are a few other tips for you:
Do a sex offender search in your area – its free online. Don’t let this scare you and don’t focus only on registered offenders. Offenders will have multiple victims before they are caught so you need to stay vigilant with everyone.
Recognize the warning signs of sexual abuse and know the resources in your area should you ever need them.
React responsibly and try to stay calm if your child discloses. Many times, children will only disclose a little tiny bit to see what the reaction will be from their safe person. Do not ask for any in-depth details and do not ask any leading questions. The best bet is to listen, be supportive, and see if you can get the “minimal facts” – who, what, where, and when. Leave the rest to the professionals. Call Law Enforcement immediately after getting the minimal information your child discloses.
I’ve drawn heavily on my education, investigative experience, as well as Darkness To Light’s 5 Steps To Protecting Our Children (download here)
Leave a comment with any of your ideas or experiences, or feel free to ask a question!
Until next time,
Love Vicki Marie ~