Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Preventing Child Sexual Abuse


None of us want to hear those words, "Someone touched me......." from their child. You try and protect your children from abuse. You want that one surefire way that will guarantee your child will be protected. You research neighborhoods when you move to make sure there aren't any child molesters close to your home. You spend lots of time getting to know other parents before you let your children play at their house without you. You teach them about appropriate and inappropriate touches. You do everything you can to make sure they are safe from sexual abuse.
My aim is not to downplay the importance of all these things you do to prevent child sexual abuse from happening to your child. My aim will be to inform you about other ways to help your child feel safe and in control of their body.
First, child sexual abuse is very difficult to prevent because the offender is usually someone very close to the child. It could be an aunt, uncle, grandparent, close family friend, father, mother, cousin, and so on, more often than the registered sex offender living down the street. The registered sex offender living down the street was probably convicted because of crimes committed with a child or children he or she knew very closely (probably related). Because of this, it is incredibly difficult to prevent sexual abuse. The child is usually around the offender often. They usually love the offender and don't want to get them in trouble. Another reason child sexual abuse is very difficult to prevent is because adults are older. This means they are stronger, more experienced at negotiation. They can persuade, manipulate, and instill fear in children easily. No matter what you teach your child, you can't force them to think like an adult to combat the reasoning skills of an adult.
As always, everything you do with your child should be considered with prayer. As you pray for your child, you can pray that your eyes will be opened to know how to best protect them. Then, you let Heavenly Father take the lead. If something happens, you will have made your best effort and you know that Heavenly Father can't always take away another person's agency. I'll give you some pointers on how to not necessarily prevent child sexual abuse, but prevent your child from becoming a victim. This means that your child will feel in control of their body and if they become a victim of child sexual abuse, it does not make them feel like a victim for the rest of their lives.  
1. Let's refer to the inappropriate/appropriate touch post. Teach your child that it's okay to say no to any touch they are uncomfortable. Let them know that if it happens, they can come to you for help. Then, you be their advocate. Be a second voice when the other person isn't listening to theirs. They will know that it's okay to talk to you about touches that make them uncomfortable because you've listened in the past when they've come to you. If you listen when they tell you they don't like being tickled, or playing "This Little Piggy," or getting cheeks pinched, they know you'll listen when they tell you something bigger, like someone touched them in an inappropriate way.
2. Spend time with your child. Children are more likely to be sexually abused if they are craving adult attention. They look for adults that will spend time with them. Offenders are very good at spending time with children who need attention.
3. Teach your children about safe lies and harmful lies. A safe lie is not telling about a birthday present so it will be a surprise. A harmful lie is if someone tells you never to tell anyone else something that happened or something someone said. Safe lies are usually not really lies, but withholding information until a certain time. Teach your child that if someone wants them to lie, even someone they know well, they should still tell you so you can help protect them.
4. "Stranger Danger" is overstated. Most sexual abuse happens with a family member, not a stranger. Most rapes occur with someone the person knows. I teach my children that if anyone they don't know asks if they want to see an animal, like a dog or cat, or wants to give them some candy or toys, they should tell them, "Wait, let me get my mom or dad." Then, they run to find one of us without going to the person first. First, they find us. This prevents them from being overly scared of strangers. Some strangers are actually great people, in fact most are very nice. Don't let your child's vision be colored by the few strangers that might want to hurt them. Teach them to be smart about how to handle people they don't know.
If your child comes to you and tells you that someone touched them, it's incredibly important that you don't treat them as "broken." This is something that happened to them, but it does not define who they are. They are still a child of God. They are still innocent. They are still pure and clean. And, believe them. Don't tell them, "That must not have happened" because you know the person well and you can't imagine that person doing something like this to your child.
The NUMBER ONE THING YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOUR CHILD IS TO TEACH THEM YOU WILL LISTEN IF SOMETHING HAPPENS TO THEM. Because child abuse is so difficult to prevent, the BEST thing you can do is teach them to REPORT it when it happens. Then, it will probably be a very short-term incident in their lives, rather than a long-term occurrence. They will be less likely to feel like a victim and act like a victim. They will be in control and feel safe in knowing that you are there for them when they need you.

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