Child sexual abuse affects both boys and girls of all ages, in all kinds of neighborhoods and communities. The majority of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are people that the child, their family, and their communities know and trust. In fact, 90% of abused children know their abuser. Perpetrators of child sexual abuse do not always use physical force and often use games, lies, and/or threats to engage children and keep them from disclosing the abuse to helpful adults.
When we’re talking about preventing child sexual abuse, it is important to keep the focus on adult responsibility, while teaching children skills to help them protect themselves. Consider the following tips:
• Take an active role in your children’s lives. Pay attention to the people your child spends time with and watch for any possible grooming behaviors. Warning signs include: someone who frequently seeks alone time with the child, insists on being physical with the child, and ignores your child’s need for privacy or gives gifts for no particular reason. Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable about leaving your child with someone, don’t do it.
• Talk to your children about how they are in charge of their own bodies. They, and they alone, get to decide if they want to give another person a hug, kiss, or any other sign of affection. Teach them they can shake people’s hands or give them a high five if they don’t want to hug.
• Use the correct names for private parts. Teaching children the proper names for body parts decreases feelings of embarrassment and makes it easier to talk about if there is a problem.
• Talk to your children about safe and unsafe touches. Give examples. Explain that safe touches are ones that make people feel happy inside: hugs, pats on the back, etc. Unsafe touches are touches that make us feel sad or uncomfortable: hitting, kicking, and if someone touches their private parts when that someone is not supposed to. Explain that people are only to touch a child’s private parts if they are helping to take care of them, like when they’re changing a baby’s diaper, giving a child a bath, or during a doctor’s check-up.
• Teach children that if something unsafe happens, it is important to tell an adult as soon as possible. Teach children that they will never be in trouble with you for telling, even if they have not told right away. Help your child identify other trusted adults your child could tell.
• Be sure to monitor your children’s use of electronic devices and social media. Know their passwords and check their messages and apps.
• If your child tells you that he or she has been abused, stay calm, listen carefully, and never blame the child. Thank your child for telling you. Report the abuse right away. Call your local law enforcement agency and/or Michigan’s Child Protective Services at 855-444-3911.