No parent wants to think about their child being a victim of sexual abuse. However, current data shows it’s more common than we often think. According to the CDC, about 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys will experience childhood sexual abuse. It may be uncomfortable to think about and even more uncomfortable to discuss, but we must! Here are four preventive measures you can start today that will lower the risk of your child being a victim of sexual abuse.
Talk to your child about sex.
Parents, this is a difficult topic to discuss, but an informed child can make informed decisions about their body and boundaries. Moreover, the more you can normalize discussions around sexuality, the more likely your child is to come to you with questions or concerns. One of the most heartbreaking things a parent can say to me is, “I just wish they had told me what was going on!” Parents who have regular conversations about sexuality are more likely to have children come to them when they have questions about sexuality. And these conversations need to happen earlier than you think! Here’s a helpful guide to help you navigate what is appropriate to discuss at all ages of your child’s development.
Differentiate between “private” and “shameful/wrong.”
One of the biggest keys in talking to your child about sex is to avoid sending a message, intentional or not, that sexuality is “shameful” or “wrong.” It is OK to communicate that it is uncomfortable, but the emphasis should be on sexuality and their bodies being private. Avoid messages like “We don’t talk about that,” or “You’re too young for that,” or even worse, “Doing things like that is bad/sinful.” All you have succeeded in doing at that point is letting your child know you are not a safe person to discuss sex with. Instead, discuss how their bodies and sexuality are private and should only be discussed with people they trust.
Broaden your child’s understanding of consent.
We often talk about consent in terms of sex, but consent is a concept that should be applied to many areas of your child’s life. Ask for their consent to play with their toys, teaching them that they can choose who they share their belongings with. Allow them to say no to family members pressuring them for a goodbye hug or kiss. When children learn early that they oversee who has access to them and their bodies, they are more likely to stand up for their autonomy when pressured to engage in sexual abuse.
Be involved in your child’s life.
Parents, as much as possible, should know at all times the people who have access to their children. While we are tempted to think first about the “unknowns” lurking on websites and social media, we need to start with the “knowns.” Research indicates that 91% of the perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse are someone known and trusted by the child or the child’s parents. When talking to your child about consent and who has access to their bodies, be sure to include that no one, not even friends or family members, has the right to their bodies.
Again, parents, we understand this is a complicated and uncomfortable discussion to have with your children. If you or your child needs support, please get in touch with us at (816) 287-0252 to schedule an appointment with one of our counselors today. You don’t have to do this alone!