How to protect your child from sexual abuse

October 31, 2019 | by Sangita Rangala, MD, FAAEM
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

Child sexual abuse is a serious and widespread problem. An estimated one in 10 children is sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Many more incidents go unreported.

Sadly, the abuser is usually someone a child knows and trusts. As many as 93 percent of child sexual abuse survivors know the abuser. Abusers may be family members, relatives, teachers, coaches or instructors, caretakers and others, often in positions of authority.

What else should parents know about child sexual abuse?

  • Although no child is immune, children most at risk for sexual abuse may have a disrupted home life, developmental challenges, a history of previous abuse, mental health issues, low self-esteem or any other reason that makes it difficult for them to speak up for themselves.
  • Children of all ages are at risk.
  • Child sexual abuse often involves more than a single incident.
  • The abuser usually uses a “grooming” process involving coercion, manipulation and intimidation to engage the child and, over time, make the child feel trapped in the situation.
  • An abuser does not have to be an adult, and may be an older sibling or playmate.

The damage abusers inflict is utterly devastating. Without treatment, a child who has suffered prolonged sexual abuse usually develops low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness and a distorted view of sexual and romantic relationships, among other physical and mental health issues. Child sexual abuse exploits and degrades children, and it must end.

How can you protect your child from sexual abuse? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) offers tips:

  1. Be available and involved. Set time aside to spend with your child. Let them know that they can come to you with any issues and they won’t get in trouble no matter what they say. Help your child develop self-confidence and learn to self-advocate. Teach your child to speak up for themselves.
  2. In early childhood, teach your child the proper name of body parts, including private parts, so your child knows it’s OK to talk about it and come to you when something is wrong.
  3. Let your child know that their body is their own, and it deserves dignity and respect.
  4. Emphasize that no one has the right to make them feel uncomfortable or touch their body if they don’t want that to happen.
  5. Teach your child early and often that there are no secrets between children and their parents.
  6. Create an environment at home in which sexual topics can be discussed comfortably.
  7. Monitor and participate in your child’s activities whenever possible. Get to know the people in your child’s life. Don’t allow sleepovers in homes you don’t know well.
  8. Choose caregivers, including babysitters, carefully. Choose daycares and other programs with a parent open-door policy. 
  9. Be cautious of adults who express unusual interest in your child, offer special gifts/toys or special outings or events, or make up excuses to spend time alone with your child. 
  10. Know the warning signs. Pay attention to any changes with your child, no matter how small.

All children deserve to feel safe and protected as they grow up. As parents, we need to be vigilant about protecting our children from sexual abuse. They deserve a childhood. We need to do everything in our power to guard it.

Care Center for sexually abused children, teens, special needs adults

Since 1991, the Care Center at Edward Hospital has provided medical care in a calm and caring environment for children, teens and special needs adults who are known or suspected to have been sexually abused. Our compassionate and knowledgeable staff uses a warm and empowering approach to restore your child’s sense of dignity and well-being. For more information or to make a referral to the Care Center, please call 630-527-3288. Learn more about the Care Center.

To talk to someone anonymously, call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453), anytime, 24/7.

Related blogs:

If a friend says they were sexually assaulted, start with “I believe you.”

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