Five Ways Parents Can Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

January 31, 2016
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Children and teens can learn protection skills, and it’s important that they do, but ultimately it’s up to adults to keep kids safe. Here are five actions you can take to help keep the children in your life safe.

1. Educate yourself about grooming behaviors – that is, how adults, who sexually abuse children, gradually build friendships and trust with children by:

  • Acting as a confidante
  • Rewarding a child with toys, electronics, money, and/or love
  • Seducing a child over time with “innocent-like” secrets (e.g., Don’t tell your Mom about the candy we ate
    before bed; that’s our special secret!” or “I probably shouldn’t have let you drive, so let’s make that spin
    through the parking lot our little secret – okay?”)

2. Teach children and teens about their bodies and answer their questions about sexuality at every stage of development. Even if children don’t ask directly, proactively provide information about body development, sex, and sexuality. Kids and teens who are educated about their bodies are less vulnerable to child sexual abuse.

3. Build a prevention team of caregivers by regularly discussing body-safety rules with children and all the adults and caregivers with whom children interact (babysitters, coaches, teachers, faith leaders, relatives).

  • Remind younger children to play with their clothes on and ask their caregivers to reinforce this  bodysafety rule.
  • Let adults know that your child has body-safety rules and has permission to say “No” if he or she ever
    feels unsafe.
  • Teach children the difference between secrets and surprises, and let adults know that your child does not
    keep secrets.

4. Allow children to choose when and how they show affection. And yes, this means, children get to decide whether they want to hug or kiss Grandma. Children – and the teens and young adults they become – are safer when they know it’s okay to say “No” to unwanted touch.

5. Speak up if you see any child, teen, or adult exhibiting behaviors of concern. Some examples include:

  • Children with advanced sexual knowledge who may be using adult language or simulating adult sexual acts.
  • Children who bribe, threaten, or coerce other children into sexual acts.
  • Adults or teens who prefer being with children over their peers, insist on time alone with children, or who excessively email, text, or call a kid.
  • Adults who don’t respect a child’s boundaries – i.e., someone who continues tickling or wrestling even when the child says “No,” or someone who seeks out children for emotional comfort.

Child sexual abuse is far more prevalent than we want to believe. Test Your Knowledge about child sexual abuse. But here’s the good news: Not only can we prevent child sexual abuse, but in teaching prevention skills we actually build body pride, healthy sexual development, better communication, and stronger communities.

Feather Berkower, LCSW, is founder of Parenting Safe Children, the PSC Online Workshop and co-author of Off Limits, a parenting book that will change the way you think about keeping kids safe. Feather has educated over 100,000 schoolchildren, parents, and professionals. She makes a difficult topic less scary, and empowers parents and communities to keep children safe. www.parentingsafechildren.com

7 Comments

  1. terri

    February 10, 2016 at 12:32 am

    My 6 year old daughter has been sexually abused by her two older half sisters for quite some time now and it got the point where she had to seek psychiatric care biweekly and is on meds because she was suffering from psychosis I’ve been in family court for almost 4 years and this is the second time I’ve denied access to her father since 2012 cas and the childrens lawyer are involved nobody in the legal system or cas wants to take this seriously it’s extremy disturbing what are your thoughts

    Thank you

    Terri

    • Feather Berkower

      Feather Berkower

      February 19, 2016 at 9:08 pm

      Terri,

      I can imagine how frustrating that is. I’d recommend being a loud and clear voice for your daughter around body safety; review appropriate touch with her and practice helping her speak up and tell (teachers, family members, therapist) if she is not safe. Most importantly, do your best to have direct conversations with the older kids and adults that she spends time with her about body safety and boundaries. It’s also really important for her to get some support from a skilled play therapist. I wish you all the best.

      Feather

    • Danielle

      July 24, 2017 at 11:23 pm

      Good God, your poor baby!! Smdh scariest part is, her half sisters most likely have also been sexually abused, hence them BOTH turning into perpetrators, even at a young age. I work in mental health and I had a consumer whose young young son had been molested by one of her many, fly by night boyfriends (I say one but wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually more than one, heartbreakingly enough). The boy, who was no more than 6 years old and started molesting his younger brother who was no more than say, 3 years old. It’s beyond sad but an ugly reality and byproduct of childhood sexual abuse. ESPECIALLY when the first victim isn’t believed or is shamed/unprotected. You getting your daughter into therapy is soooo very important and valuable. As a parent, I know you probably beat yourself up constantly over what your baby has endured, but very few people ever consider that girls/women can also be predators, even if it stems from their own abuse. The best thing you can do going forward, is what you already are, which is protecting your child, validating her feelings and getting her professional help. It’s such a horrible circumstance but bless you for doing all you can in the aftermath to support your little girl. Wishing and praying for her mental and emotional recovery and a healthy, happy future from henceforth. ❤️️

  2. Dana Martinez

    February 10, 2016 at 2:08 am

    I’m so interested in touching all of these important topics with my 8 year old son who will be 9 soon. He needs to know more and I’ve already discussed stranger danger and how someone can lure him into helping them look for a lost pet or someone saying ” I know your mom & dad” but sex is something I haven’t touched base with maybe because I don’t know how to begin or initiate the conversation. Keep up the good tips. I’m reading them all. Thank you

  3. Feather Berkower

    Feather Berkower

    February 19, 2016 at 9:17 pm

    Hi Dana,

    I’d recommend creating an environment where your son knows that he can ask you any questions at all and that you will answer them. Some kids ask about sex and some don’t. If he does ask questions or provide you teachable moments around issues of bodies, sexuality, consent etc… all you have to do is tell the truth and provide age-appropriate and medically accurate information. If he doesn’t ask questions, I’d recommend a few books that can help you initiate conversations:
    The Sex-wise Parent: The Parent’s Guide to Protecting Your Child, Strengthening Your Family, and Talking to Kids About Sex, Abuse, and Bullying – Dr. Janet Rosenzweig
    The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart and Healthy Children – Dr. Janet Rosenzweig

    A book you can read with him is “It’s So Amazing – Robbie Harris.

    You are also welcome to follow the Parenting Safe Children Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/parentingsafechildren/) page to get some more great tips.
    I hope that helps.

    Feather

  4. Lisa

    September 27, 2016 at 1:09 am

    Please leave as much info as a grandma how to talk safety with your grandchild and make sure nothing is being kept secret

  5. Lisa

    September 27, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    I don’t understand how do I bring up if there’s any secrets so she would feel comfortable telling me

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