April is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, this topic is very important to me. And since one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18 (according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), this issue should be important to everyone.
Let’s hope and pray abuse never happens to your child. But if it does, what are some signs to look for?
- Emotional health problems—ie. depression, anger, and anxiety
- Trouble in school
- Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviors
- Substance abuse early on
Substance abuse that begins in childhood or adolescence is one of the most common signs of childhood sexual abuse. This is the child self-medicating. For additional indicators to look for, visit a website like RAINN.org (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) or d2l.org (Darkness to Light).
How can you as a parent prevent the sexual abuse of your child?
I’m glad you asked. I’ve got lots of ideas.
As soon as your toddler starts to talk, teach them the proper names for their body parts. “Down There” and “Mr. Weewee” are not proper names. Teaching your children the anatomical terms for their body parts early on means they can speak intelligently to a physician or law enforcement officer, if need be.
The Bathing Suit Rule
One of my friends introduced me to a brilliant rule of thumb she taught her preschool daughters: The Bathing Suit Rule. Teach your child that no person should touch them in places their bathing suit covers. Except those individuals the child, mom, and dad agree are safe.
Young person, may I?
These days there’s lot of talk about stopping the age-old practice of forcing kids to hug, kiss, and sit on adult laps. This is related to the topic of “consent.” To keep our kids safe—emotionally and physically—let’s allow them to decide who they want to hug and kiss hello or goodbye.
Teach your children that “giving consent” is when you grant someone permission to do something to or with you. Consent can be given for a hug, a kiss, or allowing someone to sit beside you on the school bus.
Have the “Birds and Bees Talk” sooner than later.
Don’t wait until your children are teenagers to teach them where babies come from. Start early and have the conversation more than once. As they grow, the sexplanation can become more technical. The child should have no doubt that a) both parties must absolutely give one another consent and b) a male plus a female plus the act of sex can equal a baby.
No means NO!
You have to teach your child how to be a “No means no” pro. Assure them that it is their right to say no to an activity that involves their body.
To ensure they feel comfortable saying no to an adult, practice with them. Invent a number of situations where a peer, older child, or an adult might ask your child to do something, and have them act out what they’d do and say.
Whistle while you walk.
If your child walks alone to and from school, or the bus stop, or if your child walks the dog alone on a regular basis, give him or her a whistle. A really loud and shrill whistle.
For occasions when they may not have time to get their phone out to call you or 911 for help, teach them to blast the whistle again and again whenever they’re alone and feel threatened.
Of course, they can also scream their head off.
Engage with your child in a meaningful way. On a daily basis.
Show interest in your child’s day-to-day life. At the supper table, ask everyone about the high and low points of their day. What are they looking forward to? Is there anything they dread? If family conversation is frequent, honest, and caring, a child will be more likely to confide in a parent, whatever the issue.
A great question to ask on a regular basis is, “Is there anything else you want to talk about?” Be prepared to sit a minute or three in uncomfortable silence as your child summons the courage or constructs the language to communicate a deep or difficult thought.
According to the website, d2l.com (Darkness to Light), sexual abuse perpetrators report that they look for passive, quiet, troubled, and/or lonely children. Do your best to help your child not be passive, troubled, or lonely.