When I was little, I invented a way to prevent childhood sexual abuse. Because I was experiencing it.
Before you read about my sexual abuse solution, check out these statistics*:
- Nearly 70% of ALL reported sexual assaults happen to children 17 and under.
- 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before age 18.
- Children are most vulnerable between the ages of 7 and 13.
- 90% of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser.
- About 60% of children who are sexually abused are abused by people the family trusts.
- Approximately 30% of children who are sexually abused are abused by family members.
- The younger the victim the more likely it is that the abuser is a family member.
- Of the perpetrators molesting a child under six, 50% were family members.
- As many as 40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by older, or more powerful children.
So what was MY great idea to save the children?
I remember thinking, when I have kids, make that, IF I have kids, I’m going to hang giant, noisy sleigh bells on each child’s bedroom door. That way, if anyone entered someone’s room at night, everyone in the house would hear the bells clanging. And investigate.
Not a bad idea. Sleigh bells could absolutely be part of your multi-level protection plan. What else can you do?
Many people think “Stranger Danger” discussions are the answer.
Sadly, that’s not the best counsel. Strangers only comprise 7% of all childhood sexual assaults. In the majority of child sexual abuse cases, the offender is an acquaintance of the family, if not an actual member of the child’s family.
What about “Good Touch, Bad Touch” talks?
For years, experts encouraged “Good Touch, Bad Touch” conversations. However, this puts the onus on the child to make a moral distinction. A discussion about what is safe behavior and what isn’t will be more helpful to your child.
For instance, sexual abuse often begins with a perpetrator asking a child to touch them or someone else. Teach your child to say no. Role-play with them. Again and again.
Also tell your child that no one should take pictures of their private parts. According to the Huffington Post, child pornography is one of the fastest growing businesses online, with estimated annual revenue of $3 billion. Don’t let your kid become some pervert’s cash cow.
Consider this: Think twice before posting super cute pictures on social media. Of your kids. Naked in the tub.
Why kids don’t tell if they’ve experienced sexual abuse.
“Don’t tell anyone our little secret.”
Often abusers will make a child feel special, “grooming” them (and often, their caregivers) into a trusting relationship. In time, the abuser will encourage the kid to keep their “special secret” quiet. Or they’ll threaten the child, saying bad things will happen to them (or their loved ones) if they reveal the abusive behavior.
Teach your child the difference between good and bad secrets. Surprise birthday parties are good secrets. A secret that has to do with their private parts is a bad secret.
“I was afraid to tell.”
- The child may think they’ll get in trouble for “participating” in the activity.
- They might worry no one will believe them.
- The victim may be confused. Perhaps the abuse “tickled” or felt good. If something feels good, can it be bad?
- The child may not want to get the perpetrator in trouble. If the abuser is a friend, perhaps an older kid (see statistic above), they may not want to jeopardize the relationship.
On a regular basis, assure your kids they can tell you (or another trusted adult) anything, especially things that make them feel scared or bad. Or confused. Or “not right.”
The website KidsFirstInc.org says to discuss this subject more than once. “Children learn through repetition. How many times do you remind children to look both ways before crossing the street?”
This excellent article at childmind.org encourages caregivers to, “Find natural times to reiterate these messages, such as bath time or when they are running around naked.”
If your kids won’t confide in you, then what?
According to the article, “How to protect your children from a predator,” “Many children cannot bring themselves to disclose sexual abuse directly to parents…” For a looonnnnnggg time, this was me.
If you suspect your child won’t tell you if they experience sexual abuse, help them come up with a list of 3-5 grownups they can talk to if they ever feel unsafe, for any reason.
Or post a list of sexual abuse website addresses with hotline numbers in your laundry room. Websites like RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) and Darkness to Light provide hotline help numbers as well as valuable information for victims. In West Virginia, Shield Task Force offers fantastic resources.
“X” marks the spot.
If your child is old enough to carry a cell phone, implement the “X-Plan.”
- Any time your child feels sick, scared, or confused, have them text you the letter “X.”
- Immediately call them and say, “Something’s come up. I have to pick you up right now.”
- Go get them.
This plan works any time a child feels uncomfortable. If someone tries to involve your child in risky behavior—ie. sex, drugs, alcohol, bullying, crime, etc.—the X-Plan offers them a way to leave the situation without embarrassment.
Bert Fulks, who originally posted the BRILLIANT X-Plan on his blog, says that in his family, whoever texts “X” has the freedom to give details or not. Fulks says this builds trust with your child.
So did I hang huge noisy sleigh bells on my children’s bedroom doors to save them from sexual abuse?
Actually, I did not. Tony and I chose to follow many of the suggestions I talked about in last week’s post. Plus, more than once, when each child was old enough, I shared my abuse story as a cautionary tale. And hopefully as an assurance that they could always confide in me.
However, I will say this: if there are guests staying in your home—friends, acquaintances, relatives, or strangers—sleigh bells on bedroom door knobs are not a bad idea. According to the RAINN website, 48% of abuse victims were sleeping or performing another activity at home.
Bonus Idea #1: Should we rethink the whole Latchkey Kid thing?
A latchkey kid is a child who returns from school to an empty home, or a child who is often left at home with little parental supervision, because their parent or parents are away at work. This situation is a concern because:
- 1 in 7 incidents of child sexual abuse occurs on school days.
- Between the hours of 3 and 7 pm.
- With a peak in abuse activity from 3-4 pm.
If circumstances are such that your child must be home alone after school, definitely utilize The X-Plan.
Bonus Idea #2: Parents of a child with a Bipolar Disorder diagnosis, listen up.
As I researched this topic, I came across the word, hypersexuality. You can probably guess what the word means: an excessive interest or concern with sexual activity. Hypersexuality affects some adults and children who have Bipolar Disorder.
According the website, bphope.com, “Children who have bipolar disorder have problems reining in sexual impulses that may overtake them and cause them to overreach the boundaries of what is appropriate in a social context—particularly in hypomanic or manic states when all systems rev up.”
If you are the parent of a child with Bipolar Disorder, consider this advice from bipolarchild.com: “Siblings may be pulled into games of “Doctor” and a few parents reported that, understanding there might be periods of hypersexuality, they watch their children like hawks. Most understood that the children should not bathe, shower or sleep together (or with a parent) and that separation was something to be imposed if signs of hypomania and hypersexuality were seen.”
Hopefully you found today’s lesson on childhood sexual abuse prevention enlightening. If you have any helpful hints on this topic, please leave a comment down below.
*FYI, the majority of the statistics I quoted above are from the RAINN or Darkness to Light websites–links are up above. For a complete list of childhood sexual abuse statistics, click here.