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What adults can do to prevent and end child sex abuse: Part II

Posted in Sexual Abuse on Wednesday, February 18, 2015.

In our post last week, we began a discussion about recognizing, preventing and responding to child sexual abuse. Advocacy groups like Darkness to Light (D2L) are actively working in Pennsylvania and around the country to combat child sex abuse and are asking all responsible adults to get involved.

On its website, D2L outlines a five-step plan nearly any of us can follow. Today’s post will cover the third step, which is to foster open conversations with children.

As both Americans and parents, we are often reluctant to discuss sex with children for fear that the subject will scare them or that kids are too young to know about “grown-up stuff.” But if children do not have at least basic knowledge and vocabulary to discuss sex and personal boundaries, they may be unable to recognize abuse or report it.

It is common for victims of child sex abuse to feel ashamed of what happened to them, even though it was not their fault. In addition to experiencing great shame, victims may be even more reluctant to tell a trusted adult because:

  • Their abuser has told them that they will get into trouble if they tell
  • Their abuser tries to convince the victim that what they are doing is only a “game”
  • Their abuser threatens to hurt a victim’s loved ones if the victim tells
  • Victims may be related to or otherwise know their abuser – they want the abuse to stop but don’t want to get anyone in trouble
  • Victims may feel very uncomfortable or traumatized by the abuse but might not know that they have the right to say no

Kids who can communicate verbally are ready to learn age-appropriate information about their bodies, personal boundaries and even sex. Parents and other trusted caregivers should have these conversations early and often. They can be as simple as naming a body part and asking the child whether it is “public” or “private.” They should also be told that they have the right to say “no” to any actions that make them feel uncomfortable.

Remember that if children don’t have the tools to talk about sex abuse, their attempts to report it may be incomplete or may “come out sideways.” For this reason, it is crucial for parents and trusted adults to be active listeners whenever possible.

Please check back next week as we continue and conclude our discussion on this important subject.