When most people think about summer, they envision kids splashing in the pool, spending time outdoors, taking a break from school, an all around fun time of the year. Unfortunately, rape and sexual assault victimization rates tend to be higher during the summer than during the fall and winter. Children are not in their school environment but spending more time with caregivers where there are more opportunities to be sexually abused. 90% of the time when a child is sexually abused it is by someone they know and love; someone in their circle of trust.
Knowing we have embarked on this time of year, what key information do we need to know to protect our children? Clear communication is a cornerstone of effective prevention. We know that children need accurate, age-appropriate information about child sexual abuse and confidence that adults they know will support them. Children cannot stop sexual abuse on their own, but if we equip them with the knowledge to speak up, the likelihood of it continuing will decrease.
So, what do we need to say to our children?
We must give them concrete examples to understand what we are saying to them. When talking to children about child sexual abuse, use examples and situations that make the reality clear. Talk to your child about how no one should touch or look at their private body parts unless that person is trying to keep them healthy or clean. Use examples where you can discuss changing a baby’s diaper, a doctor checking their private body parts during a check up, or a care giver helping with a bath. By using these concrete examples, children know what is appropriate and have a clear understanding.
If we want our children to understand healthy boundaries, we must model these ourselves. We need to make sure our children understand what healthy boundaries look like. As parents and caregivers, we need to help our children set boundaries as well as modeling having healthy boundaries. We need to also model saying “no” for our children so they understand it’s ok for them to say “no” too. Then, when a child uses their “no,” in a respectful way, we need to let them know it will be made to be important to adults.
We have to talk to our kids about different types of touches. We need to have conversations with children about the difference between safe and unsafe touches. Sexual touching can be very confusing for children. If we use the terms “good touch” and “bad touch” and the touch makes the child feel good, they may believe it is ok or that they wanted that type of touch. Children need to know that their body belongs to them and no one else, and they have the right to say no to someone.
We must explain to our children about the tricks groomers will use to get them alone. Some people who sexually abuse children use tricks and bribes to keep kids from telling. The abuser may allow the child to do something they previously had been told they could not or promise special gifts or privileges. The abuser may also try to confuse the child by telling him or her this is something the child wants or that no one will believe them if they tell. We must tell our children that if anyone touches them in an inappropriate way they need to tell a trusted adult and let that person handle the situation.
We need to make sure to involve other adults so our children always have someone no matter where they are. Sometimes it is hard to always tell their mom or dad when something like sexual abuse is happening, and the perpetrator will reinforce that fear. We need to make sure our children have someone they can confide in at school, camp, church, the park, or where ever they may be. We can ask our children, “If you don’t feel comfortable talking to me about something, who else can you talk to?” or “If something happens when you are away from me, like at school or the park, who could you talk to?”
By having these conversations with our children, we are giving them the tools to know what to do if sexual abuse happens to them or to a friend. They understand the when something may be inappropriate, and they already have the language to disclose as well as a trusted adult to talk with.
Call the Sexual Assault Center for more information about how you can talk to your child about these important topics. We can be reached at http://www.sacenter.org or by calling 615.259.9055. Let’s work together to end sexual violence in our community!