April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. There are three aspects to respect the event that I believe are of importance. One pertains to parents, one to children, and the third to abusers.
Parents have an entire tool chest of reasons for not discussing child abuse. The New York City Child/Sex Crimes Prosecutor Jill Starishevsky, someone with 16 years of experience, published a list of the top 10 excuses parents have. All ten should be studied and understood. They can be found here, but there are a few that I find are the most repeated errors. They are worth highlighting again here.
This kind of thing doesn’t happen where we live. Parents do not understand that abuse can happen anywhere. While there is some data that indicates it is more likely to happen in certain socioeconomic groups that is a relative measure and reports of abuse happen in all communities.
We don’t let our children go near strangers. Over ninety percent of child sexual abuse is perpetrated not by strangers but by people who the child knows – a teacher, coach, religious leader, even a family member.
My child is not old enough for this discussion. There is no question that discussions with children should begin by the time a child is three years old. The longer a parent waits the more vulnerable a child may be.
I would know if something happened to my child. Sexual abuse may not leave any overt physical signs and pedophiles that abuse are especially adept at grooming their victims into never speaking about the abuse. They use threats and coercion to the point that an abused child may fear for their parents’ safety if anything is said.
I don’t want to put thoughts in her head. Children lie but the overwhelming data indicates that they almost never lie about abuse outside of a domestic dispute. By talking to children about protecting themselves from abuse, you are not suggesting anything but ways to care and guard them.
There are Five Basic Rules for Child Safety that I suggest. They are:
No Secrets. Children must be taught that there are never any secrets between parent and child. This is a simple concept and something children readily understand. Parents object when I say this because they confuse surprise with secret. Children can differentiate between Dad telling them that they are making a surprise party for Mom and not to tell her about it and keeping secrets from parents. It is best to teach children from an early age that secrets do not exist in the family.
Practice Scenarios. Part of the process f teaching children to protect themselves is to know what to do in certain situations. They can be taught to scream if someone is hurting them, or to refuse candy when Mom or Dad is not around. This method is actually the easiest part of preparing children to shield themselves.
Teach Children the Correct Term for Body Parts. A child who can accurately describe what is happening is better at preventing abuse. While many take issue with this step, there is really no excuse to avoid teaching children terms for body parts that are easily understood by adults. Euphemisms for body parts that are misleading should never be used.
Teach Children That Adults Do Not Ask Children For Help. Not even Uncle Billy or Mr. Green the coach will ask a child to come out to their car to help them fix a broken alternator or repair a broken windshield. When an adult asks a child for help like that it is an invitation for abuse.
Teach Children To Have A Buddy. When a child goes to and from school or other activities with a trusted friend, the odds of abuse diminish. When we teach a child to swim we usually do so with a buddy -if one gets into trouble the other can get help.
Regarding Abusers: Once an abuser is identified the only possible way to contain them is to investigate them. Investigations can only be done by professionals, usually police, or child protection specialists. The importance of turning them over to these authorities cannot be underestimated. Abusers tend to abuse several children. If they are know but known but not reported they will simply move to another community and seek other children to harm.
We cannot eradicate all the evil abusers from society but if we honestly follow the basics, we can protect our children, significantly reduce abuse, and contain the known abusers from causing additional harm.