FAQ’s Protecting children from sexual abuse
Parents often ask what they can do to help prevent their children from being sexually abused. A common concern of parents with regard to this subject is finding the best way to bridge this sensitive conversation with their children.
Is child sexual abuse really a problem in our society?
Child sexual abuse is occurring in all communities and crosses all ethnic and socioeconomic barriers. Dismissing and minimizing the problem because we are uncomfortable with this reality only perpetuates the problem.
The scope of child sexual abuse in Canada:
- Sexual offences are among the most underreported crimes in Canada.
- In 2009, 58% of all victims reporting sexual abuse to police were under the age of 17.
- In 89% of the child sexual abuse cases reported to police in 2011, the child victim knew the offender.
- Both girls and boys (children and youth) are vulnerable to sexual abuse.
- The rate of victimization for female child victims generally increases with age, with an increase in the number of female victims reporting abuse between the ages of 12 and 15. The rate of victimization for male victims remains relatively stable across the ages.
Should I avoid the topic completely to protect my child’s innocence? Will talking about this issue scar them?
Experts explain that it is common for parents to be concerned about the impact of learning about sexual abuse on children. However, the detailed research on this subject reveals that age-appropriate prevention education is not harmful - in fact it is empowering. Children who receive comprehensive age-appropriate education about harmful behaviours and sexual exploitation are much more likely to report abuse. Early disclosure stops abuse from continuing by triggering early intervention.
Remember that there is nothing fearful for children in learning about labeling their body parts, identifying their feeling, identifying safe adults, etc. Providing children with safety strategies that can be incorporated into their daily lives builds self-confidence and safety competence.
Should I scare them into taking this topic seriously?
It is important not to use fear tactics to prevent sexual abuse. Scaring a child only increases her/his vulnerability as it can lead to insecurity and fear. Building an understanding around child sexual abuse should be done in a calm, matter of fact manner. Just as we address everyday safety concerns such as fastening seatbelts in the car, wearing bike helmets, and locking the doors, similarly we should regularly discuss appropriate touching, personal boundaries, using the buddy system and checking with a parent before going with anyone or anywhere. Avoid creating emotionally charged messages when discussing personal safety.
What is the most effective way to begin talking about personal safety with my child?
It is necessary that the information relayed to a child is age-appropriate. For example, an adult would not discuss a kidnapping story in the media with a 6-year-old; however it may be relevant to do so with a 16-year-old. Conversely, an adolescent may understand and not require explanations on inappropriate touching, but needs a more nuanced understanding of behaviours to be able to distinguish between characteristics of a healthy vs. unhealthy relationship.
Finally, personally safety will not be effective as a 30 minute crash course. Conversations should be on-going and continue throughout childhood, adolescence and even into adulthood. By comparison a parent does not tell a 4-year-old to wear a bike helmet once and expect never to have to remind her/him again. Effective prevention education is integrated into children’s daily lives. Click here to learn more.
Should I tell my child we are going to talk about child sexual abuse?
Children do not need to know that you are teaching them skills that may help prevent child sexual abuse. What children do need to know is that the information you are sharing with them will give them skills to help keep them safe and healthy.
Should I share stories from the news with my child so s/he takes this issue seriously?
Although it is often done with good intentions, news stories are not written for a child audience and can elicit fear. Scaring them only increases their insecurity and can make them more vulnerable. It is important to share age-appropriate information that balances protection and empowerment.