Sexual abuse is something that no parent wants to think about. Childhood sexual abuse is not something that will go away by pretending it doesn’t exist. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), most children (up to 93%) are sexually abused by someone they know, like a family member or friend. Accurate statistics on childhood sexual abuse (CSA) can be hard to find because it is an underreported crime, but RAINN estimates that 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 will experience sexual abuse from an adult.
Many victims of childhood sexual abuse don’t tell anyone about their experience. This happens for a number of reasons. Reasons include: they don’t fully understand what happened, they don’t know it was wrong, they’re afraid of their abuser, or they’re afraid they won’t be believed.
As a parent, one of the hardest decisions you may have to make is whether or not your child needs therapy. However, it is important to remember that they will get better with professional help. Read our article on 15 Signs Your Child Needs Therapy.
Here are some signs of childhood sexual abuse to watch out for in your child:
- Bruises, bleeding, or inflammation in the genitals
- Underwear that is bloody, torn, or stained
- Discomfort when walking or sitting
- Developing UTIs or yeast infections frequently
- Pain, itching, or burning in the genitals
- Sudden phobias
- Signs of depression or PTSD
- Sudden change in hygiene (bathing a lot, not bathing at all)
- Suicidal ideation
- Changes in school performance
- Inappropriate sexual behaviors or knowledge
- Protective of siblings
- Regressive behaviors, like thumb sucking
- Running away
- Afraid of physical contact
This list isn’t conclusive, but these are some of the signs to watch out for. Remember, most children know their abuser in some capacity, so be aware of who is spending time with your children, and ask lots of questions.
Part of being a parent is preparing your child for the world, and that includes giving them the skills they need to prevent sexual abuse. You might be wondering what options you have to prevent this from happening to your child.
Here are 8 ways that you can help prevent sexual abuse.
Involve yourself in their life
As we’ve mentioned before, most children know their abusers. One way to keep an eye on what is going on with your child is to involve yourself in their life. Ask them questions about their day, get to know people in their lives (friends, teachers, coaches, etc.), and be aware of who is spending time with your child.
Be selective with caregivers
If someone else is providing care to your child, do everything you can to screen the person first. Contact references, run a background check, search the National Sex Offender Public Website, and ask about the vetting process for schools or activities. Don’t be afraid to drop in unannounced from time to time to check up on the care your child is getting.
Teach them anatomically appropriate terms
It may seem weird to teach a tiny child the anatomically correct terms for their body parts, but this gives them the language they need to ask questions and describe what’s happening to them. This also demonstrates to your child that you are comfortable talking about their bodies and that they don’t need to be ashamed of their own bodies.
Teach them body safety
We teach our children to stay away from hot stoves, wear seatbelts, and to keep away from strangers. It’s also important that we teach them other types of safety from a young age too, like body safety. Body safety helps to teach kids about boundaries with their bodies and other people’s bodies, and it’s never too early to learn. Here are some body safety rules you can tell your child:
- No one should look at your private parts
- No one should ask you to look at their private parts
- No one should touch your private parts
- No one should ask you to touch their private parts
- No one should show you pictures or movies of anyone’s private parts
- No one should ever ask you to keep a secret about your body parts
Teach them what to do if someone violates their body safety
The next step is to teach your child what to do if someone breaks one of those body rules. The most important thing here is to teach your child to talk to you if something like this happens. Many children keep abuse secret because they are scared or they don’t know how to talk about it. They may also be afraid that they will get into trouble for telling the truth. Reassure them that they will never get in trouble for coming to you with something like this.
Teach them that they can say no
Boundaries are very important. Teach your child that they are allowed to say no to someone touching them, for any reason. This applies to everyone – it sends confusing messages to your child if you teach them that they can say no to unwanted touches but then force them to hug a relative. Your child gets to decide if they want to be touched or not.
Teach them that they can come to you with anything
Make sure to tell your child that they can always talk to you about anything. Don’t just say this to them, but make sure to model it through your behavior. Pay close attention to them when they talk and take an interest. Talk to your child about everything, serious or fun, good or bad, tough or easy, and they will begin to understand that there are no topics that are off-limits between you. As they get older, you can also come up with a code word to use with your child if they are uncomfortable in a situation and need you to help without being suspicious.
Finding the right therapist for your child can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t know where to start. We’re here to help. Check out these: 5 Ways to Find a Child Therapist Near You for tips for finding the perfect match.
Understand that it’s not just adults to watch out for regarding sexual abuse
Anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child is participating in sexual abuse, even if it’s another child. Many children experience abuse from fellow children, even siblings. When you talk to your child about keeping their private areas private, mention that if anyone, adult or child, tries to touch them there that they should come to you.
It’s also important to remember that sexual abuse is never the fault of the victim. If a child does experience sexual abuse, that doesn’t mean they somehow failed to prevent it. These skills are meant to teach your child what to watch out for and how to advocate for themselves and their bodily autonomy. If you are concerned that your child is being sexually abused, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.
If you or a loved one has experienced sexual abuse, we can help. We offer both online and in-person therapy at our Houston office. Our professional and dedicated therapists and counselors are waiting to help you. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment for online counseling services if you think we can help. Contact us at (832)413-2410, or you can book an appointment online or schedule an online counseling session.