Prevention Tips for Caregivers
Unfortunately, only about 1 in 10 children who have been sexually abused report it. A child who has been sexually abused will often keep the secret for years or even decades. Sexual abuse is a crime of secrecy, and offenders will rely on this secrecy to continue abuse. Often a child may not have the language to report sexual abuse, may not know that their personal boundaries have been crossed, or may not feel as though they have a trusted adult they can talk to.
Research shows that an educated child is more likely to deter an offender, because an educated child is more likely to break the silence. It is important that we talk to our children and educate them about their bodies, about healthy boundaries, and about safe and unsafe touches.
Communicating healthy boundaries to children
Opening lines of communication with children and teaching them about their bodies and healthy boundaries is extremely effective in preventing child sexual abuse. Teaching our children about their private parts also gives children the language to report when someone has made them feel uncomfortable. BCAC understands that sexual abuse and healthy sexual development is a difficult subject to address, so we have compiled tips, scripts, and suggested topics from various prevention programs to assist you in starting a conversation with your child and answering tough questions.
- Teach your children the anatomically correct names for their body parts.
- Teach them that no one should touch their private parts except to keep them clean and healthy.
- Teach the difference between secrets and suprises, and that touching is never a secret.
- Talk matter-of-factly about private parts. If your child sees that you are comfortable talking about sexuality, they are more likely to come to you if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or if they have a question.
- Keep explanations basic and at the level of the child’s age.
Answering tough questions
“Our bodies are good and special and deserving of care and respect, including the genitals.” “Boys and girls have some parts that are different, such as private parts, and others that are the same, such as knees and toes.”
“Babies need help with most things and deserve to be looked after. Children, as they grow, learn to do more things by themselves, like cleaning their own body parts.”
“Everyone has all kinds of feelings. When you’re not sure what you’re feeling, we call that mixed up or confused.”
“Private parts are kept special. Small children sometimes need help washing and wiping their private parts. Older children and grownups do not need help from children with their private parts.”
“Sometimes we like touching and sometimes we don’t. Touching is never a secret. A person can say ‘No’ to touching. Don’t touch a person who says, ‘No touching’.”
About Secrets and Surprises:
“Sometimes we want to keep a secret and sometimes we don’t. Touching is never a secret. When you are sad or mixed up because someone asks you to keep a secret, you can ask two or three grownups for help.”
Suggestions from Prevent Child Abuse Vermont (www.pcavt.org)
Establishing family rules
Part of creating a safety plan for your family and teaching children healthy boundaries includes establishing concrete family rules that all members of the family must follow. Everyone should have a right to privacy in dressing, bathing, sleeping, and other personal activities. If any adult or child breaks this rule, there should be a discussion and repercussions. Teaching your children healthy boundaries early on is effective in preventing child sexual abuse in your family. Below are some examples of family rules, as suggested by Teaching Touching Safety Rules, a program developed by Committee For Children.
- Everyone should have the right to privacy in dressing, bathing, and toileting. If any adult or child breaks these rules, there should be a discussion with repercussions.
- Teach your children that they can say “No” to any type of touch, and that their “No” will be respected.
- Demonstrate boundaries and how to say “No” in your own life.
The Touching Rule:
- “A bigger person should not touch your private body parts except to keep you clean and healthy.”
- “Sometimes kids need help keeping clean, and babies always need help getting clean. This is a time when a bigger person needs to touch a baby’s private parts. This is a safe touch.”
Always Ask First Rule:
- “Always ask your parents or the person in charge first if someone wants you to go somewhere with him or her. The person in charge is whoever is taking care of you at the time.”
- “If someone wants to give you something, always ask the person in charge first.”
Getting and Giving Safe Touches
- “There are many different types of touch. There are safe touches and there are unsafe touches. Safe touches are good for your body and don’t make you feel confused or uncomfortable.”
- “If someone makes you feel uncomfortable for any reason it is OK to tell a grown-up and ask for help.”
Saying “No” to Unwanted Touches
- “If someone touches you in a way that hurts or that you don’t like, you can say, ‘Please don’t do that.’ “
- Model alternative ways of showing affection: “I see that you don’t want to be hugged today. Could you shake my hand instead?”
What are the do’s and don’ts of talking to my children about sexual abuse?
- Avoid discussing “stranger danger” when talking your children about child sexual abuse. Ninety percent of the time a child is victimized by someone the family knows and trusts. Explain to your child that no one, not even a friend of mom or dad’s, should touch your child’s private parts and if anyone does the child should tell more than one safe adult right away.
- Avoid using the terminology “good touch” and “bad touch,” as this can be confusing for a child. Sometimes inappropriate touching may feel good, so use words like appropriate, inappropriate, safe, or unsafe when teaching rules about touching.
- Try not to scare your child by overwhelming them with too much information at once. Instead, incorporate family rules and messages about boundaries into your everyday discussions about basic safety, this way they will understand that personal safety is as basic and important as other safety rules like “Never play with fire” and “Never play with guns.”
- Avoid making your child feel ashamed or embarrassed for asking a question about his/her body, private parts, or touching. If your child asks you a question at the wrong time, let him/her know his/her question is important and address it as soon as you can, or in more appropriate setting.
Your family safety plan
Talk to your child about people to whom they can go to at any time if something bad happens. Establish a place where he/she can go where they feel safe if something bad happens. Let your child tell you who he/she trusts or where he/she feels comfortable. This way, if something goes wrong, both you and your child have a place and a person where you know they can go and feel safe, and you can easily find him/her.
What should I do if a child has told me they’ve been abused?
Believe the child
- Believe a child if s/he tells you something. False reporting is a myth – only 3% of children make up claims of abuse. However, children often take back what they say once adults act improperly.
- Remain calm. Assure the child you are listening and what s/he has to say is important.
- Let him/her know that it wasn’t his/her fault.
Talk to the child
- Listen – let the child do the talking.
- You can ask if they are ok – be human.
- Ask open questions – who, what, where?
- Don’t conduct an investigation.
- Don’t ask leading or suggestive questions. Don’t insert the names of an adult you may suspect – let the child do the talking.
- Don’t interrupt the child.
- Ask simple questions & use simple language.
- Avoid questions related to time.
- Avoid “why” questions.
Report the abuse
- Call 911 or 410-361-2235 or your local agency.
- All investigations are confidential and you can report anonymously.
- Collect your facts and write down notes.
- When reporting try to have:
- Child’s Name
- Age or Date of Birth
- Present Location of Child
- Permanent address
- Caregiver’s Name and Address
- Brief description of the allegations
- Let 911 help you – ask them questions if you are confused.