Talking With Kids About Sexual Abuse by Ellie at Musing Momma
“So, bud, what would you do if someone touched your private parts, or wanted you to touch theirs?”
“I’d tell a grown-up, like you or Daddy or a teacher.”
“That’s right. Now what if they said that you’d be in really big trouble if you told, maybe even get sent to jail, or they said they would hurt me if you told. Would you still tell?”
……I couldn’t see my 6-year-old’s face behind me, but his hesitation filled the car.
“I don’t know…Should I?”
I’ve had this conversation with my oldest, in some form or another, several times over the past few years. Our impromptu chat on this particular afternoon, initiated by me as we drove across town, reminded me why talking to my kids about sexual abuse isn’t a once and done kind of discussion.
When I was in graduate school and then working as a therapist, one of my areas of special interest was trauma and abuse. I saw lots of kids who had been sexually abused. I listened to stories of abuse at case staffings and read them in my textbooks. I can picture in my mind’s eye how these situations unfold. I’ve walked alongside children and families as they deal with the devastating effects of abuse and try to find a light at the end of the tunnel. I know the numbers: Approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be the victim of sexual abuse. As a momma, it is scary, scary stuff. Maybe scarier because I don’t know how to prevent it.
There are the obvious steps I can take to reduce my children’s risk:
–Trust my gut.
–Don’t allow the boys to be around someone who is known or suspected to have abused a child.
–Teach my children to be assertive and help them develop a strong network of friends and supportive adults. (Perpetrators may target children who are passive, isolated, or in some way other way vulnerable.)
–Talk to them about appropriate and inappropriate touch. Encourage them to listen to their gut and tell me or their daddy, if something doesn’t feel right.
There has been at least one occasion where I chose not to leave the boys with someone that I just didn’t feel right about. There was nothing concrete I could put my finger on, but my gut whispered to me, oh-so-quietly, and I listened.
But I also know that sexual perpetrators sometimes groom the parents while they are grooming their victim. While they are building up the trust of the child, they may be establishing the parents’ trust, too. And 9 times out of 10 children are abused by someone they know – a relative, a family friend, a neighbor, a coach or a teacher. But I won’t force my boys to live in a bubble or walk around in fear of every adult who enters their lives.
So while I can take the steps I mentioned above to reduce the risk of my children being abused, I cannot completely eliminate the risk. And with that in mind, I am working hard to ensure that my boys tell me, if someone ever tries to abuse them. I want them to tell me immediately. Because here is a fact that I find just as scary than the rates of abuse: Most kids don’t tell. Or, they don’t tell right away and the abuse repeats.
How do we encourage our children to tell?
ABOUT ELLIE: At Musing Momma, Ellie shares honest and personal stories that range from reflections on motherhood to tips for raising healthy, (relatively) well-behaved kids, and from research on child development to fun family and community activities. Ellie’s background as a child psychologist brings a unique perspective to her experiences as a parent, although it provides no guarantee that she knows what the heck she is doing at any given moment. As wife and mother in a multiracial family, she often writes about raising two African-American/white sons. Ellie resides in central Pennsylvania with her husband and their boys, ages 3 and 6.
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