Most Americans have the typical New Year’s resolutions – lose weight, get organized, spend time with family. What about resolving to end the cycle of abuse? Do you know what to do if you suspect your child is being abused?
Child abuse is a difficult topic to discuss for most adults. It’s uncomfortable to think about your child or a child you care for being harmed or mistreated in any way. But, when it comes to our kids, we have to step up to the plate, be aware of the signs and act responsibly. The fact of the matter is, sexual abuse is a reality and it happens every day. It’s likely you know a child who has been or is being abused. Do you know what to do about it? As a parent, here’s what you need to know about sexual abuse:
Step 1: Learn the facts
- 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by the time they are 18.
- 44% of all sexual assault victims are under 18.
- Youth are 2.5 times more likely to be raped than adults.
Step 2: Minimize Opportunity
Eliminate or reduce one-on-one situations where your child is alone with another adult. You have the power and the right to protect your child.
- Choose group situations carefully.
- Make sure interactions can be observed and interrupted.
- Ask for best practices in schools and organizations that serve your children: background checks, in person interviews, reference checks, code of conduct, policies in place, prevention training.
Step 3: Talk about it
One of the best protections against abuse is our relationship with our children. Encourage open conversations with your children regularly. Ask your child to unplug from their computer or phone for a few minutes and talk about the tough issues.
- Understand why children are afraid to tell.
- Know how children communicate.
- Talk openly. If an incident does arise, you don’t want any confusion about what happened when your child tells his or her story to the police. Your child needs to be comfortable talking about it.
- Talk often. Have regular dialogue with your kids so you’re both comfortable about talking about abuse.
- Have touching rules. Your family has rules about not getting a car with strangers or walking across the street without an adult. Include rules about right touch and wrong touch in your family rules. Explain to your child that private body parts (or bathing suit areas) are your own parts and no one is supposed to touch you there.
Step 4: Recognize the signs
Physical signs of abuse are not as common as emotional and behavioral signs. Look for:
- Anger, rebellion, defiance
- Fear of situations or people
- Sexual behavior or language
- Falling grades or rising grades
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- A change in behavior
Step 5: React responsibly
- Be calm.
- Listen carefully.
- Don’t rush.
- Ask open ended questions.
- Believe the child.
- Tell the child he’s done nothing wrong.
- Affirm the child’s courage.
- Seek professional help.
Commit to making 2015 the year of open and honest dialogue with your children. Get out of your comfort zone and talk to them about sexual abuse. Your relationship will grow as a result and you’ll make steps toward breaking the cycle of abuse.