In recognition of Child Sexual Abuse Awareness month I’ve decided to shed some light on two common misconceptions and offer suggestions on how YOU can make a difference in the life of a child.
“If my child were being sexually abused they would tell me.”
Most parents feel they have a close relationship with their child and if anything is going wrong in the child’s life they would be the first to know. In most cases that is probably correct. Unfortunately, in the case of sexual abuse, there are other factors that prevent children from turning to their parent for help. Some of the factors are:
- 90% of child sexual abusers are someone the child knows and trusts. Children fear a parent would never believe this family member, friend, clergy, teacher, trusted adult, would harm them.
- Abusers bribe children with money, gifts, alcohol, to keep their “game” a secret.
- Abusers threaten children saying they will harm a family member, telling would cause the family to break apart, or by convincing the child that they would be severely punished if their parent knew.
- Abusers place guilt on the child telling them it is their fault or that they deserve to be treated this way.
- Abusers groom children. This means that the abuse does not happen right away. They draw the child in by making them feel special—“You are my favorite…” “I bought this just for you,” “I can’t wait until we can spend more time together,” etc. The physical contact may begin with gentle hugs, stroking, or other physical acts that feel good to the child. It is only after they have gained the child’s trust that the playful grooming turns to sexual abuse.
So how does a parent prevent this from happening?
Talk about sexual abuse with your children and have a family plan.
That’s right, I said talk to your child about sexual abuse. We teach our children about fire safety, stranger danger, drugs and alcohol and peer pressure, so why not teach them what to do if someone the family knows and trusts is making them uncomfortable? There are many programs out there to help parents know what to say and how to say it. My favorite is Stop It Now! On their website, www.StopItNow! you will find free information on how to develop a family plan. Remember, abusers groom their innocent victims. If you’ve discussed sexual abuse with your children they are very likely to tell before the grooming actually turns to physical harm.
“Unless I have concrete evidence I can’t accuse someone of sexually abusing a child.”
If a child’s behavior changes in a concerning way, if an adult’s “attention” to one particular child makes you uncomfortable, if you’ve been told something or heard a conversation that caused you to suspect abuse, it is important that you explore further and report your suspicions.
The most important thing to remember is that you are reporting suspected abuse. It is up to the professionals to determine if the abuse has actually occurred. Most situations do not need evidence to report, but it is best if there is a symptom, behavior, or conversation that you can identify when making a report.
The two options for reporting are The Department of Children & Families, DCF, or your local police department. Generally you would call DCF if the suspected offender is in a caretaking role: parent, babysitter, relative, teacher or childcare provider, and the police if the suspected offender is in a non-caretaking role: family friend, neighbor or acquaintance. However, if you are more comfortable with one over the other it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you make the call!
There are some professions in which workers are mandated reporters. For the rest of us I say we deem ourselves mandated reporters! If we suspect a child is in danger it is our responsibility to protect that child.
If you do suspect abuse and are uncertain or afraid, do NOT let that stop you. Let your first call be to the Stop It Now! confidential helpline at 1.888.773.8368. They will answer your questions and advise you on what steps you should take.
I hope this shed some light on child sexual abuse, that you will take the necessary steps to prevention, and that you will share this information with others.
You can make a difference! Please do! Roberta