Child Sexual abuse is one of the worst things that happen globally to children. It is the act of forcing or persuading a child to take part in sexual activities. It can take several forms ranging from sexual touching of any part of the body, rape or penetration by putting an object or body part inside a child’s mouth, vagina or anus, making a child to take off her clothes, touch someone else’s genitals or masturbate to forcing or encouraging the child into sexual intercourse. Some kids may sometimes not understand that what is happening to them is abuse and may not know it’s wrong.
Many parents feel quite uncomfortable discussing sexual abuse with their children. However, considering the rising child sexual abuse statistics globally, it becomes inevitable. There isn’t any justifiable reason to shy away from talking to your kids about their bodies. Many of us have fallen victim in the past all because our parents failed to educate us rightly. Our dreams came to an abrupt stop because of the consequences that came from either rape or child abuse.
When you equip your girl child and your boy child with everything they need to know about sexual abuse from their young age, the society will have fewer boys/men that rape and fewer girls that get raped and our children will be smarter and safe.
Causes of Child Sexual Abuse
While the causes of sexually abusive behavior towards children are yet to be fully understood, some reasons are quite obvious and range from uncontrollable sexual urge, mental health problems, drug and alcohol misuse and domestic abuse on the part of the abuser, all of which may make them not have any understanding of what is appropriate behavior towards a child.
A poor neighbourhood, poverty, neglect and lack of communication between parent and child are some other factors that aid child sexual abuse.
Child abuse is most likely to start from someone close, like a relative, a family friend, neighbour or a person in a position of trust rather than a stranger. These abusers look for weak spots in a family or community to gain access to the child, then begin to develop an inappropriate relationship with the child, making her believe she has a sincere or loving relationship with the abuser. The abuser buys gifts for and spends time with the child.
Signs of Sexual Child Abuse
Though it is quite hard to identify a sexually abused child, children who are sexually abused show certain symptoms, some of which include withdrawal from family and friends, sudden change in behavior, Nightmares, sleeping problems, becoming unusually secretive, mood swings, unaccountable fear of particular places or people, Outburst of anger, changes in eating habits and many more. This article gives more insights into warning signs of sexual abuse.
Effects of Child Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse can ruin childhood, and the impact can last a lifetime if not properly handled. It can have both short term and long term effects on a child. Most times, it is the physical effect that is being focused on, but it’s often the emotional and psychological effects that cause more harm in the long term. The effects range from depression, sleeping and eating disorders, shame, guilt, dissociation, self-harm, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, promiscuity to suicide.
How do I protect my child from sexual abuse?
Having learnt the demoralizing effects sexual abuse can have on a child, I guess you never want such an experience for your child right? So, how can you equip yourself and your child against child sexual abuse?
Highlighted below are 17 tips about protecting your child from sexual abuse you need to know.
You can watch a summary of the 17 ways in the video below or read through to the end.
1. Teach your child each body parts by their real names
This is one thing I encourage mums to do. Your son’s penis is not a “Willy,” or a “pee-pee,” Let him know it is his penis. For your daughter, calling a vagina by its proper name is important because sexual predators often use “sweet” names to lure children. Teach your children that their penis, vagina, bottom, breasts and nipples are called their ‘private parts. If your children know the names of their private parts, they can more accurately, and with no confusion, tell you if it hurts or if someone touched that area inappropriately. It also removes the shameful or embarrassing characterization from those body parts. Pet names create confusion in case something needs to be reported. It is also essential that parents and children feel comfortable with correct body part names early on so that the “teen years” are just a continuation of an ongoing conversation and not a “special talk”.
2. Let your child have Rights over her body
Tell your kids that “they own their bodies” and that no one has a right to touch them unless it’s okay with them. Also, teach them not to be bribed. For example, “If you let us touch your …., we will let you be in our club.”
Their bodies must never be exchanged for anything.
3. Teach your child to respect and not touch other people’s private part
Abusers will say things like, “Don’t worry. I won’t touch you. You touch my…” Let your child know that if someone asks her to touch their own private parts, shows their private parts to her or shows her images of private parts, this is wrong also and that she must tell a trusted adult straight away.
4. Teach your child the appropriate situations for private parts to be seen
Just as we teach them appropriate ways to do other things, our kids need to learn the appropriate situations for private parts to be seen and touched by others, which shouldn’t go beyond bath time at home with mom or dad or an examination at the doctor’s office when they are sick (and let them know you must be present).
5. Teach your child about surprises and secrets
Think about it, secrets are never told. Surprises are always revealed. Most child abusers tell children that the acts are to be kept a secret between the two of them. If secrets are not allowed in your family, it’s unlikely for your child to buy into someone asking her to keep something secret. Make it a part of your family discussions that you don’t keep secrets. (surprises are ok because there is a planned time to reveal it, like when they open their birthday present). Tell your child an adult and a child never have a secret.
6. If your child asks questions, answer them correctly
Don’t ignore or deflect questions they have about their private parts. Our kids are curious about everything, including their body parts. Ignoring their questions or concerns will only increase their curiosity and, at worst, lead to feelings of shame about their body as if it’s something they shouldn’t discuss. Age-appropriately, answer their questions to the best of your ability. If you don’t know how to answer, tell them you need time to think of how to explain it and come back to it within a couple of days. They understand a lot more than we think.
7. Teach your child “Safe touch” vs. “unsafe touch”
“if your swimsuit covers it, it’s a private area” Let your kids know that safe touches are touches that are in areas not covered by your swimsuits like shoulders, head and feet. But more importantly, safe touches are also those that you feel calm and safe with, like a hug from your mum. Bad touches are those in the areas that are covered up by a swimsuit, your mouth, and also the ones that make you feel nervous, scared or worried. If any person is touching you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, that is a bad touch. Always tell your parents or other adults about bad touches.
8. Empower your child to Say “NO!”
It’s good to teach your kids that they have the right to say “No!” to unwanted touching, even if that touching comes from a family member or someone that they know and love. This ability to say “No!” shows that they are in control of their body and that their feelings are respected. When kids are confident enough to say “No!”, even to things like tickling in the home sphere, they will be more confident in public as well.
9. Help Your Child Trust Her Feelings/ Don’t Force Affection
Your child doesn’t have to hug and kiss everybody. If your child doesn’t want to give hugs and kisses to family members, neighbours or friends, respect that boundary and don’t force them. This empowers them to feel like they have control over their physical body.
10. Trust your child’s instincts
If your child feels uneasy around a relative or friend, don’t push or force her to like and trust that person. Too often we assume that since we trust that individual, our kids should too. Allow trust to happen naturally over time and under your supervision. There could be a legitimate reason for your child’s apprehension of an individual. Don’t force it.
11. Help your child create a “safety network”
Encourage your child to talk to you when she feels sad, anxious or frightened. You should also help her to identify three to five adults she trusts and could tell anything to. These people will make up her “safety network”. Have your child mention the people she wants on her ‘safety network’. Note: These should be adults who will listen to her concerns, believe her and are accessible. At least one person on her ‘safety network’ should not be a family member.
12. Practice/Role Play
Practice with your child what she should say (‘No! I don’t like that! STOP!’) and do (tell a member of her safety network) if she is ever asked to show or is touched in her private areas.
13. Teach your child what is visually inappropriate
Have discussions about pornography with your kids. Pornography creates physiological responses our children are not developmentally ready to deal with and understand and is so easily accessible these days. We need to be teaching our children to talk to us about what they may see and what to do if they are shown pornography.
It is also so important to speak to children about what to do if someone exposes themselves, but there is no touching involved. “If you see somebody else’s private parts, you should do your best to leave/ stop looking/ tell the person to stop and tell a member of your safety network as soon as possible.”
14. Ask Your Child Questions
Be careful about who you put your child in care of, where she spends time or sleep over. If she has to be away from you for a while, ask her questions at the right time, and under the right circumstances.
You may ask these questions the next time that your child is in someone else’s care and try to make questioning a consistent habit.
Did you enjoy yourself?
How did you spend your time?
What was your favourite part of the visit?
What was the least favourite part?
Did you feel safe?
Was there anything else that you wanted to share?
15. Talk with your child about EVERYTHING
Teach her that private parts are special parts that need to be taken care of. Talk about how one day her babies will come through her vagina, so it is a part of her body to protect. Teach her why we can’t touch each other’s private parts. Tell her that body parts are things that you share when you get married, not when you are kids.
16. Learn the Signs of Abuse
Many parents do not realise early on that their child is suffering at the hand of an abuser. You may not be a seer, but there are some behavioural changes to look out for in your child, which can help you quickly recognise if anything is happening so you can either start a dialogue with your child or go to the police. If you are not aware of these changes, This website also provides a good list of sexual abuse warning signs by age. Better awareness and education by parents and children are very key in stopping the rise of child sexual abusers. Being informed could save the children around you from a traumatic experience.
17. Teach your child the PANTS rule
PANTS is a simple acronym, a clue that makes it easy for parents to engage children in a discussion about sexual abuse. You can download a simple step-by-step parent guide to help you talk PANTS with your child and keep them safe or let pantosaurus teach your child the important rules of PANTS so they can stay safe here.
How to Help a Sexually Abused Child?
Children often fear to speak out about an abuse. Some delay talking about it for a long time, while some never get the courage to tell anyone. Thus, when they open up to you, it’s important to believe them and act on what you’ve been told. Some ways to help include:
- Listen attentively to the child
Don’t put words in her mouth, don’t rush her, avoid exclamations as it may make her stop talking, suspend your views on the matter. JUST LISTEN!
- Appreciate the child for speaking out
Assuring her that she has done the right thing can have a big impact on her about keeping secrets.
- Let her know the abuse is not her fault
Sexual abuse is never a child’s fault, and a child must be told this.
- Let her know you believe her
A child may keep an abuse secret in fear that nobody will believe her. Telling you shows she trusts you to believe and help her. So let her know you believe her.
- Reassure the child of safety
Assure her that she will be safe and looked after and that you will do everything you can to stop the abuse.
- Don’t confront the abuser
Confronting the abuser may make things worse for the child. Rather, explain to her that you’ll need to report the abuse to someone who will be able to help.
- Keep to your word and Report the Abuser
The sooner the abuse is reported to the appropriate authority the better because the details will still be fresh in your mind and action can be taken quickly.
- Get her a professional evaluation, treatment and counselling
Because of the devastating effects of child sexual abuse, you need to get her an immediate professional evaluation, treatment and counselling. This will help her regain a sense of control over life, deal with feelings of shame or guilt over the abuse, begin the process of recovery from the trauma and prevent future problems.
Advice from Mums who/whose kids have been there
“if your child comes to you and tells you that something like this has happened to them, breath, stay calm and let them see by your reaction that it is a good thing that they told you. Then find them the help they need. If you respond by crying or expressing anger at the perpetrator, they will perceive your reaction as a negative towards them and be less open to further discussion. I am glad my child felt comfortable coming to me. It is scary. But there is help”
“Avoid your kids being alone with people, especially males. one of the things I encountered was the predator in my case masturbating in front of me on purpose in situations where I couldn’t get away… in a car alone while driving for instance. It’s just so awful that we have to worry about children this way. They are so innocent and this shouldn’t be an option for anyone to do to a child, but sadly, it is a reality”
“Never leave your child confused about a topic. Break down the topic clearly to her. My parents gave me, “Don’t let anyone touch you here, here, or here.” That was it, I didn’t understand why, but understood that it was important. I also never had any talks about sex. So when I got curious, I didn’t feel comfortable discussing the topic with my parents. I actually remember asking my mother what a virgin was because I had heard it on the television. She looked at me and stated, “Something you should be for a very very long time!” Her statement left me confused because the people on TV acted like it was a bad thing, and she was acting like it was a good thing”
“Parental reactions are so critical. When my sister was young, an older student pinned her down and touched her inappropriately. She told our brother, who in turn told our dad. Our dad was furious. My sister was in her room listening as my dad fumed and yelled at my brother “Who did it? Where does he live?” It makes sense from a parental perspective, but my sister thought she got our brother in trouble and regretted telling him. Luckily it never happened again, but if it had, she may not have told anyone”
“please don’t keep what happened in the dark. Talk about it with your kids and trusted friends. Darkness hates light. After my kids were molested, all the horror stories I heard from loved ones were about how their sexual abuse had been kept a shameful secret or an ignored event that they felt was not to be dealt with. The shame and confusion I heard about were devastating. But sexual abuse can be turned into a positive if we use it to empower our children. Make them feel like they are valued and deserve better treatment. Make sure they don’t feel damaged as so many victims do. That is how victims get caught in a cycle of continuous abuse. My hope is that my 4-year-old will know that if anyone messes with her again, she can tell and action will be taken against her abuser”
Wow!!! Thanks for reading through this helpful insight about child sexual abuse. Now it’s your turn to share with us what you have experienced, what you know and what you would like us to know. Keep them coming in the comments section respectfully!