Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse

Life has taken over and I have neglected posting in here. It’s not because I haven’t been thinking about it and I’d love if anyone has a topic they’d like for me to cover (just send me a message or join our Facebook page).keeping-kids-safe-from-sexual-abuse

I’m thinking about kids and keeping them safe from sexual abuse. A few weeks ago, I saw
this really great article and graphic in a Huffington Post article. I thought it was fab and necessary (unfortunately, so very necessary). Every week, I see at least one new news story about yet another child or teen being sexually abused by some adult in their life and it’s sickening to say the least. We have to talk to our kids frequently so they can be aware of the dangers of even “nice” people or people they meet through the internet (really, we need to teach them to not meet people this way. Bad idea).

Here’s the graphic from the article:

protecting-kids-from-sexual-abuse

I love this because it’s a great tool for parents to easily open the door to talk about sexual abuse with their children. I wrote a pretty comprehensive post on this earlier, so I’m going to be lazy and link it here: Can You Prevent Sexual Abuse?

The biggest thing is to keep an open dialogue with your children. You need to listen to them and make listening a priority. If/when they tell you they have been a victim, BELIEVE THEM. Love your kids no matter what. You are best equipped to teach and care for them and to seek proper professional help if needed.

“If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear” (see Doctrine and Covenants 38:30). If we teach and practice what to do in various scenarios, our kids will be prepared because they know what to do if someone tries to or does abuse them.

My Story: A Survivor’s Aunt’s Perspective

***TRIGGER WARNING: Some of the content in this post may be difficult for some readers because it is a story of sexual abuse. Please be mindful of your well-being.***

“I had just given birth to my first child, a girl, when our little 7-year-old niece came forward about her stepfather sexually abusing her.

“I’m forever grateful to her school that had the hard discussion that day. They had told the kids that if these certain things had happened to them that they should find an adult they are comfortable talking to and tell them about it.

“She went to her mom’s friend and told her what had happened. It all snowballed from there. The friend toa survivor's aunt's perspective.jpgld my sister-in-law, whose first reaction was to hurt this man who had wronged herself and her young family. He ran. When the police arrived they advised that any and all weapons be removed from the home so she couldn’t harm him or anyone else, including herself. Next she became depressed and began to drink. Our family stepped in and took care of her kids. Eventually, he turned himself in. This pedophile, who we learned
had committed similar acts as a teen, went to jail and legal proceedings began to hopefully keep him there as long as possible.

“Being a stay-at-home mom I offered to go up to my mother and father-in-laws’ to help with the kids. There I’d hear more details, though never specifics of what he’d done. I didn’t want to know those. The more I heard, the closer I held my sweet baby. The evils of the world were now a part of my world. This man who had been on family camping trips, had lived in my in-laws’ home when I first met my husband, he was right there. The “what ifs?” were terrifying. What if our daughter had been older? What if they had babysat her? What if my niece never said anything? What happens if he gets out of jail and is around again? Suddenly I didn’t trust anyone with my daughter, not even family. To this day that possibility is always on my mind. Very seldom do our kids get babysat. I just don’t trust anymore. I constantly warn my kids or look for signs that something might be wrong. A part of me is glad I am aware and the other part feels paranoid.

“Their story took interesting twists. For reasons we don’t fully understand, my sister-in-law chose to support her husband throughout his trial and for some time while he was in jail. She defended him, removed herself from the family for a time and even hindered her daughter from truly receiving the professional help she needed. Perhaps she didn’t want two failed marriages, she likely didn’t want to be a single mom to three kids, and she probably didn’t want to be alone.

“I’m not sure what changed, but they have since divorced and he has legally signed away any parental rights he had. He is still in jail with a possibility of parole or an addition 10 years. He may be gone, but his influence is not.

“Seven years later she’s doing alright, but as someone who has benefitted from therapy I see warning signs that our sweet niece didn’t get all of the help she needed. She struggles establishing healthy relationships and has already abused drugs and alcohol. She’s already had community service hours and is in the legal system and she’s only 15. She’s already taking part in premarital sex and those are just the things I can see. It makes me sad to see. I wish this hadn’t happened to such a young, sweet, innocent girl. I wish she didn’t have to deal with something that wasn’t her fault and that she stopped as soon as she was able. But if nothing else, I wish she had the help and resources she truly needs to be able to have the best life she can. But experience tells me that it will always be a part of her. A part she’ll always fight and struggle with. It will never truly go away, but I just hope she can learn effective ways to deal with it.”

~ Anonymous

For more related information, visit these other posts:

***To share your story, either anonymously or with your name, please submit using the “Contact/Submit a Story” tab at the top of the page. Thank you!

Can You Prevent Sexual Abuse?

Whether you’ve been a victim of sexual abuse or you’re a parent who wants to do their best to protect their child from being abused, you may be wondering if sexual abuse is preventable.

The short answer is no, not really. BUT, you can be proactive and educate your children, and if/when an abusive situation arises, your child will know it’s wrong, know how to respond, and we can help lessen the negative effects immediately.

  1. Teach your children about their bodies. Can You Prevent Sexual Abuse.jpgUse the correct names for body parts (i.e. vagina, penis, buttocks) just as you do for hands, fingers, arms, feet, etc. Tell them what they are for and how they work. Obviously, you want to be age appropriate and let the child lead the discussion somewhat. You are the best judge of what your child is ready for, but start young – like as soon as they are verbal or around age 3. You can also start when you are changing diapers by saying out loud that you are going to clean their buttocks, which will help them understand that some touch is appropriate by caregivers or doctors. (There are books that can help!)
  2. Teach to your kids about puberty and sex. This sounds difficult and may be uncomfortable, especially for those who were victimized as children, but these are healthy and normal things that need to be discussed – everyone goes through puberty and will eventually have sex. Carefully explain changes in their body that will be or are occurring and teach them what sex is. We do this around age 8 – their bodies will start changing soon, and unfortunately, many kids already know more than they should about sex at this age. Hearing it from their parents – a source they can trust – is the safest way to learn. Keeping the line of communication open for any questions is key. Parents must be willing to talk about these parts of life with their children. (If this is hard for you, maybe practice with a friend or professional first.) Again, there are books available – even from religious perspectives – that can aid you in teaching these important parts of life.
  3. Teach about appropriate and inappropriate touching. Some touching is good and some is bad. A general rule for kids to know is that no one should touch them where their bathing suit covers. Some families may add a little more. Kids need to know they are in charge of their bodies. They should never be forced by any adult or person older than them to hug, kiss, or sit on someone’s lap that they don’t want to. Let them know they can say “no, thank you” and offer an alternative such as a handshake, high-five, or fist bump. Kids need to know they have control over their personal space and bodies. They do not have to submit to someone just because the person is an adult or babysitter.
  4. Help kids know how to listen to their intuition and/or the Holy Ghost. We’ve all been around people who make us uncomfortable. How do you respond to those people? Let your kids decide how to respond. If they for any reason don’t want to be around a friend or relative, there may be a valid reason. Don’t force them! If something doesn’t feel right, your child needs to know they can honor that feeling inside them and leave the situation.
  5. Don’t keep secrets. An abuser’s favorite tool is secrets. Secret games, secret friends… the creepy stuff I’ve been reading in my research makes my stomach turn. Instead of secrets, we should share surprises with our kids. Surprises are good – surprise parties, surprise presents, etc. Secrets signal danger. Help your kids know that there are no secrets between parent and child (or between one parent and child). Tell them if someone tells them to keep something a secret, no matter what bribe, threat, or other lie they may use, they are to immediately tell their parents.
  6.  Use “what if” scenarios to help kids know how to respond to a potentially dangerous situation. “What if . . .someone wants to take you to their house to show you newborn puppies?; someone wants you to play a secret game with them?; someone touches one of your private parts?; someone shows you their privates or a naked picture of someone else?; someone tells you they won’t like you anymore if you don’t do what they tell you?” By coming up with a plan before they need one – just like a fire escape route – they’ll know what to do if a situation arises.
  7. If something happens and makes your child uncomfortable or gives them a “funny” feeling, make sure she/he will tell you first. Along with the “what-if” scenarios, comes telling mom and dad. Parents, be ready to listen and not brush off what your child tells you as no big deal. If they’re concerned, it IS a big deal. Talk it out – discuss the situation (who, what, when, where, why, how), how did it make them feel, etc., and take appropriate action. Sometimes it may be serious like sexual abuse, other times it may be the child wasn’t sure. Tell your child she/he did the right thing by coming to you. Do not punish your child for brining something to your attention – give praise and love. Kids need to trust their instincts and know they can come to their parents for anything; the first time may be a test to see how you respond before they trust you with something more serious.

Some parents may fear that teaching their kids these things can heighten a child’s interest in sex or cause them to fabricate an abuse story. Neither of these are true. Just like we keep our kids safe by teaching them to look both ways before crossing the street, not to play with matches or touch a hot stove, or to buckle-up when you’re in the car, we also need to apply these safety measures to protect them from sexual abuse. Teaching with love and respect and honesty is the best thing you can do to prevent sexual abuse, or give them the tools to deal with it.

If your child does get abused, please remember IT IS NOT HIS/HER FAULT. Even if they were somewhere they should not have been. Even if they did something you told them not to and then the abuse occurred. Do not blame your child for something the pedophile/molester/abuser is responsible for. Abuse can happen anywhere…at school, on the bus, at church, at home, at a friend’s house, in a public bathroom, on a camp out with the scouts, at summer camps, or at sports practice and dance class. We do have resources such as the sex offender registry, but that only alerts us to KNOWN offenders – those who have been reported/caught. Abusers are more often family (dads, uncles, brothers, grandparents, moms, cousins, etc.) or people the child knows – less likely strangers. Anyone who has access to your child can be an abuser. No race, religion, social status, or gender is exempt – sexual abuse happens across all demographics.

Proper response is key. If your child is abused, respond immediately. Pray for help if you’re confronted with this situation. Tell your child it’s not his/her fault; you will help them; you’re not going to allow that person to hurt them anymore; you love him/her not matter what; you will protect them; they’re not in trouble because of the abuse. There’s a careful balance of talking about it too much or not enough. Take cues from your child and let the Spirit guide you. Keep communication open and watch for changes in behavior that may be harmful. Make sure they get adequate professional help. If you’ve been a victim, this may be extra difficult because you know how much the abuse has hurt you and don’t want your child to have the same experience. Try to relax and do your best. Remember to get your child help from a therapist, church leaders, and the police.