Protecting Your Child from Sexual Abuse
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month; take this opportunity to educate yourself on local child-abuse-prevention resources.
Last year in our March 2017 issue, we published a list of “5 Steps to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse,” with content provided by Darkness 2 Light, "a non-profit committed to empowering adults to prevent child sexual abuse." This year, we wanted to elaborate on the items in that list, hoping to give Tulsa-area parents more concrete ideas of how they can help protect their children. Rose Turner, chief operations officer of Child Abuse Network, provided us with additional information and statistics.
Step 1. Learn the Facts
According to statistics in the OKDHS fiscal year report (July 2015-2016), there were 915 substantiated instances of child sexual abuse in state fiscal year 2016. This represents 3.01 percent of all substantiated child abuse and neglect; there were 26,401 substantiated cases of neglect, and 3,070 substantiated cases of abuse.
OKDHS also reports that 16.87% of all substantiated instances of child abuse and neglect (not sexual abuse alone) happen to children under 1 year; 15.65% of cases happen to children 1-2 years old; 25.76% to children 3-6 years old; 25.02% to children 7-11 years old, and 16.70% of cases are perpetrated against children 12 years and older.
According to the same report, 43.86% of child abuse and neglect is perpetrated by the child’s mother, 30.20% by the child’s father, 9.37% by a person of no relation, 5.16% by a stepparent, 2.64% by a grandparent, 1.10% by a child care employee, .97% by an uncle/aunt, .93% by a foster parent, .91% by an adopted parent, .84% by an ‘other’ relative, .56% by a custodian/guardian, .52% by a group home employee, .18% by a hospital/secure facility employee, and .01% by a teacher. In the survey, 2.75% of respondents selected “unknown” or made no selection in answer to this question. Please note that these statistics are for all substantiated child abuse and neglect cases, not just cases of child sexual abuse.
Read the full report here.
Statistics from Darkness 2 Light about child sexual abuse claim that about 90% of child abuse victims know their abuser, with about 30% abused by family members and 60% abused by people the family knows and trusts. The younger the child, the more likely it is that the abuser is a family member.
Sadly, “As many as 40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by older, or more powerful children.” (Darkness 2 Light)
Step 2. Minimize Opportunity
According to Rose Turner, “Parents can minimize opportunity by having open conversations with their children about ‘ok’ and ‘not ok’ touches.” Turner cautions against using the words “good” and “bad” to refer to touch, as that can lead to confusion. She recommends making a plan with the child so they know who to talk to if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
Darkness 2 Light states that 80% of child sexual abuse occurs in situations where the child is one-on-one with another adult or youth, so avoiding one-on-one situations is a key way to minimize opportunity. For more ideas on how to do this, go to www.d2l.org/education/5-steps/step-2.
Step 3. Talk About It.
Darkness 2 Light offers these guidelines for talking to kids about sexual abuse:
- Teach children it is “against the rules” for adults to act in a sexual way with them, and use examples.
- Teach them what parts of their bodies others should not touch.
- Be sure to mention that the abuser might be an adult friend, family member, or older youth.
- Teach children not to give out personal information while using the internet, including email addresses, home addresses, and phone numbers.
- Start early and talk often. Use everyday opportunities to talk about sexual abuse.
- Be proactive. If a child seems uncomfortable, or resistant to being with a particular adult, ask why.
Darkness 2 Light also claims that talking with other adults can be a preventative measure because it increases the community’s awareness of the problem, might provide helpful information to other parents and can be a warning signal to potential abusers.
Learn more at www.d2l.org/education/5-steps/step-3
Step 4. Recognize the Signs
While Darkness 2 Light cautions against expecting obvious signs in the event of child sexual abuse because signs can be complex and even contradictory (for example, some children may react with anger/rebellion, while others may start acting “too perfect”), there are some signs to look for.
CAN provides their parents with the following list of signs of sexual abuse:
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Pain/itching/odor in the genital area
- Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
- Difficulty in walking or sitting
- Pregnancy, urinary, or yeast infections in young child
- Unusual seductive behavior
- Drawing, writing, play, or conversation with strong and advanced sexual theme
- Excessive masturbation or sex play with others
- Advanced interest or knowledge in sex
- Inappropriate dress for weather
- Repeated attempts to run away from home
- Poor peer relationships
- Overly mature appearance or behavior
- Self-harm or suicide attempts
- Concern/question about sexual identity
Step 5. React Responsibly.
According to the CAN website (www.childabusenetwork.org/get-help/how-to-report-abuse), “State law…requires EVERY PERSON who has a reason to believe that a child under 18 is a victim of abuse to report the suspicion of abuse immediately to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.” You can report abuse through the Oklahoma hotline (1-800-522-3511) or the national hotline (1-800-422-4453).
CAN can also provide parents with guidance for how to address certain topics with children who have been sexually abused. The goal of this is to help children develop “a healthy boundary system in order to feel more safe and secure in their world.” For example, one thing CAN recommends is teaching children to be assertive and to say “no” without making them feel more shame for what happened to them.
Perhaps one of the most responsible ways a parent can approach the issue of child abuse is just to educate themselves on the community resources available to them and, in the event that their child is abused, to make the most of these resources. An article published on TulsaKids.com, “Protecting Our Children: How Three of Tulsa’s Community Agencies Work Together to Prevent, Investigate and Heal Child Abuse,” is a good place to start. It outlines the services offered by The Parent Child Center, Child Abuse Network and Family & Children’s Services. Read it here.
When: Sunday, April 8, 1-4 p.m.
Where: POSTOAK Lodge & Retreat (Park at Central High School)
Find additional information and registration here.
Online registration closes March 31 unless the event is sold out prior to that date.
Registration will be available at packet pickup on April 8, unless sold out.