5 Steps to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse
Source: Darkness to Light, d2l.org
Darkness to Light, an organization whose mission is to end child sexual abuse, shares the following advice on how to protect children from sexual abuse. Visit d2l.org for more resources on protecting your children from sexual abuse, and click each heading below for additional information.
1 in 10 children in the U.S. is sexually abused by the age of 18. Thirty percent of that abuse occurs at the hands of family members. Up to 60 percent is committed by someone the family trusts.
According to d2l.org, “People who abuse children look and act just like everyone else. In fact, they often go out of their way to appear trustworthy, seeking out settings where they can gain easy access to children, such as sports leagues, faith centers, clubs, and schools.”
More than 80% of child sexual abuse incidents occur when children are in isolated, one-on-one situations with adults or other youth.
If you eliminate or reduce potential for children to be in isolated, one-on-one situations with adults or other youth, you dramatically reduce risk.
Darkness to Light also recommends that adults set a good example by avoiding one-on-one situations with youth. Further, parents and caretakers should monitor children’s internet use.
D2L.org says that parents should “Have open conversations with children about body safety, sex, and boundaries” because this helps children have a better understanding of healthy relationships and that they have the right to say “no.” Furthermore, they explain that a good parent-child relationship, characterized by open communication, can be one of the best defenses against child sexual abuse.
If sexual abuse does occur, the child may be scared to talk about it, for many reasons. These include the abuser manipulating and shaming the child, threatening them, etc. Learn more at d2l.org.
Although a child experiencing sexual abuse may undergo emotional or behavioral changes, Darkness to Light warns that you can’t expect obvious signs. You have to know what to look for.
Behavioral changes can include being overly compliant – or aggressively non-compliant. The child may experience nightmares, lose interest in activities, etc.
According to Darkness to Light, “Very few reported incidents of child sexual abuse are false.” The organization provides guidance on what to do if a child discloses sexual abuse to you, or if you discover or suspect it.
If a child discloses sexual abuse to you, the number one recommendation is that you not overreact in anger or disbelief. This could lead to the child shutting down, experiencing more guilt or even changing the story – which could hurt them in court if that situation arises.
Rather, offer support and be thoughtful in your response. Seek professional help and take appropriate action.
Discovery or Suspicion
Discovery differs from suspicion in that you know for sure that sexual abuse has taken place. You are required by law to report suspected child abuse. In Oklahoma, do that by calling the DHS Hotline at 800-522-3511. Go to d2l.org/education/5-steps/step-5/ for a breakdown of what to include in your report.
“Suspicion of sexual abuse means you’ve seen signs in a child, or you’ve witnessed boundary violations by adults or other youth toward a child,” according to d2l.org.
If this occurs, the organization says the adult who witnesses inappropriate behavior should reinforce the boundary immediately. For example, if you see an adult in a one-on-one situation with a child you think is crossing a boundary, speak up. This can look like reminding the adult of a pre-established boundary, or telling them to take the conversation to a more public space.
Darkness to Light emphasizes that “Offenders are rarely caught in the act of abusing a child, but they’re often seen breaking rules and pressing boundaries.”
Take time to familiarize yourself with the reporting policies of any organization you’re involved with. Also research any local agencies that handle reports of abuse.
Call the DHS Hotline
In Oklahoma, the first step is to call the DHS Hotline at 800.522.3511. Read TulsaKids’ article on Reporting Child Abuse to learn what happens after you make the call.