Protecting children from sexual abuse is a popular topic with websites and even iPhone apps that track sexual offenders. But it is more likely for a child to be abused by someone close to them than by a sexual offender down the street. Any time a person is used by an older or more powerful person for their own sexual purposes, this is sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is an offense before God, and it can damage a child's relational development. It happens to both boys and girls. What can you do to protect your child? Here are four steps: 1. Be aware of your child's environment and the patterns of others.
- Know the families of their friends. Get to know their babysitters, daycare workers, after school friends, and children's ministry leaders. Know what is going on in their dating relationships. Get to know any relatives who spend a lot of time with your kids.
- Be aware of the patterns of others. Be wary of individuals who are more interested in child than adult relationships. Be wary of anyone who singles out one particular child.
2. Talk with your children about touching rules. Respond openly to their questions by giving age-appropriate answers and using natural teaching moments. It may also be helpful to use a book that has been designed for parents and children to talk about sex such as Stan and Brenna Jones' God's Design for Sex series. Here are the rules that should be covered:
- Children must be taught the difference between "good touch" and "bad touch." Discuss this in the context of teaching your children about safety: "Don't play with matches. Look both ways when you cross the street. Don't let anyone touch a part of your body that your bathing suit covers except to keep you clean and healthy."
- If someone touches inappropriately, children should know to say "No!," get away, and tell a grown up
- Most importantly, children should know that there are no secrets about touching. "We never keep secrets about touching."
3. Know the signs of abuse. Check out SojournKids' training materials for suspected abuse and neglect.
- Sudden changes in behavior such as avoiding certain individuals
- Inappropriate sexual behavior.
- Excessive play with his or others body parts
4. And be ready to talk to your child when you suspect abuse has taken place:
- Remain calm
- Reassure the child
- Seek out help. Call your pastor, the police, or the Child Protective Services hot line. In Louisville, this number is 1-502-595-4550.
Sources: What Do I Say Now? How to Help Protect Your Child from Sexual Abuse (Seattle, WA: Committee for Children, 2001). DVD.