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Protecting Children from Sexual Assault

Make sure you know what adults and older children are doing when they are with your child.

Most sexual abusers are known to you and your child. They are most often family members, friends, and caretakers rather than "strangers."

Be cautious of adults who:

  • Spend large amounts of time with children if it is not part of their job.
  • Flirt with your child.
  • Make your child uncomfortable or whom your child tries to avoid.
  • Abuse drugs or alcohol.
  • Physically abuse their wives.
  • Have been convicted of a previous sexual offense.

Support your child's right to say "no" to unwanted touching.

  • Let your child know that he can say "no" to touching by anyone, even a relative who hugs or kisses your child in a way the child does not like.
  • Watch for bullying by an older child.
  • Take your child's complaints seriously. Help come up with solutions.

Refuse to leave your child with adults you do not trust.

Do not leave your child with these adults even if your lack of trust is "just a feeling." Sexual offenders often do not look or behave differently from nonoffenders.

Screen babysitters and day care providers.

  • If your sitter is an older child or young adult, talk with the sitter's parents to get a sense of how responsible he or she is. Ask for references.
  • Let the sitter know that your child does not keep secrets from you.
  • Talk with the sitter and your child when you return about how their time together went.

Screen day care centers and preschools.

  • Observe your child at the day-care center or preschool.
  • Ask for references.
  • Make sure that you can visit the center or preschool at any time without making an appointment.
  • Talk with other parents whose children attend the center or preschool.
  • Make sure you know about planned outings before they happen.

Talk to your child about sexual abuse.

  1. Use the right words.
    • Make clear what you mean by words and phrases such as "hurt," "get into trouble," or "fool around."
    • Teach your children the correct names for sexual body parts, such as the penis and vagina. If you use the term "private parts," make sure that both you and your child know what private parts are.
    • It is not always easy for parents to discuss sexual issues with their children. It is very important to have these talks. It's a way for you to help protect your child.
  2. Avoid confusion between healthy sex and sexual abuse.
    • Talk about healthy sex separately. Do not talk about healthy sex and sexual abuse at the same time.
    • Help your child understand what healthy sex is. Explain in words appropriate to his or her age. Define healthy sex as touching that both people want and that occurs only between adults.
    • Define sexual abuse as the kind of touching that can feel bad to the child because the child does not want it, is confused about it, or gets tricked into it.
  3. Explain sexual abuse.
    • Gear your explanation to your child's age.
    • Begin by explaining unwanted, confusing, or secret touches. Tell the child to tell you if anyone asks them to do anything that makes them feel "funny", "yucky" or "icky" inside."
    • Talk about the touch being sexual. For example, "Someone may try to touch your vagina when you do not want them to." Explain that it is their body and they have the right to say no, even if that person is an adult.
    • Be specific. This will make it less frightening and confusing. For example, "Someone might try to put his hands down your pants or might keep rubbing up against you or might undress in front of you for no good reason."
    • Reassure children that they can tell you if anything bad happens and that they won't get in trouble. Sexual abuse would NOT be their fault.
    • Clarify with your child that sexual abuse is not likely to happen and that most adults and older children are good people.
  4. Talk about who.
    • Explain that it may be someone your child already knows.
    • Tell your child that even nice people can do bad things. Some people may not even realize that what they are doing is bad.
    • Caution your child about a person who gives your child something in return for your child doing something. For example, "I'll let you watch TV if you undress for me and don't tell."
    • Explain that it may be a person who threatens or tries to scare your child. For example, "If you don't lie down with me, I'll hit your sister."
    • Answer your child's questions about puzzling adult behavior.
  5. Talk about secrets.

    Let your child know he or she should not keep secrets from you. Explain the difference between a scary "secret" about something "bad," and a "surprise," which is usually "good."

Written by Lawrence R. Ricci, MD.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-02-02
Last reviewed: 2009-02-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
2010 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.
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