Protecting kids from sexual abuse
Author: Dr. Betty Richardson

Q. There’s so much in the news about child molestation; I read recently that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Do you have any suggestions for how we can protect our children from being abused?

A. Like you, I’ve read the statistics on child molestation. If even one child is molested, it’s one too many. It’s our responsibility as parents or caretakers to protect our children to the best of our ability. Who do we protect them from? Statistics cited in literature say that 30-40 percent of abused children are abused by family members; 60 percent are abused by people the family trusts; and 40 percent are abused by older or larger children. It may seem like we have to protect our children from everyone. Here are some ideas that may help protect your kids:

1. Drop-in unexpectedly when your child is in a one-on-one situation with an adult.

2. Check on children at night when you awake. It’s good to check on kids at night even if your spouse is the most trustworthy person in the world.

3. Talk about sexual abuse with your child, about the right to tell others not to touch them and which parts of the body are private. You can provide situations for your child to practice responding to using the “What if…” game, e.g. “What if someone offered you candy or a gift if you would take off your shirt?” “What if someone offered to show you their private parts if you would show yours?”

4. Establish good communication with your child. Regardless of the subject matter, when your child tells you something, don’t respond emotionally or negatively; sometimes children tell you part of the story to gauge your reaction.

5. Listen closely to your child. One child said: “Uncle wants to play tiger bellies with me.” Instead of saying “Oh that’s nice,” encourage your child to describe “tiger bellies” in detail. In this case it turned out to be a prelude to sexual abuse. Abusers often tell kids that the abuse is a game.

6. Be aware of red flags, like the child using language that isn’t age-appropriate or is touching you or others inappropriately.

7. If your child suddenly doesn’t want to be around someone, find out why.

8. Make sure your child’s play with older children as well as same-age children is supervised.

9. Pay attention to your child. Children who don’t get attention from parents or caretakers are among the most vulnerable. The predator offers the attention they seek but aren’t getting at home. Even the best of parents need to be on the alert for possible predators. Abusers are so very good at building trust and appearing harmless.

10. Realize that your child, if abused, may have been told that something awful will happen if he tells about the abuse. Let him know it is okay for him to talk with you about anything no matter how afraid he is.

Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.

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