One in 10 children suffer from sexual abuse in some form. It is an often-silent problem that happens around the world – in high-and low-income countries alike. This startling statistic may be especially concerning if you are a parent. But what can you do to help protect your child?
There’s no one type of person that perpetrates sexual abuse – no single type of person to teach your child to avoid. Children can encounter sexual predators in school, in church and even in their own family. But there are still strategies to help prevent the likelihood of sexual abuse.
A coalition of organizations dedicated to preventing violence against children has just released a report examining this issue. It outlines environmental, educational and societal structures that can make children more – or less – vulnerable to abuse. It then suggests interventions to help prevent the problem.
Here are some of those proposed solutions:
Organize programs to discuss with students what sexual abuse is. Sexual abuse may include inappropriate touching, child pornography, incest or rape. It’s also worthwhile to help children understand the difference between safe and unsafe touching. In addition, schools can:
• Teach children what they can do if they witness inappropriate behavior.
• Teach adolescents about healthy dating relationships – and how to prevent dating violence.
As parents, it can also benefit your children if you are open with them about this subject – even if it’s uncomfortable. Feeling that they can talk to you about a potentially inappropriate incident – and that you will support them – is key. It’s also important for parents to respond appropriately when there is a sign of trouble:
• Notice the warning signs. If your child says they’re uncomfortable being along with a certain person, find out why.
• If your child speaks up to you about abuse, believe them. Feeling they are alone in this can make the problem much worse.
In the community
Sexual abuse against children can happen anywhere. But one solid prevention intervention is to target places that tend to have high numbers of children or youth. This includes schools, community centers, scouting organizations and sports clubs. Such organizations should:
• Have mandatory background checks for all staff working with children.
• Set up a clear course of action for victims to report abuse – and for organizations to respond appropriately.
The thought of someone sexually abusing your child is a terrifying prospect. Employing the above strategies can help with prevention. However, if the worst does happen, it’s important to understand your rights to hold the perpetrator criminally and financially accountable.