Preventing Childhood Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse and trauma are in the media and public consciousness more than ever these days, with the #MeToo movement, incidents such as the Larry Nassar case and Oprah’s recent 60 Minutes Report on treating childhood trauma. Sojourner works every month of the year to support victims of sexual assault and to help ensure that children’s homes are free of violence and abuse. Many people are unaware that sexual assault is a huge component of domestic violence. Sojourner not only works with the adult victim but addresses the needs of the children we serve. We provide older children with safety planning and mom with tools and resources to address the issues and trauma children may have experienced.
Sojourner's dating violence prevention curriculum, SafeU, works in schools to address issues teens are facing. Our goal is to promote personal safety and eliminate future victims and abusers. Part of talking about healthy relationships includes discussions and activities related to sexual assault, consent and boundaries. We believe that making sure students are clear about consent and boundaries, will reduce the need for services like ours in the future.
As our society is reckoning with the frequency of sexual abuse and misconduct, many people are asking for next steps. In honor of this and the cross-over of Sexual Assault Awareness month and Child Abuse Prevention month, we wanted to share with you some important ways to help keep the children in your life safe and to understand how to respond if something were to happen to them. The following list is courtesy of RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.
Be involved in the child’s life.
Being actively involved in a child’s life can make warning signs of child sexual abuse more obvious and help the child feel more comfortable coming to you if something isn’t right. If you see or hear something that causes concern, you can take action to protect your child.
Show interest in their day-to-day lives. Ask them what they did during the day and who they did it with. Who did they sit with at lunchtime? What games did they play after school? Did they enjoy themselves?
Get to know the people in your child’s life. Know who your child is spending time with, including other children and adults. Ask your child about the kids they go to school with, the parents of their friends, and other people they may encounter, such as teammates or coaches. Talk about these people openly and ask questions so that your child can feel comfortable doing the same.
Choose caregivers carefully. Whether it’s a babysitter, a new school, or an after school activity, be diligent about screening caregivers for your child.
Talk about the media. Incidents of sexual violence are frequently covered by the news and portrayed in television shows. Ask your child questions about this coverage to start a conversation. Questions like, “Have you ever heard of this happening before?” or “What would you do if you were in this situation?” can signal to your child that these are important issues that they can talk about with you. Learn more about talking to your kids about sexual assault.
Know the warning signs. Become familiar with the warning signs of child sexual abuse, and notice any changes with your child, no matter how small. Whether it’s happening to your child or a child you know, you have the potential to make a big difference in that person’s life by stepping in.
Encourage children to speak up.
When someone knows that their voice will be heard and taken seriously, it gives them the courage to speak up when something isn’t right. You can start having these conversations with your children as soon as they begin using words to talk about feelings or emotions. Don’t worry if you haven't started conversations around these topics with your child—it is never too late.
Teach your child about boundaries. Let your child know that no one has the right to touch them or make them feel uncomfortable — this includes hugs from grandparents or even tickling from mom or dad. It is important to let your child know that their body is their own. Just as importantly, remind your child that they do not have the right to touch someone else if that person does not want to be touched.
Teach your child how to talk about their bodies. From an early age, teach your child the names of their body parts. Teaching a child these words gives them the ability to come to you when something is wrong. Learn more about talking to your kids about sexual assault.
Be available. Set time aside to spend with your child where they have your undivided attention. Let your child know that they can come to you if they have questions or if someone is talking to them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. If they do come to you with questions or concerns, follow through on your word and make the time to talk.
Let them know they won’t get in trouble. Many perpetrators use secret-keeping or threats as a way of keeping children quiet about abuse. Remind your child frequently that they will not get in trouble for talking to you, no matter what they need to say. When they do come to you, follow through on this promise and avoid punishing them for speaking up.
Sojourner staff are always available to talk with you about concerns you have or provide support. Reach our warm line at 952-933-7422.