This article was originally written December 15th, 2015. While the time of year you may be reading it is not Christmas, this information is important all year round. It is updated periodically if I write or find another article that is helpful and relevant to it.
It’s Christmastime-what better time to talk about sexual abuse to children, right?
I know most people who are reading this are cringing right now. It’s not a topic that anyone is comfortable with, it’s something we tend to not want to talk about, and it’s hard. But facts are facts. Childhood sexual abuse is a dangerous and very real threat to your kids.
I can feel some of you shaking your heads. “Not in my house. Not in my family. We don’t associate with those kinds of people.“
Sexual abuse can happen with any kind of people.
I know there is comfort to be found in the belief you know other adults well enough to be able to tell who is safe around your children and who is not. But numbers and statistics don’t lie. 3 out of 4 adolescents who are sexually abused know the perpetrator.
“I don’t have a teen yet, my child is younger and therefore less likely.” I wish that was true. But 34% of sexual abuse in kids happens to children who are under 9 years of age. And the younger the victim the higher the chances are they know the person who is victimizing them.
I don’t tell you this just to scare or frighten you or to ruin your Christmas spirit. I didn’t just think “Hey let’s throw these numbers out and make people have moments of doubt and fear all the days of the season.” I’m sharing this now because I do have some ways you can help protect your child and one is a big thing this time of year.
Talk to your child about their bodies. It’s never too young for your child to know the actual name of their body parts. They have vaginas and penises, not “hoo-hoos” and peeters. Maybe 4 is too young to begin actively explaining all the body part, but the basics are essential. Kids who know the proper terminology to their bodies are able to tell safe adults the exact places they have been touched or photographed. Your kids may get a kick out of telling their teachers they don’t have private parts, they have a penis and testicles(sorry teachers…), but it’s a method that has shown time and time again to help kids vocalize if they are abused.
Related reading: The Never Ending Sex Talk(Age appropriate discussions to have about your kids bodies)
Talk to your child about sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is hard to talk about, even amongst adults. I can’t tell you the number of people I know who have suffered from sexual abuse and rape, both in childhood and as an adult. One of my first memories of college is driving to pick up a friend from a party then bringing her to the ER after she disclosed what had happened at the party. I wish sexual abuse wasn’t as prevalent as it is in our society. I wish I didn’t look at my kids and know the chances of it happening to one of them everyday. But it is and they need to know what sexual abuse is, that it is never their fault, and ways to help protect themselves. And they need to know they can talk to myself or another trusted adult in their handful(explaining that is next!) if and when abuse happens. So talk young, talk often, and listen. This book is a great tool to open up discussion in younger children.(I’m not being compensated for sharing this-I truly just love it enough to share it with everyone!)
Create a safety handful. Help your child have a handful of people who they can talk to if someone is making them feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or in danger. Our kids handfuls include myself, my husband, our pastor, and various family members. Talk to these adults as well; explain to them to listen, to never doubt, and to try and stay as neutral as possible if your child discloses to them. I’ve vetoed people off my kids lists, not because I don’t trust them or because I think they would be negative towards one of my children, but because I honestly believe their reaction to something of this caliber would be upsetting and emotional. Which I understand fully. However an emotional and upset reaction from the first person you disclose to can turn a person off from talking about it for a very long time.
Teach your child that the only person who owns their body is them. I’m sure you were wondering when this would come back around to Christmas time…well here it is. Christmas season is a wonderful time to see people you and your kids haven’t seen for usually almost a full year. Adults are all about hugging and kissing the relatives they know and love; often kids are less enthused. Don’t make your kids hug people who are nearly strangers this holiday season. This article is a great one on seven reasons why you should not expect kids to hug someone because you want them to. Body ownership is important, even in kids as young as 2 years old. Teach them that they own their bodies and no one should ever be able to force them to do anything they don’t want with those bodies-even relatives. Obviously, this is within reason. If your child doesn’t want a medical procedure that is life saving, sometimes you have to force them. But hugging a relative they barely remember will not save their lives. It will send the wrong message about who is in control of their bodies.
Last, but maybe the most important, always listen and believe your child. I know it can be hard to hear your child say they were abused, especially when it is someone you thought you knew and loved. But I can promise you, it is 100% harder to be the one who was sexually abused and have to tell another about it. Listen to your children when they tell you, bring it to the people who it needs to brought to, and believe them. Very few children fabricate sexual abuse encounters; it is far more likely they lie about it not happening than about it happening. Trust the children.