Child abuse is more prevalent than anyone would care to imagine. It can happen to any child, of any race, any age, and either sex. One in ten children will be sexually abused by the age of 18. Of the children who are abused, 20% will be abused before the age of 8.
My children are now reaching the age where they are starting to interact with others more so than earlier in their lives. They have been raised by a stay at home mum and have attended school part time, but now they are starting to take part in after school activities, go to friend’s houses without me, and in general, meet new people in new circumstances. As an educator and foster parent, I have attended numerous trainings about dealing with abused and neglected children and recognizing the associated behaviors. As a parent the thought of anything happening to my child or any child shakes me to my core.
I know I will not always be there to protect my children should anything happen to them when they are under someone else’s supervision. All I can do as a parent is teach them that their body is their own, and they have the right to choose what happens to it.
When I was potty training my son, I felt like I was raising a nudist. We fought about him wearing underwear. He had just turned 2, so he was a challenge to reason with. At that young age, I started to introduce the concept of private parts and that he shouldn’t be showing his to other people, nor should anyone else show him theirs. This can be confusing, as it’s perfectly normal behavior for a child to show his or her privates to another child; however, it is not normal for a child to expose themselves to an older child, or vice versa. I wanted my children to understand that their private parts were not something to be ashamed of and that when they were learning body parts, they learned their actual names too.
I taught my kids something known as the Underwear Rule. I explained to them that the parts of the body covered by their underwear are private. No one should ask to see or touch those parts, and no one should ask them to look or touch theirs. I did explain that sometimes a doctor or a nurse might have to check them, or even mummy or daddy, but that it’s ok for them to ask why that person needs to see them. Then you can tell then them its ok when you know why.
One other thing we have instituted in my house that I hope will help to protect them is that we do not have secrets. Unfortunately child predators can silence their victims by merely telling the child “it is their little secret.” Instead of secrets, we have surprises. Secrets can have more negative connotations; sometimes they can frighten kids or make them feel scared they will get in trouble if they tell someone. Surprises are more temporary and usually involve an element of fun. It does sadden me that a single word can have such power when used by the wrong person; however, these are the times we live in, and I am adjusting.
The web is full of some wonderful resources for how to keep kids safe from sexual abuse. I have not discussed it in this post, but familiarizing yourself with some of the signs of abuse can also be a valuable exercise. Here are a few websites I have found to be the most helpful:
Darkness to Light
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Children (NSPCC): The Underwear Rule
Parenting Safe Children: “Off Limits” Parents Guide
Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN): “How Can I Protect My Child From Sexual Assault?”
American Academy of Pediatrics: Sexual Behaviors in Children
We are also fortunate that here in Corpus Christi, there are a number of resources available to victims of sexual assault: