Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Talking to Children about Sexual Assault

With all of the stories in the news recently about sexual assault against children, taking time to talk to your children about what sexual assault is, signs of sexual assault, and other information is more important than ever! Children need accurate and age-appropriate information about child sexual abuse and confidence that adults they know will support them. Here are some ways and guidance for addressing the issue in a conversation with your child to make sure they understand and are aware of the danger.

Children need age-appropriate information about child sexual abuse. Talk at a level that the children will understand. Teach your children the language they need to talk about their bodies and information about boundaries to help them understand what is allowed and what’s inappropriate. This will help them know when something is right and when something isn’t and give them the power to speak up. Teach your children the names of their body parts and that some parts of the body are private. Let children know that other people shouldn’t touch those parts or look at them (there are exceptions like if a healthcare professional has to examine them, you should be present).

Sexual touch can be very confusing to children. In a physical sense, sexual touch can feel good and for a victim, this can create more shame and confusion about the situation. You can tell you children about “secret” touch or touch that makes a child uncomfortable. It is also important to let children know they are allowed to say “no” to touches that make them uncomfortable.  This isn’t always obvious to your children, because they are often taught to be obedient and follow the rules. Teach your children that it’s not OK for anyone to touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable-not Mom, Dad, aunts, uncles, teachers, or even their friends. Always support your children when they say no, even if it puts you in an awkward position. For example, if someone at a family gathering wants to hug your child, and your child says “no,” respect their decision.

Many perpetrators use secret-keeping to manipulate children. Let your children know they can always talk to you, especially if they have been told something is a secret. Tell your children that people also use tricks or promise gift or allow something that is usually off limits if they promise not to tell anyone. When telling your child these things, be sure to encourage them that they can handle the situation, even if they feel scared, uncomfortable, or they didn’t object to a sexual interaction previously. Assure them that if someone touches them in an uncomfortable way, it’s NEVER their fault. Reassure your child that they won’t get in trouble for asking questions or talking about their experiences. Be a safe place for your child to share information about things that they have questions about.

Most importantly, when they come to you, make time for them. If your child comes to you with something they feel is important, take the time to listen. Give them your undivided attention, and let them know you take their concerns and feelings seriously. This will make them more likely to come to you in the future if they know they have someone to trust and to listen to them!

For more information on this topic, check out these articles:

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