Everyone Has a Role in Child Sexual Abuse Prevention

Sexual abuse is in the news a lot lately. Due to the recent media reports regarding allegations against Hollywood celebrities, elected officials and the thousands of women telling their own stories through the hashtag #MeToo, there has been a lot of conversation about this problem online, in the paper, or at the watercooler.

On Sunday, November 12, Olympic Gold Medalist Aly Raisman added to that conversation when she shared her own story on 60 Minutes. In speaking out against the sexual abuse she experienced as a child at the hands of former U.S. Olympic team doctor Dr. Larry Nassar, Aly highlighted the importance of sexual abuse prevention programs and the need to teach young children about personal body safety.

“Child sexual abuse is a problem that 1 in 10 children will experience before they turn 18,” said Dan Duffy, President and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America. “To truly address this problem, we need programs that protect children from sexual abuse alongside evidence-based treatment for children who have been victimized. In order to create communities free from child sexual abuse, we need to prioritize public awareness and adult education programs that teach the signs of child sexual abuse and the steps necessary to protect children.”

In fact, programs such as the Hugs & Kisses are making a difference here in Virginia. This program is aimed at elementary school teachers and arms them with the knowledge of the warning signs of grooming behavior in adults as well as indicators of sexual abuse in children. Additionally, the programs teach educators how to responsibly and respectfully respond to a child’s disclosure of abuse and how to route those disclosures to the proper authorities.

The main tool of the program is a play that teaches elementary school children the concepts of good, bad, and secret touching, the right to say “no” to secret touching, secret touching is never their fault, and the importance of disclosure to a trusted adult. Since 1983, the Hugs & Kisses program has been operated as a partnership among the Virginia Department of Social Services, Virginia Repertory Theatre, and Prevent Child Abuse Virginia.

Through a creative use of children’s theatre and education plans for teachers, this program is one example of how to provide the kind of education that Aly Raisman and others are correctly calling for.

At the same time, we can’t expect programs like [insert program name] to do this difficult work alone. Each of us has a role to play in the healthy development of children and the prevention of child sexual abuse.

Parents can help prevent child sexual abuse in several ways.

  • Engaging in direct dialogue with their children
    • Ensure that their young children know the proper words for their body parts and understand that there are certain parts of their body that are private.
    • Answer questions your children have about their bodies honestly, and make sure they know that they can talk to you about anything that is bothering them.
    • When your children are older, have conversations about healthy sexuality and what respectful romantic relationships look like.
  • Teach children about secrets
    • Make sure your children understand what a secret is, and what kind of secrets are OK to keep, like birthday presents, and what kind are not.
    • Ensure children know that no adult should ever tell them to keep a secret from you.
  • Learn about and advocate for institutional policies
    • Inquire about the policies for background checks with the care providers you use, such as babysitters and childcare staff.

But you don’t have to be a parent to help tackle the issue. By knowing and recognizing the warning signs of child sexual abuse, you can help protect children in your community. Warning signs of child sexual abuse include:

  • Inappropriate knowledge of sexual behavior for their age level,
  • Sexually explicit drawings,
  • Highly sexualized play (e.g., simulated intercourse with toys, pets or other children)
  • A child being fearful of a specific person or place
  • A decrease in academic performance.

As an adult who is around children regularly, whether you’re a coach or a teacher, it is critical that if you suspect abuse that you make a report to the national child abuse hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

All adults can play a role in child sexual abuse prevention by learning what programs are in use at your local school, church or athletic program. If no such program exists, get in touch with local advocacy organizations like your local chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America to learn how you can help the educators and mentors in your community get the training they need.

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