Local view: Parents can help children detect, avoid sexual abuseWhen reports of child sexual abuse appear in the media, communities often are left shaken and wondering what they can do to protect children. The unfortunate truth is children are highly vulnerable to abuse by adults and older youths and it can be extremely difficult for victims of sexual abuse to come forward.
By: Emily Kniskern and Sara Lee, for the News Tribune
When reports of child sexual abuse appear in the media, communities often are left shaken and wondering what they can do to protect children. The unfortunate truth is children are highly vulnerable to abuse by adults and older youths and it can be extremely difficult for victims of sexual abuse to come forward.
Many abusers work hard to gain the trust of children and families, making victims reluctant to report abuse at the hands of someone they care about. Children who are sexually abused may remain silent because they believe they are to blame for what is happening to them. Some young children may not even understand that what’s happening to them is abuse. Although almost all parents would do anything to protect their children, many are uncertain how to talk to their children about sexual abuse, not knowing what to say or when to say it. Uncertainty and discomfort with the topic often lead to silence in families and in our community.
First Witness Child Advocacy Center works to break that silence and help educate communities to prevent, identify and intervene effectively in the sexual abuse of children.
Although no parent can completely protect his or her children at all times, there are ways to reduce the risk of sexual victimization. Just like table manners or sharing, personal safety isn’t something that can be taught in one conversation. Parents can use everyday, teachable moments with children of all ages to talk about boundaries, privacy, and safe and unsafe touch. Children need to know they have the right to say “no” to touches on their bodies and that adults should respect that right.
All children should understand that no one, including loved ones, should touch their private body parts unless they need that touch to stay clean or healthy, and no one should ask or allow them to touch another person’s private body parts. Let children know that if anyone makes them feel scared, unsafe or uncomfortable, it’s important to tell an adult right away. Most importantly, it is critical for children to understand that abuse is never a child’s fault under any circumstances.
In addition to teaching safety basics, parents can work to build a relationship with their children that includes open and safe communication. A child who knows he or she can go to a parent with any problem without fear of judgment or punishment is a child who will be more likely to tell if the unthinkable happens. Parents can check in regularly with their children, asking them about what’s going well and what’s worrying them. It is never too late to start talking with children.
Every member of our community can join in our mission of making our community a safe place for children to grow and thrive.
Emily Kniskern is the prevention educator at the First Witness Child Advocacy Center in Duluth. Sara Lee is the family services coordinator at First Witness.