We all look forward to summer break. Long play-filled days, kids sleeping in, and not feeling so rushed. Even though school is out, most parents are still at their job and babysitters are watching the kids. We all try to make sure we hire a responsible sitter, one who is not zoned out into a smartphone and who is actually caring for our children. We ask for references and maybe even go so far as a background check. But there are a few more things we need to think about to ensure our children are not easy victims.
According to the CDC, statistics show that one in four girls and one in six boys will be the victim of child sexual abuse by the time they are eighteen. And yes, it happens here in Jackson County. You may be thinking, well, I only hire high school or college girls to watch my kids so that will not happen to us. You could be wrong. Rainn.org reports that about 24% of child sexual abusers will commit their offense by the time they’re 20. And while the majority of sexual abusers are male, females do account for some of the sexual assaults.
What can we do to help protect our children? Here are some ways to be proactive in giving your child tools to help them protect themselves. Teach your child about “Body Safety”. We teach our toddlers not to touch a hot stove or not to touch electrical outlets. We should also teach our children that no one touches their private parts, unless they need help toileting or a doctor needs to check to make sure they are healthy. An easy way to identify private parts is anything covered by a bathing suit. However, abusers usually groom a child by starting with hugs or strokes on the back, hair, or other non-private areas so a child should know that any touch that makes them uncomfortable is wrong. This includes unwanted hugs or tickle games. And children need to know that nobody should ever make them touch their private parts either. We also must help them understand that if someone breaks these rules, the child will not be in trouble but they must tell you.
Give your children permission to say no. Don’t force them to hug someone. Empower your child to be in control of their body using these guidelines:
• It is not okay to touch someone else’s private body parts.
• It is not okay for someone to touch his or her own private body parts in front of you.
• It is not okay for someone to ask you to touch his or her private body parts.
• It is not okay for someone to ask you to take your clothes off except if they are a doctor helping to see if you are hurt or sick.
• It is not okay for someone to take photos or videos of you with your clothes off.
• It is not okay for someone to show you photos of people without their clothes on.
• You can decide who can touch you, or who can give you a hug. You can say, “no.”
It is important to teach your children the proper names for their body parts. Do not use cutesy names like “winky” or “pee pee” but use anatomically correct names like anus, penis and vagina. If the unimaginable ever happens and your child is molested, they need to be able to tell you or an investigator where they were touched and using proper names will make it easier so there are no misunderstandings.
Next, make sure your children understand that your family does not keep secrets. Secrets are different than surprises like a birthday party or a surprise ice cream before dinner. Many times a perpetrator will convince your child that they must keep their abuse a secret. By having a family rule of no secrets, your child will understand that if something happens to them, they must tell you right away.
Make sure sitters are aware that you are vigilant and alert and you are working to make sure your children are not prey. This may lead to some uncomfortable conversations. Many people feel awkward talking to their children about their bodies and using proper names for body parts. When your child conversationally repeats something you have taught, they may question you. Let them know the rules in your home are that your child is the boss of their body, no one touches their private parts, and they keep their clothes on except when washing. Emphasize that there are no secrets in your family and your kids do not keep secrets from you.
Lastly, teach your kids that if a friend confides in them that they have been abused, they should tell you. Stress to them that children do not get in trouble for telling if someone has broken the body safety rules. Your child may change another child’s life by being brave and understanding that breaking the body safety rules is not okay.
Be involved in your child’s life. Know their friends. Choose caregivers wisely. Give them tools to protect themselves. And if your child is abused, don’t go through it alone. Reach out for help. Crisis Services can be reached at 256.716.1000 24 hours a day or at our Jackson County office at 256.574.5826.