Sexual abuse can be a very difficult topic to discuss with others. This is especially true when it comes to talking about sexual abuse with your children.
Though parents are frequently confronted by messages about the dangers of sexual abuse and molestation, they receive little advice about how to bring up this sensitive subject with their kids. This post will address how to talk about sexual abuse with your children.
VIDEO: My Body Belongs to Me
Talk to your child about sexuality and sexual abuse in age-appropriate terms.
When you talk to your children about sexuality and sexual abuse, you should use age-appropriate terms for body parts and other concepts.
Ideally, you should teach your children the anatomical terms for their body parts, rather than using nicknames or slang terms. It is important to teach children the proper names of their body parts so that they can ask questions and express concerns about those body parts. Nicknames and slang terms may obscure a child’s legitimate concerns about inappropriate touching. If using anatomical terms makes you uncomfortable, try teaching your child that his or her “private parts” are those body parts that are covered by underwear or a swimsuit.
Frame the conversation around “safety,” rather than “abuse.” Tell your child that you want to have a discussion about safety and their bodies. Explain the difference between safe touching (such as being examined at the doctor’s office) and unsafe touching (inappropriate tickling or fondling). Tell your child that some people may try to touch him or her in a way that is unsafe, or causes feelings of discomfort, sadness, anger, or confusion. Tell your child that if this ever happens, he or she should tell you right away and that he or she will not get in trouble for doing so.
Maintain an open dialogue with your children, and make it clear that they are never to blame for inappropriate touching. Tell your children that it is okay to say “no” to adults in situations where they feel uncomfortable.
If you are concerned about the possibility of sexual abuse, talk to your child in a non-judgmental way.
If you are concerned that your child may have been sexually abused, you should have a candid conversation with him or her as soon as possible. Take these steps to ensure that your child feels comfortable discussing what may have happened with you:
- Choose a time and place carefully. Have this conversation with your child at a time when you won’t be rushed and in a place where he or she feels comfortable. Never ask your child about sexual abuse in front of the abuser.
- Ask your child if anyone has been touching them in an unsafe way, or in a way that makes him or her feel uncomfortable. It is important to understand that asking your child if someone is hurting him or her may not lead to the information you are looking for. Because sexual abuse can feel good to the victim, a child may not know how to answer this question.
- Use a non-judgmental tone when talking to your child about sexual abuse. Reassure him or her that they will not get in trouble for anything that they tell you. Try to remain calm, even if your child comes forward with allegations of sexual abuse. A child may misinterpret your anger at the abuser as anger at him or her.
- Tell your child that it is okay to divulge a secret, even if an adult has made them promise not to do so. Many abusers tell their victims that what happened between them is a secret, relying on a child’s willingness to keep quiet.
- Believe your child. Children rarely make false allegations of sexual abuse. You can always consult with a trusted professional, such as a pediatrician, therapist, or law enforcement officer, who is experienced in handling allegations of sexual abuse.
- If your child does not reveal sexual abuse, but your suspicions persist, follow up with your child. Remind your child that you are always available to talk about his or her safety, and that you will do whatever it takes to keep your child safe.
- Take abuse allegations seriously. If your child tells you that he or she has been abused, contact the authorities right away. Do not contact the abuser directly, or the institution where the abuse took place (such as a school or church).
Discussing sexual abuse with your children can be extremely challenging. However, maintaining an open dialogue about sexual abuse can be critical in preventing abuse from occurring or continuing. If you believe that your child may have been the victim of child sexual abuse, an honest, non-adversarial conversation is the first step in getting your child the help that he or she needs.
For more information on this subject, visit:
- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network
- Department of Justice
- National Child Traumatic Stress Network
- My Body Belongs To Me, a book for children and short film