When and How to Begin
Before the age of 18, 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused. Let that sink in. A staggering statistic, sexual abuse is significantly more common than many parents know. Beyond that, 93% of young victims know the perpetrator. But as scary as these statistics are, there are steps you can take to educate your child from a young age so that they know what is – and more importantly what is not – okay.
Kristen Pavlik McCallie
Executive Director, Children’s Advocacy Center of Hamilton County
Start by teaching your child the proper names for body parts, including private parts. “Prevention education should start in preschool,” says Kristen Pavlik McCallie, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Hamilton County. “There is a lot of discomfort in our society about identifying body parts with their real names, but it is extremely important, should a line ever be crossed, for a child to be able to communicate effectively.”
Young kids should also understand that certain body parts are private. “A good way to explain this is to say that no one other than your parents or doctor should see body parts that are covered by your bathing suit,” says McCallie.
It’s also important that young children recognize that it’s never appropriate to look at or touch another person’s private parts, even if they ask. This is a big part of the conversation that can be easily forgotten, and it’s frequently one of the first forms of sexual abuse.
Making your child comfortable enough to talk about secrets is another key step. “Children need to know that there are no body secrets from parents,” explains Farlie Chastain, licensed clinical social worker and director of social services at Parkridge Valley Child & Adolescent Campus. “It’s important to create an open, safe environment in which a child feels comfortable talking about incidents they felt were ‘weird’ or ‘strange.’ Such situations can be confusing to children, as they may perceive the incident as something that felt good or tickled,” says Chastain.
Director of Social Services, Parkridge Valley Child & Adolescent Campus
Lastly, reassure your child that they’re not at risk of getting in trouble. Many young kids are afraid of upsetting their parents or being punished, and perpetrators prey on this fear. If your child knows they can talk to you and you won’t be mad, they are more likely to open up. “Children can sense who their safe people are,” explains Karisa Kaye, marriage and family therapist/sex therapist with I Love Us Relationship & Intimacy Counseling Center. “If there’s any kind of shaming or explosiveness from their caregiver, most children will not disclose when they are being abused or mistreated for fear of more shame or punishment.”