April is Child Abuse Prevention Month which means it’s time to gain insight into what you can do as a parent to ensure your child’s safety today and every day. We get that it may not always be an easy discussion, but the following points will highlight the issues many victims face and how you can open up the conversation in your home and in your community.
Understanding institutional abuse
The sad reality is that most victims know their abuser, especially in instances of institutional abuse. Places like public or private schools, church or religious groups, and youth organizations are popular targets for perpetrators of institutional abuse because they provide easy access to children.
Additionally, children are taught to respect authority figures which, in turn, makes it that much harder for children to feel like they can speak out when something or someone makes them feel uncomfortable. That is why it’s important that you as a parent recognize red flags that suggest your child is being abused and what you can do to support them.
Signs of sexual abuse
- Withdrawal from friends/activities they previously enjoyed
- Mood swings and erratic behavior
- Avoidance of certain adults
- Abnormal use of nicknames for private parts
- Lack of willingness to dress or undress in front of you
Most common signs of grooming:
Perpetrators of sexual abuse use tactics known as “grooming” to isolate their victim. In extreme instances they’ll use threats to scare their victim into complying, but it’s more likely that the abuser will focus their efforts on building a sense of trust. They’ll do this by:
- Buying small gifts for the child
- Saying things like “this is our secret”
- Encouraging the child to keep computer activity private
- Pointing blame at parents
It may not be easy to tell if your child is being groomed, so it’s important to look out for the signs above and to always keep an eye on abnormal or secretive behavior.
Creating an environment of open communication
Research conducted by the CDC indicates that nearly 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. Those statistics are terrifying, there are plenty of ways that parents can be proactive about creating a safe space for their children.
These practices include:
Teach them which body parts are “private”: This includes talking about boundaries and in what instances it’s not okay for an adult to ask to see a private part. For example, “at the Doctor’s it’s okay, but if your swim lesson instructor asks, it’s not okay”. This goes along with teaching your child boundaries and having them frequently practice using the word “no” by simulating conversations like the one above.
Come up with a code for your child to use: They could experience something that makes them feel uncomfortable at a friend’s house, so creating a code will help if they need to use a landline. Remind them that you’ll never be mad at them for being asked to be picked up early.
Allow your child to say “no”: Encourage them to set boundaries for themselves. Less than 10% of child abuse offenders are strangers, so it’s important to be cautious about forcing your child to be “friendly” to everyone who comes into their lives—even if it’s close friends and family.
Never question an accusation: If your child does approach you with a concern, try your hardest to avoid placing blame back on them. That’s not only what makes grooming easier for the perpetrators, but will also reduce the likelihood of your child coming to you for support in the future.
While it’s difficult to think of such things happening to your child, the above measures are a good place to start. Opening conversations up like this only helps build awareness of the issue and, at it’s best, it helps build bodily autonomy and self-assurance within your child. This will in turn create a space for your child to feel comfortable speaking up when they experience something that makes them feel uncomfortable or violated. For more information please visit our resource page to learn more about keeping your child safe.
Additionally, local grantees through the Children’s Trust Fund of Alabama are also working hard to prevent child abuse and neglect. Read more about their efforts on the Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention website.