Children & Adolescents Clinic

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Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0

Protecting Children from Sexual Assault

Make sure you know what adults and older children are doing when they are with your child.

Most sexual abusers are well known to you and your child. They are most often family members, friends, and caretakers rather than "strangers."

Be cautious of adults who or whom:

  • Spend large amounts of time with children if it is not part of their job.
  • Flirt with your child.
  • Your child tries to avoid or is uncomfortable with.
  • Abuse drugs or alcohol.
  • Physically abuse their wives.
  • Have been convicted of a previous sexual offense.

Support your child's right to say "no" to unwanted touching, even if it is not sexual touching.

  • Be wary of even innocent touching by a relative who hugs or kisses your child in a way the child does not like.
  • Be wary of bullying by an older child.
  • Take your child's complaints seriously. Help come up with solutions.

Refuse to leave your child in the company of adults you do not trust.

Do not leave your child with these adults even if your lack of trust is "just a feeling." Sexual offenders often do not look or behave differently from nonoffenders.

Screen babysitters and day care providers.

  • If your sitter is an older child or young adult, talk with the sitter's parents to get a sense of how responsible he or she is.
  • Let the sitter know that your child does not keep secrets from you.
  • Talk with the sitter and your child when you return about how their time together went.

Screen day care centers and preschools.

  • Observe your child at the day-care center or preschool.
  • Ask for references.
  • Ensure that you have the right to visit the center or preschool at any time.
  • Talk with other parents whose children attend the center or preschool.
  • Make sure you are informed about planned outings before they happen.

Talk to your child about sexual abuse.

  1. Clarify the vocabulary.
    • Make clear what you mean by words and phrases such as "hurt," "get into trouble," or "fool around."
    • Teach your children the correct names for sexual body parts, such as the penis and vagina. If you use the term "private parts," come to agreement on what are private parts.

  2. If you are uncomfortable or tense discussing sexual issues with your child, let your child know this and then discuss these issues as best as you can.

  3. Avoid confusion between healthy sex and sexual abuse.
    • Discuss healthy sex as a separate issue without mentioning sexual abuse.
    • Provide your child with a good understanding of what healthy sex is, keeping it appropriate to his or her age.
    • Define sexual abuse as the kind of touching that can feel bad to the child because the child does not want it, is confused about it, or was tricked into it.
    • Define healthy sex as touching that both people want and that occurs only between adults.

  4. Explain sexual abuse.
    • Gear your explanation to your child's age.
    • Begin by explaining unwanted, confusing, or secret touches.
    • Talk about the touch being sexual. For example, "Someone may try to touch your vagina when you do not want them to."
    • Be specific. This will make it less frightening and confusing. For example, "Someone might try to put his hands down your pants or might keep rubbing up against you or might undress in front of you for no good reason."
    • Clarify with your child that sexual abuse is not likely to happen and that most adults and older children are good people.

  5. Talk about who.
    • Explain that it may be someone your child already knows.
    • Explain that even nice people, like the people your child knows, can do bad things. Some people may not even realize that what they are doing is bad.
    • Explain that it may be a person who gives your child something in return for your child's involvement. For example, "I'll let you watch TV if you undress for me and don't tell."
    • Explain that it may be a person who threatens your child and makes your child feel frightened. For example, "If you don't lie down with me, I'll hit your sister."
    • Explain that it may be a person who asks your child to keep a secret.
    • Answer your child's questions about puzzling adult behavior.

  6. Talk about secrets.

    Let your child know he or she should keep no secrets from you. Explain the difference between a scary "secret," which may involve something "bad," and a "surprise," which is usually "good."

Written by Lawrence R. Ricci, M.D.
Copyright 1999 Clinical Reference Systems