I once heard that 90% of car crashes occur within 5 miles from your home.
When, a few months ago, I was courted by a woman looking to have me ghostwrite her book on incest, I was nauseated by the topic.
It felt like something I would never encounter; and something so far from the life I’d lived.
However, this week one of my best childhood friends came out detailing the years of sexual abuse she endured from her grandfather.
He lived at the end of my block. She was the happiest, silliest, smartest little girl I knew; there was no way she was hiding that…
But she was.
90% of child sexual abuse victims know their abuser.
In fact, between 75 and 95% of perpetrators are family members (1).
It is said that one in five girls and one in twenty boys are abused by the time they’re 18.
However, many other sources believe it’s much, much more.
Nearly 30% of ALL 14-17 year olds are sexually abused.
And 20% of of abuse occurs before a child is just 8 years old (1).
How Do You Know If Your Child Is or Has Been Abused?
It’s hard to tell when a child has been abused because most of them don’t tell.
If you notice your child:
- Has trouble sleeping
- Is increasingly fearful (even in his or her own home)
- Feels shame or guilt
- Struggles to concentrate
- Struggles to relax
- Exhibits high stress or mood swings
- Thinks about or discusses dying
- Has low self-esteem and school performance… (2)
… He or she may be experiencing trauma from sexual abuse.
Because 75% of abused children don’t tell within their first year, these warning signs may come with or without an actual share from your child about their abuse.
Why Don’t Children Tell Us When Their Being Abused?
There are a multitude of reasons children don’t tell us when they’re being abused.
First of all, the abuser is usually a family member.
Abusers will often tell children that their parents will be mad at them for telling.
They may tell children that they’ll be taken from their parents if they tell.
How To Protect Your Child From Sexual Abuse
1. Tell Your Child What His or Her Body Parts Are…
Especially for younger children, it’s of the utmost importance that if you want to protect your child from sexual abuse, you have the courage to say the words “penis”, “vagina”, “bottom”, or “breasts”.
Using anatomically correct language is not only a great way for your child to take ownership of his or her body, but it’s a way to help facilitate confessions if your child tries to tell you about abuse.
If your daughter comes home and tells you that her cousin wanted to play a game with “Mr. Winky”, that would probably make her confession (and a potential forensic interview) difficult to obtain.
Remember, if your child understands the other four important rules I’m going to share with you today, he or she will likely be able to defend herself AND courageously shed light on potential perpetrators for you and legal authorities if need be.
Professionals will tell you EVERY TIME; as soon as your child speaks, tell them what their body parts are in anatomically-correct terms.
2. Tell Your Children What Sexual Abuse Is…
One of the best things you can do to prevent your child from sexual abuse is to tell them what sexual abuse is.
In older children, you can explain exactly what appropriate and inappropriate touching entails.
Toddlers are NOT too young to learn about sexual abuse.
Here’s a great script a local therapist shared with me for the purpose of this article (3):
There’s times when people want to look at or touch your (penis) (bottom) (breasts) (vagina)…
Or they want you to touch theirs.
Just so you know, they’re breaking the rules.
It’s weird! Tell mommy and daddy if somebody asks you to break your body rules.
If your child doesn’t know sexual abuse exists, they are likely to feel responsible for the abuse if it happens.
No child is too young to understand that his or her body belongs to him.
3. Teach Your Child To Be The Boss of His or Her Body
Teach your child that he or she is the boss of his body.
From a very early age, your child likely understands that mommy or daddy is the boss.
“Wouldn’t it be fun to be the boss of something, too?” You may ask your child.
“Well, you can! You’re the boss of your body!”
When I began telling my three year-old son that he is the boss of his body, he stopped letting me take photos of him.
I would stand with him on a hike for a selfie and he would put up his arm.
“No pictures, mommy! I’m the boss of my body!”
I wouldn’t DARE take a photo of him after that!
If you’re creating rules for your child’s safety, please, for the love of God, follow them yourself!
4. Teach Your Child That Secrets Are Not Safe…
Teach your child that secrets are not safe.
In fact, if you’re in the habit of telling your child that you have a “special secret” for them, I’d reconsider that language.
Telling children that secrets are special or fun is a dangerous language pattern to use.
I currently have a pair of light-up Lightening McQueen shoes for my little man.
When I go to pick him up from his daddy’s house today, I can’t WAIT to tell him about his “Surprise”, not “Secret”.
One of the reasons children don’t tell you when they’ve been sexually abused is because their perpetrator tells them to keep it a secret.
They may even tell your child that they’ll go to jail.
(And because the perpetrator is usually a family member, your child won’t want this.)
From the moment your child talks, make sure he or she knows: there are NO secrets from Mommy and Daddy!
5. Teach Your Children About “Uh-Oh” Feelings
Your child is old enough to learn about uh-oh feelings as soon as you can teach them.
Once when I lived in Austin, Texas, I walked into a restaurant that gave me an “uh-oh” feeling.
I was alone with my son, and suddenly I felt very unsafe. Like I was being watched maliciously.
I looked at my son and said, “baby, we have to find a new restaurant. I think we can find better pizza somewhere else.”
He was very upset but I finally got down in front of him with a very serious look and said, “baby, mommy has an “uh-oh feeling”. We have to leave this place.”
Do not shelter your child from his feelings or your uh-oh feelings.
My son understands that “uh-oh” feelings are feelings that make you feel scared, make you shudder, or those which startle you.
“Uh-Oh” feelings may be likened to a dog barking or slipping on ice.
My son understands that when our hiking hill is “slippy”, his tummy does summersaults.
That’s like an uh-oh feeling.
I explain to him that sometimes when he feels that tummy summersault, he needs to tell mommy.
(I like to also tell him to listen to God, and God will give him feelings so that he is safe and protected.)
Mark my words, if that kid has an “uh-oh” feeling on a hill, I will pick him up immediately.
When your child is telling you about his feelings of safety or intuition, listen.
For instance, f your child has a strong sense of intuition around Uncle Bob or Cousin Sally, don’t force them to hug, kiss, or even see that family member if you can avoid it.
Just like us…
Sometimes your child can’t put a finger on what that feeling is all about.
But to help your child learn to respect those feelings, it’s your duty to listen and work to help your child feel safe.
Imagine if all of us listened to intuition or paid attention to “red flags”as adults!
You can train your child from toddler years to become intuitive, self-respecting little beings.
In addition, this gives you the opportunity to show your child that you RESPECT them by listening to them when they have “uh-oh” feelings.
Opening up that line of communication will make your child much more likely to confess if he or she is being abused.
What To Do If Your Child Has Been Sexually Abused…
You may feel ashamed.
You may feel guilty.
You may be embarrassed.
You are probably all of the above, and also scared.
Sexual abuse can be as traumatizing to the parents as it is to the child victims.
That’s why you absolutely MUST report the abuse; no matter who the abuser is.
Immediately take your child to a doctor for an examination and alert social services that same day (although your doctor is legally obligated to make sure it’s reported, too.)
If you can, file a protection order with your local authorities to keep the perpetrator away from your child (if he or she is not facing jail).
I don’t care what any hateful, fearful family members or friends say…
It’s NOT YOUR FAULT.
We mothers do everything we can to keep our babies safe.
But you can’t follow them around daycare all day!
I recently had a friend share with me that her son was sexually abused in a school bathroom in kindergarten at a $25,000 per year private school!
The reality of our world is that your child may have already been abused.
And now, it’s time to prevent that from EVER happening again.
First, encourage your child to talk about the abuse if he or she wants to.
Be careful not to act surprised or disgusted if you can.
Remember, your child is probably already dealing with guilt, shame, or trauma.
If your child is old enough, you can tell them that sexual games are for adults only.
If your child is under six, you can explain that he is the boss of his body and there are Rules.
What If My Child’s Perpetrator Was Another Child?
It’s important to remember, as well, that if your child is abused by another child, that child may have been molested or abused by an adult perpetrator.
Rather than further shaming that hurting child, it’s important that BOTH the victim and the perpetrator get the therapy and help they need.
IMMEDIATELY take your child to a doctor and be sure to alert social services the moment you can.
Social Services in your state will make sure that you and your child are linked to the therapists you may need, as well as the child perpetrator.
That child perpetrator may be charged with a crime in your state.
What’s more, his or her parents or caregivers will most likely have the opportunity to attend Sex Offender Management Board Supervision Training.
Even though you’re devastated that your child has been abused, it’s CRITICAL that you alert authorities about sexual abuse so that you can protect more children and stop the abuser from the pain that he or she is already feeling.
Finally, above all else, remember to have compassion.
A child perpetrator is probably another hurting, abused child him or herself.
And Mama, please have compassion for yourself.
You didn’t cause this and you did your best to prevent it.
Every day, our best gets even better.
Use these tips to help protect your child going forward.