Five Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse
It’s something I have to tell my two-year-old independent girl nearly every day.
“Hold my hand when in a parking lot! You could be hit! It’s not safe!”
You think she would know this is a rule, yet somehow the sight of a parking lot filled with dozens of cars makes her long-term memory nonexistent and she bolts from me. So I tell her EVERY TIME.
“Remember, hold my hand so you stay safe.”
The odds of her actually being struck by a vehicle are low, simply because I am diligent about protecting her. But did you know that she is way more likely to become a victim of sexual abuse that she is to be hit by a car?
The statistics in Texas are very telling:
- 1 in 4 girls is sexually abused before her 18th birthday.
- 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before his 18th birthday.
These numbers are scary, I get it. It terrifies me daily. But here’s my thought: If the chances my child becoming a victim are this high, my conversations about how to stay safe from predators should be just as frequent as my warnings to not run into that busy parking lot.
How do we as parents start this conversation without placing fear into our children’s hearts? I’m so glad you asked. Here are five ways you can help you children to stay safe:
1. Adopt a “no secrets” policy.
This is an easy one for kids to remember, even at a young age. “No secrets, just surprises.” Secrets are usually intended to hurt someone, while surprises are fun! If you adopt this rule into your family, you child will be confident to talk to you and also be on alert if a perpetrator says “this will be our secret.” This is a great way to encourage open communication between you and your child. I tell my kids, “There are no secrets with mommy. You tell me everything!” After all, I’d take a ruined surprise over a scary secret any day.
2. Watch for grooming behaviors.
Sadly, most victims of sexual abuse were hurt by someone who they or their family once trusted. Grooming is the way a predator establishes an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust. Grooming works by mixing positive behaviors with elements of abuse. At the beginning, all behaviors are positive. A child groomer might look for opportunities to be alone with the child, give unwanted physical affection, or give the child gifts for no explained reason. Grooming can also happen over the internet. (link here)
3. Use appropriate names for private parts.
“Boys have a penis, girls have a ‘gina!” rings my toddler cheerfully from her car seat. Or from the cart in Target. (Yikes!) But, I would rather her know the biological names for private parts to keep her safe. Pet names for private parts (weenie, tee tee, flower, birdy… I’ve heard them all) can sometimes cause confusion in children. Imagine a child who is abused trying to explain the act to you or another trusted adult using pet names they are unfamiliar with. Proper terminology is not gross or weird; it’s simply what they are called!
4. Encourage body autonomy.
Everyone has a body, and they are in charge of who can touch it. If your child feels uncomfortable giving someone (whether stranger or relative) a hug or a kiss, don’t force it. If you can see they aren’t feeling it, give an alternative, like a high-five or blowing a kiss. This will send the message to your child that their body their own, and will give them a stronger voice to potential abusers who make them feel uncomfortable.
5. Listen to your gut.
Parental instinct is a very real phenomenon. I believe that as parents, we can innately sense when something is off. We may not always be right, but I encouraged parents to use their judgment when making decisions for their child. Not comfortable with your child sleeping at someone’s house? Offer for their child to come over instead. Or set up a play date. Also, teach children to trust their instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, children should have the confidence to not do it and come to you as their safe base.