Communication is Key in Preventing Child Sexual Abuse

The recent admission of underage sexual abuse by “7th Heaven” actor Stephen Collins may have grabbed headlines, but many parents are still grasping for answers: How do you empower your children and prevent such abuse?

“Child sexual abuse is pervasive, but hidden,” said Joan Cole Duffell, Executive Director of the nonprofit Committee for Children. “Yet research shows that the best way to protect children from sexual abuse is to bring it out of the shadows. If we can break the taboo of talking about it, we will take away the offenders’ best defense: secrecy.”

The Committee for Children recently launched #KeepKidsSafe, a campaign to educate people on the importance of having open communication with children, even very young kids, to decrease their vulnerability to abuse.

“We’ve learned that people have a hard time talking about child sexual abuse, so much so that it is vastly unreported — and yet mental health and child protection professionals agree that it’s common and represents a serious national problem,” continued Duffell.

“Child sexual abuse is pervasive, but hidden” -Cole Duffell

Research shows that the greatest risk of sexual crimes against a child often comes at the hands of someone they know, and not typically a stranger. In fact, studies show that 93 percent of victims know their abusers, 34 percent are abused by family members and 59 percent are abused by someone their family trusts.

Dr. Lori Vollandt, coordinator of Health Education Programs with the Los Angeles Unified School District, said no child is immune from child abuse, as it affects kids of every gender, age, race, ethnicity, background, socioeconomic status and family structure.

“Our first job in life is keeping kids safe and healthy,” said Vollandt. “We teach them how to be safe about crossing the street or about using a bicycle helmet and talking to them about sexual abuse helps protect them, too. Los Angeles parents want to do the right thing, but many aren’t sure how. That’s why these Keep Kids Safe resources are so great — they show parents how to start that conversation.”

Communicate Often and Early is the Key to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse:

  • It’s never too early to begin a conversation with children on this important subject.
  • Encourage children to share their feelings, concerns and problems.
  • Explain to children that no one has the right to touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable, including adults whom they know and trust.
  • Teach children that it’s a parent or caregiver’s job to protect them, and that they can only protect them if they tell them when something is wrong.
  • Explain that people who hurt children may tell the child to keep it a secret and threaten to hurt the child or their parents if the child shares the secret. Teach children that adults who say that are wrong, and that a child can share anything with a parent.
  • Make sure children understand that if someone does make them feel uncomfortable or confused, no one will blame them.
  • Reassure children that sexual abuse is never their fault.

Other resources: Parents of children age 5 and under can learn age-appropriate ways to discuss this topic with their children by viewing a series of short and free videos online at www.cfchildren.org/keepkidssafe.

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