What To Do If You Suspect Your Significant Other/Family Member of Sexually Abusing a Child: Part II

How Can I Work to Help Prevent Sexual Abuse of My Child?

We can’t absolutely guarantee our children’s safety unless we’re personally with our children 24/7, and maybe not even then. So these suggestions are not ironclad — but they’ll help us keep our children safe in general.

Please note: This information, while general, applies to your significant other/family member as well. Whatever screening and teaching you would normally do goes double for any family members who come in contact with your child, since — unfortunately — most sexual abuse happens within families.

Home Life: Foundation for Safety

  • Be a safe person for your child to confide scary secrets to. Maintain self-control, especially when disciplining. Discipline will teach a child how the real world works, but anger will teach a child that the angry person is not a safe person. Children aren’t stupid and will close out an angry or out-of-control adult. This includes anger, screaming, crying, exaggerated shock/disbelief, or doubt of the child’s word when the child is being serious.
  • Treat your child’s concerns with respect. If we laugh at a child’s fears, minimize a child’s experience (“Oh, that’s no big deal”), or discredit a child’s feelings (“You’re not really angry” or “You shouldn’t be scared”), the child probably won’t confide more serious things to us for fear of being dismissed or embarrassed.
  • Proactively talk to your child about dangers and how to be careful. Be certain to add that anything bad that someone does is not your child’s fault in any way, and that he/she can tell you anything that happens and count on your support, your love, and your protection. Safety measures will help, but a child simply can’t go up against an adult.
  • Make sure your child can’t be picked up at school by anyone you don’t personally authorize, and teach your child not to go with anyone else.
  • Teach your child how to call 911, what questions they are likely to ask, and how to answer. Children should memorize their parents’ names, their home phone number, and their address and be able to tell it to a 911 operator. Choose the age wisely since some small children will dial 911 for fun, and some emergency services levy fines for non-emergency calls.
  • Teach your child to say “No” firmly. Children simply can’t match wits or wills with an adult — certainly not with a wily, experienced child abuser — but children can learn to set a firm, unmistakable verbal boundary, and that may help save them one day. (Just so it’s understood, nothing that children do or say makes them responsible for child sexual abuse. They can’t protect themselves from adults, so if someone overcomes them verbally or physically, there must never be even a thought in my mind as a parent that my child “should have done more” or “should have done differently.” If a child abuser can fool me and everyone else — and chances are it’s someone I know — what chance did my child have? It is never, ever, ever the child’s fault.)
  • Teach your child to be more and more autonomous as well as interdependent with family. Help him/her to learn to make a decision and act on it. Help your child practice saying “No” and speaking up in uncomfortable situations. Have your child practice telling you if something bad has happened, so your child can see you responding positively and learn that you are trustworthy to tell big, ugly secrets to.

Child Care Screening

  • Visit any care location you’re considering. Tour it, ask about the routine, and observe caregivers in action.
  • Research the care location on the Internet. Has anyone reported this center to police, social services, or business licensing organizations?
  • Check the sex-offender registry for your state (list of state registries here). Other countries may also have sex-offender registries online.
  • Can you come by the center without calling first, and do you have access to the whole facility without off-limits areas? You should be able to have this access.
  • Ask about discipline.
  • Ask about staff members’ education and about the center’s requirements for staff hiring.
  • Teach your child some tips:
    • What “private parts” are, and that no one at the center is allowed to touch them.
    • How to say “No” if anyone wants your child to do anything that makes them feel embarrassed or hurts them.
    • Never to stay alone with an adult, but to go where the other children and caregivers are.
    • Not to let adults get your child to do things by giving him/her candy or gifts.
    • Not to let anyone take his/her picture if your child feels scared or uncomfortable about it. How to speak up if this happens.
    • To know that if he/she says “No” you will support your child, love your child, and protect your child. They need to know they have this backing from you.
    • To know that people will say mean things just to scare them into cooperating — it doesn’t mean those things are true. “If you tell, you’ll never see your mommy again,” “”Your parents won’t love you anymore,” or “If you tell, your family will get hurt” are the types of threats children may hear.
    • How to tell an adult they trust at the center, if another adult causes them to feel scared or uncomfortable.
  • If your child confides in you that he/she has experienced any type of sexual or physical assault, call the police and take your child away from the care center. Don’t discuss anything with the center at this time; law enforcement can give you some guidance there. Report the information to social services and take your child to the pediatrician for an exam and checkup. Try not to let all this activity scare your child, and don’t blame your child. Thank the child for telling you, and take action. Explain as much as you can that’s appropriate of what you’re doing, telling your child that you’re protecting him/her and other little children. For a child to confide scary information like this to any adult is a brave and courageous act, particularly if the child was threatened in some way.

There are no guarantees in life. But these steps should help. Stay tuned for more on intervening if it happens to your child.

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