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Child Abuse FAQs

How common is sexual abuse?
Should I talk to my child about sexual abuse?
How can I talk to my children about child abuse/sexual abuse?
Who are the abusers?
How can I tell if a child has been sexually abused?
What should I do when a child discloses abuse?



Q: How common is sexual abuse?
 
A: It is difficult to know exactly how common sexual abuse really is because most abuse goes unreported. However, it is believed that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of eighteen.
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Q: Should I talk to my child about sexual abuse?
 
A: Yes, it is important to the child’s overall personal safety that you approach the topic of sexual abuse. It is recommended that you bring up the topic as you are teaching the child about ongoing safety issues, rather than a ‘one-time discussion’. There will be many opportunities for discussion throughout your child’s development. Helping them learn proper names of body parts, what parts are “private” and stressing that their bodies belong to them are good ways to begin. Since you teach your child many ways to keep safe during his or her childhood, such as looking both ways before crossing the street, you can incorporate body safety into these discussions. Keeping it simple and stated in a way that the child will understand, are good rules to follow. You can begin by talking about the different types of touching and that they have a right to say “NO” to an adult who makes them feel uncomfortable in any way. Give them encouragement to trust their own feelings if something or someone makes them feel afraid or uncomfortable. Let them know that they can tell a trusted adult if someone has touched them on their private parts. Keeping a bad secret that hurts them or someone else should never be allowed. The child should be made aware of the difference between a good and a bad secret and that no one has the right to tell them to keep bad secrets from trusted adults. There are many good children’s books available on good and bad touches that can be helpful tools to teach these concepts to your child. Consequently, your child can learn about body safety and sexual abuse in a way that seems both natural and comfortable, rather than “scary”.
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Q: How can I talk to my children about child abuse/sexual abuse?
 
A: Talk to your children in a calm, non-threatening manner. If you appear to be comfortable discussing abuse, children will be more comfortable approaching you if something happens that makes them feel uncomfortable or confused. During your talk about abuse, do not stress the concept of a stranger being the most dangerous person to watch out for. Although it is important to be cautious around strangers most people who abuse children are people the child knows and feels comfortable being around. Teach children to pay attention to their feelings. If someone, no matter who it is, does something that makes a child feel uncomfortable it is good to tell you as soon as possible. Never keep it a secret. Secrets protect abusers and allow abuse to happen.
Keep your discussion about child abuse simple. Explain that child abuse includes Physical abuse (when an older person causes an injury on a child’s body and it is not an accident), Emotional abuse (when children are called names or put down all the time), Domestic Violence (when two adults are fighting and hitting or pushing each other), Neglect (when children are left alone too long or their basic needs are not being met), Sexual abuse (when someone tries to touch a child’s private parts or trick the child into touching their private parts, when this should not be happening or someone shows a child sexual pictures or has sexual conversation with a child).
Stress that child abuse is NEVER the child’s fault, even if they are somewhere that they should not be.
Teach your child five basic safety rules: Say no, Get away, Tell someone, Be believed (if the first person you tell doesn’t help you, tell someone else) and It’s never your fault.
Finally, help your child name people in their family and community who can help them.
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Q: Who are the abusers?
 
A: Although we hear a great deal about “stranger-danger” and protecting our children from men and women they do not know, the research shows that in 85% of the reported cases of sexual abuse, the abuser is someone the child trusts. In general, the offenders are family members, neighbors, and any adult the child develops a trusting relationship with. They may hold positions of authority or notoriety in the community. Many offenders tend to gravitate towards professions or jobs in which they have ready access to children. Some even cultivate trusting relationships with the child’s caregiver to decrease the level of suspicion. While it is difficult to tell who is an offender, it is very important to pay attention to your own instincts, along with that of the child’s. Closely check references for day or overnight camps, babysitters or day care providers. Investigate whether organizations with which your child affiliates has a child protection policy. Be aware of the adult – child interactions and keep the communication lines open with your child. It is important for your child to know that they can talk with you about their thoughts and feelings, while you remain calm. Again, it is impossible to spot a child molester but by openly discussing these topics and assuming responsibility for the safety of all children, we can go a long way towards prevention.

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Q: How can I tell if a child has been sexually abused?
 
A: There are both physical and behavioral signs to look for in determining if a child has been abused sexually. Physical signs may include injury, pain or redness in the genital area, vaginal or urinary infection, presence of venereal disease, and/or pregnancy. Physical signs are rare. An increase of decrease in appetite and/or sleep patterns may also be noticed.

Behavioral signs are more common and may include a recent change in behavior, i.e. aggressive or acting out behavior, withdrawal from others, or marked irritability. Other behavioral indicators may include fear of a certain person, place or room in the home, acting out sexual behaviors with dolls, toys, peers/siblings, and self-consciousness about genitals, sudden nightmares and bedwetting. Some children may begin to exhibit sexually inappropriate behavior, such as public masturbation, “french kissing”, or the use of sexual words or terminology.
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Q: What should I do when a child discloses abuse?
 
A: The first thing to do is to remain calm and assure the child that he/she has done the right thing by telling you and that you believe them. Allowing the child to express their feelings and thoughts freely without prompting is important. It is unusual for a child to lie about being sexually abused. Secondly, it is important that you let the child know that it is not their fault and you will help to keep them safe and protected. Thirdly, call the legal authorities in your community who are responsible for investigating abuse. They will help you and the child with the next steps to be taken.
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