Madison Hood, Harrison County District Attorney’s Office first assistant DA and also a specialist on child abuse, spoke at the April 13 Lions Club Meeting. She corrected the idea that “Strangers are abusers” and reinforced that a healthy discussion with your child about abuse is always important.
The following information was shared by Hood, in conjunction with The Martin House Children’s Advocacy Center.
- Talk to your child about their body. Teach your child the correct names for body parts, which parts of their bodies are considered “private,” and that other people should not touch or see these parts of their bodies, except when it is appropriate (such as a parent helping with hygiene or at a doctor’s appointment).
- Talk to your child about boundaries. Teach your child that their body is their own and that they have a right to say “no” when they don’t want to be touched. Explain to your child that it is not okay for others to touch your child’s private parts or for someone to ask your child to touch their private parts. Do not force your child to hug or kiss family members or friends.
- Talk to your child about what to do. Explain that sometimes, people who abuse children might be people they trust, such as family members, friends, or even older children. Teach your child to say “NO,” go to a safe place, and tell a trusted adult if something happens.
- Talk to your child about keeping secrets. People who abuse children often ask them to keep secrets. Teach your child that they should never keep secrets from their parents or caregivers.
Talk to your child about disclosing. Let your child know that they should always tell you if something happens that makes them uncomfortable. Instruct your child to tell you immediately if anyone tries to touch their private parts or engage in any inappropriate activity with them.
Begin having these conversations with children at a very young age. Even very young children can be abused, so starting these conversations early is important. Be sure to use terms that are appropriate for your child’s level of development.
Encourage open communication with your child. Speak to your child in a way that is warm, open and supportive. Important conversations like these should take place in the context of a supportive, trusting relationship.
Hood also discussed several steps that a parent or caregiver can take to reduce the likelihood of abuse. Taking steps to prevent child sexual abuse is an important part of protecting children and keeping them safe.
- Know the facts about child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is more common than people think. In fact, approximately 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused by the time they turn 18. Sexual abuse can happen to both boys and girls of all ages, races, ethnicities and family backgrounds. Children are often too scared, confused or embarrassed to report sexual abuse right away, so it often continues without parents or caregivers knowing about it.
- Know the facts about perpetrators. Many parents or caregivers already warn their children to be careful around strangers; however, sexual abuse is usually committed by someone that the child knows and trusts. Perpetrators are often family members or close friends of the child’s family. Perpetrators can also be older children or youth.
- Talk to your child about their body, about boundaries and about sexual abuse.
Support your child’s participation in school-based safety and prevention programs. Many schools offer safety and prevention programs to children. You can increase the effectiveness of these programs by getting involved and talking to your child about what they have learned.
- Take steps to increase safety in your child’s environment. Understand that most sexual abuse occurs when a child is alone with an adult or older child. Consider minimizing situations in which your child is one-on-one with an adult (other than a parent or caregiver) or older child. Choose group activities or activities in public places when possible. Conduct background checks, interviews and reference checks when choosing a childcare provider. Drop in unannounced when other people are caring for your child.
- Teach your child about internet safety. Teach your child about online predators who target children. Instruct them not to give out personal information or exchange photos over the internet. Teach your child that they should never take photos of their private parts. Monitor your child’s internet use and apply parental controls.
- Be familiar with signs and symptoms of abuse. Knowing the signs and symptoms of abuse may help you recognize abuse if it does occur. Visit cactx.org to learn more.
Know how to respond to disclosures of abuse. If a child discloses that abuse has occurred, always believe the child. Listen to them in a calm and supportive way. Responding emotionally may cause the child to think that you are upset with them, that they did something wrong or that they should not have told you. Remaining calm is important. Let the child know that they did the right thing by telling you. Always report the abuse.
For more information, go to www.themartinhousecac.org.