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SUPPORT WITHIN REACH: Parents can help prevent sexual abuse by educating their children

According to 2022 Children and Teen Statistics, every nine minutes child protective services substantiates or finds evidence for a claim of child sexual abuse.

Ashley Berg Support Within Reach.jpg
Ashley Berg is an outreach and prevention educator and advocate at Support Within Reach.
We are part of The Trust Project.

According to 2022 Children and Teen Statistics, every nine minutes child protective services substantiates or finds evidence for a claim of child sexual abuse.

This is an alarming statistic to read especially when paired with the fact that 93% of child victims know their offender.

Parents can help prevent sexual abuse by teaching certain skills through different developmental stages. Between birth and 2 years old, teach appropriate body part names. From 2 to 4, discuss sexual curiosity, be aware of media influences that children are around, teach certain behaviors and which incidents should be reported.

Also teach children how to say no to unwanted, hurtful or confusing touches. Teaching children how to use the telephone is helpful and answering children’s questions honestly is important. Between 4 to 7 years old, help your child identify “helping people” they know and teach them how to ask for help.

From 7 to 12 years old parents can discuss body changes and processes and reinforce concepts of responsibility, accountability and values. They could also discuss self-protection and specific behavior to be aware of in adults. Discussing substance abuse and peer pressure is also important.

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Finally, for those 12 years and older, discuss healthy sexual expression, review substance abuse and the correlation between sexual activity and abuse, and confidentiality,

Encourage open communication between you and your child. As your child grows, listen to them, take the time to observe their behaviors and personality. Doing so can help you know when something is off with your child.

Knowing the signs of child abuse can help stop abuse in its tracks. Children may experience changes in appetite, recurring nightmares or disruptions in sleep, regression in development such as bedwetting, sucking their thumb or excessive crying.

Children can also show signs by demonstrating sexual knowledge or behavior that is not appropriate for their age. An example of this would be sexual language or playing with dolls in a sexual way.

Some physical signs of sexual abuse are torn/stained underwear, vaginal or rectal bleeding, abnormal discharge, pain or itching, soiling or wetting long after successful toilet training. They could also show mood swings, intense anger or sadness, withdrawal from activities the child once enjoyed and self-abusive behaviors.

If you suspect abuse, listen and be a support to your child, but do not try to probe for more information. Report abuse to your local law enforcement or child protection services.

As hard as it is to hear that your child has been a victim of child sexual assault, you need to stay calm because how you respond determines how the child may react to the abuse. Finally, make sure your child knows that they are not the ones who are to be blamed for the abuse happening to them.

Support Within Reach provides support for survivors of sexual violence and prevention for the community and is an available resource for those who have more questions regarding child sexual abuse.

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Ashley Berg is an outreach and prevention educator and advocate at Support Within Reach.

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