There is never a more difficult topic to discuss than the sexual victimization of children. Unfortunately, if we do not discuss this with our families on a regular basis, our children are at risk for becoming victims of sexual abuse.
National statistics of sexual victimization of children are staggering. National organizations providing assistance to sexual abuse victims report that 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 males will be a victim of sexual victimization by the age of 18. Nearly 70% of all sexual assaults occur to children under the age of 17.
Although society and media often focuses on the stranger who rides around in a car tempting children with candy, the biggest danger is typically within a child’s own family. Some statistics state the between 30 to 40 percent of victims are molested by a family member while another 50 percent is perpetrated by someone the child knows well within the family.
A perpetrator of sexual abuse (or pedophile) will most often utilize the nearest resources and are much less likely to risk luring young or adolescent children through the Internet or some other outside source. Child molesters are often a trusted adult or older child, either family or a close family friend. They typically use what is termed as “grooming”, spending a great deal of time or even money on a child to prepare for the possibility of being able to take advantage of them. The pedophile will attempt to use extra attention, gifts, lies about the family and most often guilt into both starting and continuing the sexual abuse. A victim often believes that their participation in the sexual act is their fault and is too ashamed to tell someone what is happening to them.
Contrary to some beliefs, pedophiles are often “stand-up” citizens and according to some research will not have ever participated in any other criminal activity.
Given the seriousness of this potential danger to our children, it is imperative that we start as parents to teach our children at an early age. As early as the age of two or three, we can talk to our children about what is a “okay touch” and what constitutes a “not okay touch” specifically labeling each of these as how we feel rather than directly labeling good or bad with certain people. It is in our children’s best interest to teach them that with these concerns, their body belongs only to them and it is their right to communicate when something feels good and when it does not.
We can teach our children proper language related to our body and how important it is to tell someone they trust if anyone makes them feel unsafe. When we open the door to this conversation, children are more likely to immediately come and tell us about someone hurting them.
One area of expertise in my eight years of practice has been to help victims of sexual abuse move towards becoming survivors. It is an all too common scenario to have an adult come for therapy, telling what happened to them as a child for the first time. Statistically, there are about 39 million survivors in the country today.
Although healing is a vital option for all victims of sexual abuse, prevention is necessary. We can teach our children about basic safety skills that will keep our children safe. If we can ensure that our children have an open line of communication with us, we can prevent more children from being abused. Know the facts and reality of childhood sexual abuse and never be afraid of protecting them even at the risk of concerning family. Look for unusual changes in their behavior and question them appropriately to ensure their safety. They will thank you for it and potentially prevent your child from being another victim of sexual abuse.