The Keys to Protecting Your Kids from Sexual Abuse
When I recently wrote an article on Boundless about healing from the trauma of sexual abuse, I expected a reaction on social media. What surprised me were the private messages from adults who, for years, had dark memories of sexual abuse locked inside.
It’s heartbreaking to hear about the nightmares that people experienced as children; and although I know there’s healing for them in Christ, I wish the damage had never been done in the first place. That’s why I’m inviting my friend Cris Logan to talk about what parents and other adults can do to make sure child sexual abuse doesn’t happen.
Cris contributes regularly on national radio, TV, and print publications including the Huffington Post, CNN, MSNBC, and the Washington Post. She also co-authored The Volunteer’s Back Pocket Guide to Sex with Craig Gross, which helps youth volunteers effectively navigate topics including sex addiction, internet safety, and child sex abuse.
No one wants to talk about child sex abuse, but in light of what Joshua has shared about his own life and the recent Duggar scandal, I hope you begin to understand why every adult (especially those in regular contact with children) should be educated about how to prevent, identify, and report child sex abuse.
Child sexual abuse is tragically prevalent: one in four girls and one in six boys will suffer this dark injustice before adulthood. This means it’s highly likely you know a child who has experienced or will experience some form of sexual abuse.
It’s also likely you know an abuser. Perpetrators of child sexual abuse look and act like responsible, normal, caring and thoughtful people, just like you and me. Up to 30-40% of child sexual abuse victims are abused by a family member, and 50% are abused by someone outside the family whom they know and trust.
Child sexual abuse is also broader than you may realize: forcing, coercing or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act, including exposing them to pornography and persuading them to engage in sexual behavior or communications online or over mobile devices (such as sexting) all qualify as crimes punishable by law and can all cause wounds that need healing.
As adults, it’s critically important to be informed and educated about this issue. If we aren’t, we’re placing the unrealistic burden on child victims to fend off sexual advances from adults and asking little children to take the intimidating steps of reporting the abuse they’ve experienced. Children have been taught to respect and obey adults, and a five, six, or even 13 year old will often feel ashamed, confused, hurt, afraid, and unable to make sense of the abuse they have suffered.
Many of the kids I have worked with fear rejection or ridicule if they tell someone, and they worry they did something wrong. To complicate matters, sexual perpetrators often use threats and manipulation to keep a child quiet. As a result, kids almost always keep their abuse a secret.
What Can You Do?
If you are a parent, teacher, or a volunteer who interacts with children, invest the time to learn more about this issue and how to identify and report suspected abuse. Make sure that your child’s youth program, childcare, and school have a child sexual abuse prevention policy in place.
Additionally, watch for teachable moments and opportunities to talk with children about healthy sexuality. Explain what caring, loving sexual relationships look like. Ask children clear and direct questions and provide them opportunities to share any experiences they have had.
One man, now in his forties (let’s call him “Brian”), once shared with me about the years of abuse he suffered at the hands of a church staff member. Brian’s parents knew the staff member and trusted him completely. On occasion, Brian’s parents seemed to notice something was wrong, but they never asked their son clearly enough to evoke a response. There were many times when Brian wanted to tell his parents about the abuse, but he was terrified he had done something wrong and would get in trouble.
Brian later said, “If they had just asked one time whether anything that man had done with me made me feel uncomfortable, the flood gates would have opened up.” The perpetrator was eventually caught and convicted, but not before the damage was done: authorities later discovered that this “trusted community member” had abused over 30 boys, ages nine to fifteen.
If You Do Learn of Abuse
If a child discloses to you that they have been sexually abused, remain measured in your response. Your reaction will set a powerful precedent for ongoing communication. If you react with suspicion, anger, or disbelief, a child may change the story, feel guilty, or withdraw.
Don’t ask leading questions—ask open-ended questions like “What happened next?” Remind them that it’s not their fault and it’s not right if they have ever been touched sexually or had a sexual relationship with a family member or an adult. Thank the child for telling you and let them know you are on their side.
As Joshua stressed last week, it’s essential to report child sex abuse. You can’t solve this type of problem on your own—you need to get a professional involved, and if you work with children in any capacity, you are required by law to report any reasonable suspicion of child sexual abuse.
As Christian adults, we also need to put our own fears, discomfort, and reputation aside to fight this dark evil. By working with professionals trained to deal with child sex abuse, you are more likely to best protect the interests of the child, follow the legal and best protocol available, and help the child and all involved receive the assistance and healing they need.
Sex abuse prevention resources and training: Darkness to Light
For Internet-initiated sex abuse prevention resources and training: Enough Is Enough’s Internet Safety 101
If you have experienced sexual abuse, call the free, confidential National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), or access the 24-7 help online by visiting rainn.org.
The two main agencies that handle the vast majority of child sex abuse are Child Protective Services and the Police. Many states also have centralized toll-free lined that accept reports of abuse for the entire state. The Child Welfare Information Gateway website can tell you where to make a report in your state or you can also call the ChildHelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-422-4453.