I am a mother of six, educator, mentor to Au Pairs and Host Families with Go Au Pair and adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
Did you know that all states require caregivers to report suspected child sexual abuse. Caregivers, babysitters, nannies and even teachers are the first line of defense to protect our children. Careful screening of those in contact with our kids is step one. Education is step two to address this age-old problem, not just for adults who care for kids but the kids themselves. Lives are literally on the line.
Nobody wants to tell their kids that someone they know might try to touch them in a way that is inappropriate. It’s terrifying. More importantly, kids need to know they can talk to parents, caregivers and trusted adults, about whatever is going on in their lives. Kids need to understand that no adult has any good reason to see, touch or show any private parts unless it is a parent or pediatrician checking out a problem area.
What should adults say to kids?
Talk honestly with young children but do not scare them with graphic language or details.
Make sure kids know their body is private and sacred. No person has the right to touch or make another person feel uncomfortable. Kids should know it is okay to say no to an adult and seek out a safe adult and safe place if they ever feel uncomfortable with an adult, even if it’s someone they know.
Keep honest and open lines of communication with your kids, or kids in your care, so they know they can talk to you about any topic without judgment.
What should adults watch for in other adults?
Adults who show too much interest in kids or who always seem to be interacting with kids may warrant attention, particularly if that adult is ever alone with children.
If kids need to be left alone with an adult, take steps to ensure a door is left open or have the adult work with more than one student or be within hearing or vision of another adult. (Rule of Three)
If an adult seeks the “help” of children with the exclusion of other adults, this may be a red flag. Abusers often build trust in their victim before ever doing anything abusive. This does not mean we should watch out for every adult our kids trust, just be aware.
What should adults watch for in kids?
Kids who are at risk for abuse may not stand out from their peers, but abusers can spot them. Potential victims are children who may want or enjoy individual attention, have family problems or issues at home, or are in a “special” trust-relationship with any adult (such as teacher, parent, caregiver).
Abused children will almost always show behavioral signs that an astute adult can pick up. Always be aware of any change in normal behavior, like a drop in grades, lack of interest in normally fun activities, lack of interaction at home and school, and particularly any hesitation, fear or refusal to go or stay with someone who would normally be a trusted adult.
This should warrant a conversation about what is going on and an opening up of the lines of communication. Always be willing to listen to your child when they tell you they don’t want to stay with someone. As a child of abuse myself, I can clearly remember asking to go on errands and not be left alone with my abuser, a step-parent and trusted adult in my life.
There may be actual physical signs of sexual abuse, such as lost or soiled underwear, unexplained bleeding and unexplained or repeated urinary tract or yeast infections, particularly in a pre-teen child. Any signs of these should be further investigated. A trip to the pediatrician, who can also be a trusted adult, may help clear up what is going on.
What if you suspect abuse?
Action is step three.
Never ignore your gut feeling or worse, ignore something you see or hear that is inappropriate contact between an adult and a child. If sexual abuse is suspected, you may be required by law to report it to the police or child welfare authorities.
Any person who is in the position of caregiver to a child suspected of being abused is required to report it, by law in all 50 states. You might begin with a discussion with the child to determine if he or she will disclose any abuse or not. Children will often deny the abuse for many different reasons, but if enough suspicion is there, it’s best to have the child checked by your pediatrician, who will be able to determine to at least some degree if there has been sexual abuse.
What if a child discloses abuse?
Call the police and make sure the child is safe. If a child discloses abuse, he or she should receive counseling and support for the short and long term, ensuring the child can recover both physically and emotionally from this devastating childhood trauma. There is no reason to avoid calling the police, even if the child does not want to press charges.
The police will conduct an investigation to determine if charges will be brought, but there is no good reason to keep suspected abuse to yourself. When confronted, many abusers may say it only happened once or will never happen again, but statistics have proven this to be mostly untrue.
An abused child needs to be loved and supported, no matter what he or she says about the abuse or the abuser, as there may be a myriad of emotional issues to face down the road, including healthy relationships and sexual enjoyment.
Parents of abused children may need to attend support groups or counseling to deal with their own emotional reactions and to discover ways to provide the help their child will need. Seek the help of your family doctor, pediatrician, local church or therapist to guide you and your family to positive healing and the ability to move forward.
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