How To Talk To Your Child About Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse is now a widespread problem and every parent's biggest fear. But, how will you discuss the subject with your children and help them stay safe?

By Hannah S Mathew  • 8 min read

How To Talk To Your Child About Sexual Abuse

‘Rape’, ‘child abuse’, ‘kidnapping’, ‘child-trafficking’, ‘molestation’ and ‘sex with a minor’ are some phrases that strike fear in every parent’s heart. And, with increasing incidences of children being sexually abused, there’s no time like now to create awareness in your children on how to keep themselves safe. But, how and when will you have the ‘talk’? The key is to be open and teach children young. And to have these conversations often.

With pre-schoolers:

Your pre-schooler is more vulnerable to sexual predators than older children. So, help her experience and explore her new-found freedom in a safe way by guiding her on how to keep herself safe.

Teachable moments: While giving a bath or changing clothes.

Conversation starters: “Name the parts of your body”, “Is it okay for someone to put their hand on your shoulder? What about on your lap?” and “Whose leg is this? Whose tummy is this?”

What you should do:

  1. Explain about safe and unsafe touch.
  2. Reinforce to your child that she owns her body. No one, not even a sibling, an 'uncle' or an 'aunty', should touch or hold her without her permission. Tell her she must inform you if anyone touches her against her wishes.
  3. Tell her she can refuse to be photographed if she doesn’t want to.
  4. If she ever gets lost in a crowded place, teach her what to do to stay safe.

With primary schoolers:

Primary schoolers are inquisitive and don’t understand that not all grownups can be trusted. If you’ve missed out on talking to your child about his safety when he was a pre-schooler, make it a point to do so now.

Teachable moments: While at the swimming pool, preparing for a sleepover, or packing clothes for a holiday.

Conversation starters: “What parts of your body does your swimwear cover?”, “Is it okay to take off your clothes when someone is watching?”, “Why should you close the door when you’re using the toilet?” and “It’s important that you dress yourself before going to bed.”

What you should do:

  1. Keep discussions about sex and gender as casual and as real as possible. Always tell your child the truth using age-appropriate language.
  2. Teach him how to differentiate between adults he can trust and those who are tricky. For example, trusted grownups would never ask him to keep secrets from his parents or disobey his parents’ instructions.
  3. Help your child memorise the names and phone numbers of five adults he can trust. Reinforce the fact that he must always seek help from any of these five individuals during a crisis.
  4. Teach him that the parts of his body covered by his swimsuit and his mouth are his private parts. It’s not okay for anyone to touch him there or talk to him about his private parts.

With pre-teens:

Your pre-teen is just realising that she is attractive and may associate it with being vulnerable. Make her understand that she is capable enough of taking care of her own safety.

Teachable moments: Before family get-togethers, while teaching her to use public transport, and while preparing for school field trips.

Conversation starters: “Is there anyone in the family who makes you feel uneasy?”, “Should you sit on someone’s lap if there’s no empty seat on the bus?”, “How can you be safe on a field trip?”, and “Is it okay to share the toilet with someone?”

What you should do:

  1. Tell your child she must not allow anyone to touch her without her consent, even trusted adults. Remember, most child abusers are either family members or those known to the family and trusted.
  2. By giving examples, help her understand about ‘suggestive’ talk and gestures.
  3. Although these are the years when she likes to be alone, instruct her that alone-time is to be practised only at home.
  4. Encourage her to rely on her intuition when it comes to judging whether someone is trustworthy or not.
  5. Inculcate the habit of giving and refusing permission for physical contact. Practise this by asking for her permission before hugging or kissing her.

With teens:

Your teenager is going through the most awkward stage of his life, especially with respect to his sexuality. Point him in the right direction.

Teachable moments: While reading or watching the news on TV, and during conversations related to college, drugs and alcohol.

Conversation starters: “Why do you think child sexual abuse happens?”, “Are there times when abuse is acceptable?”, and “Who is to blame for sexual abuse?”

What you should do:

  1. Inform your child that both men and women can be abusers. Also, tell him that both boys and girls can be abused.
  2. Destroy myths about sex. For example, “Something isn’t right if you’ve not had sex in high school” or “looking good means looking seductive.”
  3. Sexual slurs like the ‘f’ word, demeaning references to women and sexually-charged music are never acceptable.
  4. Drugs and alcohol can make him vulnerable to sexual predation.
  5. Tell him that technology and social media can also lead to sexual abuse, that no one, not even his peers, can force him into sexting

As parents, it is vital that you bond with your children. That is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. Create an environment where they feel encouraged to open up to you and, share their feelings and thoughts. Keep in mind that these conversations will help them instinctively know when something doesn't feel right, and more important, give them the power to speak up.

Hannah S Mathew is an Assistant Professor of English, a Freelance Writer, Soft Skills Trainer, Learning Content Developer, Mentor, Diagnostic Counsellor and devoted mom to a teenager.

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