Authorities agree that simply advising our children to be wary with strangers does not equip them to defend themselves against abuse.
It is important for parents and adults who work with children to recognize that the majority of those who abuse children are in a position of trust and authority by virtue of a connection to the child as a family member, friend or other relationship. For more statistics about child abuse, click here. It is also important to recognize that abuse knows no racial, economic or social boundaries. You must be willing to recognize that every child is at potential risk.
To help children to protect themselves, it is essential to provide them with the knowledge, skills and confidence to defend themselves against inappropriate contact from anyone under any circumstances. It is also important that you encourage them, with both your words and actions, to not hesitate to come to you for help. Following are some measures you can take to prevent child abuse:
- Teach Your Children About Their Rights: Explain to your children that they always have the right to say “no” when they feel that an adult is inappropriately touching them or otherwise behaving in a manner that makes them uncomfortable.
*Encourage Your Children to Follow Their Instincts: Encourage your children to tell you whenever they are confused or disturbed by an interaction with an adult. Make sure they realize that it is the adult and not the child who is responsible for respecting boundaries. Create an environment of respect, which assures your children that you will act in their interest and provide comfort and protection when they seek your help.
- Discuss the Differences Between “Good Touching and Bad Touching” and “Good Secrets and Bad Secrets”: Those who abuse children prey on confusion about trust, authority and secrecy. There are many educational resources that can guide you through discussions with your children at various age levels. For example, Secret of the Silver Horse is a story available online which you can read and discuss with your children to help them make these distinctions.
- Give Your Children the Language to Disclose Sexual Abuse: Author Patricia Kehoe urges that we, “Teach children to be on a first name basis with their bodies. The longer I work with sexually abused children, the less tolerant I become toward ‘cute’ names for the sex organs. Aside from the message that genitals cannot be politely discussed without using a pseudonym, there is difficulty in convincing bureaucracies such as the court systems that ‘my lucy’ really does refer to the child’s vagina. It can mean the difference in whether a child’s testimony is fully believed or discounted.”
- Be Sensitive to Your Children’s Behaviour and Emotions: Watch for indications that your child is uncomfortable with certain adults and other signs of abuse. Signs of Abuse. Err on the side of caution. Encourage your child to discuss his or her feelings with you. Offenders prey on vulnerability. Offering your children extra support and understanding when they are feeling confused or upset encourages them to come to you and to avoid being vulnerable to other adults.
*Take Precautions in Your Child’s Potential Exposure to Offenders: Check references of tutors, babysitters and others who will be put in a position of trust with your child.
- Take Responsibility for All of Our Children: Your responsibility to prevent against child abuse does not end with the children in your immediate family. If you have reasons to believe that a child is in danger of abuse or has been abused, contact Alberta’s Child Abuse Hotline immediately: 1–800-387–5437.