It is estimated that 1 in 10 children will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18 (Darkness to Light, 2013). More than 90% of the perpetrators of abuse are known to the child, including family and acquaintances (rainn.org/statistics/children-and-teens). Caregivers should begin having talks with their children about body safety early. This will foster honesty and trust with hard conversations and allow you to address concerns efficiently should they arise. Here are some ways caregivers can have talks with their children about body safety in age-appropriate ways:
- Let your child know that you’re a safe person they can talk to, ask questions, and disclose information to without feeling guilty or having consequences.
- Help your child identify other trusted adults they can talk to if they experience an unsafe situation. This can be family, close friends and teachers if they feel uncomfortable sharing any information with you.
- Teach your child to use proper names for body parts. You can talk about body safety without discussing sexuality with children. Using nicknames for body parts can create confusion for the child and limit yours or other trusted adult’s ability to adequately determine when an unsafe situation has occurred.
- Talk to your child about the difference between “safe” and “unsafe” touch. Try to avoid identifying touching as “good” or bad” to minimize feelings of guilt. A handshake, “high 5” and hugs are examples of safe touches. Some examples of unsafe touches would be touching areas that are typically covered by underwear and bathing suits.
- Talk to your child about the difference between surprises and secrets. Sometimes loved ones will have surprises for each other. Surprises make people happy. Secrets can make others unhappy or upset. Tell your child that no one should ask them to keep secrets, especially about body parts. Encourage them to tell you or another trusted adult if anyone asks them to keep a secret from you.
- Whenever possible minimize situations where your child is alone and unsupervised in a 1-on-1 interaction with another person.
Be patient and listen when they are sharing their experiences. Ask questions to help gather information and try to avoid interrogating them about the situation, which may increase feelings of shame and worry.
If you suspect that abuse has occurred, immediately contact (513)241-KIDS in Hamilton County or your local children’s services agency or bring your child to the nearest emergency department for additional support. You can also contact CCHMC’s Mayerson Center for Safe and Healthy Children at (513) 636-SAFE (7233) for additional guidance and support.