For Parents and Caregivers
As a parent, you have a unique opportunity to educate children about child abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, and neglect) and other important topics that directly impact their safety and well-being.
You are your child’s most influential and powerful role model. Children depend on you to keep them safe! The following information will help you to talk with your child about safety at home, in school, and in public spaces. By communicating with your child, you will provide an atmosphere of openness and honesty for years to come.
Be knowledgeable, be aware, and do your part to keep kids safe!
Understanding Child Abuse
The statistics are alarming. Every eight minutes, a child is sexually abused in the United States and nearly five children die every day from neglect and abuse.
What people think … Children usually tell someone that they are being abused.
What we know … Most children DO NOT tell. Only 1 in 10 sexually abused children disclose their abuse. Abusers can be very effective in making children too fearful to talk about what is going on. Often children do not have the words to use to let someone know what is happening to them.
What people think … Only men abuse children.
What we know … Male perpetrators tend to be the majority of reported cases of abuse, however, women are also capable of child sexual abuse. Reports of female perpetrators are on the rise, with both male and female children.
What people think … Children make these types of things up for attention.
What we know … Children very rarely make false accusations about being sexually abused. Most victims are very reluctant to disclose abuse. They feel shame and blame themselves for the abuse, often because the offender is someone they care about. About 90 percent of the time, a child knows their abuser and some 39 percent are abused by a family member. It is estimated that only 4-8 percent of child sexual abuse reports are fabricated.
What people think … A medical evaluation will prove is a child has been sexually abused.
What we know … The vast majority of child victims of sexual abuse do not have medical findings that substantiate sexual abuse. Many acts leave no physical trace. Injuries resulting from sexual abuse tent to heal quickly and, in most instances, exams of child victims do not take place on the same day as the alleged act of abuse due to delayed disclosure.
What people think … Only girls are abused.
What we know … Boys may be victims of abuse. One in 10 children will suffer some form of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. Often sexual abuse of male victims is underreported due to social and cultural attitudes: boys are taught to not let others see vulnerability. Boys are aware at an early age of the social stigma attached to sexual assault and fear appearing weak to others. All of these attitudes make male child victims far less likely to tell of their abuse.
What people think … Talking to children about sexual abuse will simply frighten them.
What we know … It is important for children to develop basic safety skills in a way that is helpful rather than frightening. Children should learn the proper names for their body parts, including their genitals. Children should know they have permission to refuse unwanted touching from adults and other children.
Talking to Your Kids
We understand talking to your child about keeping their bodies safe can be uncomfortable. However, we hope that you will come to view this conversation like any other safety conversation you would have with your child.
It should become as routine as saying, “look both ways before crossing the street,” or “wash your hands after using the restroom.” The conversation will mature as your child matures. Your child may ask questions as they realize you are willing to talk to them about their body and keeping it safe.
You are your child’s first and best teacher. By making this a routine conversation, you are letting them know that you love them and will keep them safe.
There are different ways to talk to your child about their body. You know your child best and should trust your instincts about how to have this conversation and do what feels the most comfortable. When talking to your child we encourage you to include the following topics outlined below …
Identifying Parts of the Body
You teach your child about their nose, ears, eyes and other body parts, but they also need to know about the private parts of their body. Bathtime and potty training are great times to incorporate teaching the private parts of the body to your child.
Teach them that their whole body is special, including the private parts of their body. Explain that the private parts of the body are the “parts covered by your bathing suit.” Sometimes it is helpful to point out that boys and girls have different swimsuits because they have different private parts.
When speaking about specific body parts, we strongly encourage you to use the anatomically correct names of the body. Some families may use nicknames or special terms to refer to the private parts of the body. However, these terms may be confusing to a child. It may make them feel like these parts of the body are somehow different, and for children, it may make them feel ashamed of their body.
Furthermore, if a child discloses abuse but uses a “nickname” for a part of their body instead of the anatomically correct name, such as penis, vagina, bottom, or breast, this could lead to confusion and miscommunication.
A Touching Rule
Explain to your child that no one should ever see or touch the private parts of their body. There are people who help children stay clean and healthy. Identify with your child those people whose job it is to help them in the bathroom, getting dressed, and at the doctors. These people may need to see or touch the private parts of their body. It is important to stress that even if it’s a person’s job to keep a child clean and healthy, it is still that child’s body. They are still in control. A child should be listened to if anyone, at any time, makes them feel uncomfortable.
As your child grows, they will want to clean and bathe themselves. Respecting your child’s privacy is important in their healthy development.
In order to keep children safe, they must learn healthy boundaries. Children should know that expressing love and affection is their choice. They should be able to choose to whom they show affection. If expressing love and affection makes them uncomfortable, we must help them to recognize that discomfort and support their decisions. We must teach children that we, as adults, respect their choices about their bodies.
As difficult as it may be, don’t pressure your kids into hugging or kissing family members if it makes them feel uncomfortable or they are not in the mood. For example, if a child says “stop tickling me,” then stop and let them know that you are stopping because they asked you to do so.
By supporting your child’s feelings and choices when they are uncomfortable, you are communicating to them that you will support them if someone touches them in an uncomfortable or abusive setting. This is an extremely empowering message to send your child.
Children Touching Other Children
Frequently, we are asked what to do about children touching other children by parents or teachers. It is important to know what behaviors are healthy and which are not healthy. This will help you to know if a larger problem is going on.
Young children often show others the private parts of their bodies. If this is something your child is doing, simply communicate that “no one should ever see or touch the private parts of your body. This means you shouldn’t show them the private parts of your body.” You may also have to explain to a child that they cannot touch other children and they may need you to be firm but gentle in reinforcing that they must keep their hands to themselves.
It can sometimes be difficult to know what normal sexual behavior is for children as they grow and develop. We recommend the Healthy Sexual Development Chart as a wonderful resource to assist you in this area.
You Can Tell Me Anything!
Emphasize to your child that they can tell you anything. Tell them you will always love them no matter what. Tell them you will always keep them safe.
If your child does tell you about something that is bothering them, take the time to really listen. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help – even if the problem seems resolved.
This will create a bond of trust. Your child will know that you support them, and they will remember this if they ever do need to tell you something really important.
I Love You!
Tell your children that you love them! Use affirming language! Then tell them again.
Sometimes an abuser may tell a child that they are not worthy of other people’s love, that a non-offending parent will choose the abuser over the child, or that a child is not special. The best way to combat these powerful messages is to tell your child your love them, that they are special, and that you will protect them from any harm.
What Can I Do to Protect My Child?
There are lots of things you can do to protect your child. The most powerful tool you have to protect your child is to talk with them. Clear, consistent, and early messages from you about what abuse is – that no one should ever touch them inappropriately and that they should tell you if anything should ever happen – are your most powerful weapons against abuse. Also, simply knowing and accepting that an abuser could be someone you know means that you are more likely to remain vigilant in your child’s protection.
People often want to know the answer to two difficult questions: “Why do people abuse?” and “How do I know who to trust with my child?” We wish there were easy answers to these questions as it would make protecting children a lot simpler. The truth is that these are very complex questions, and there is no one, easy answer to either question.
People abuse children for a multitude of reasons. Some common reasons may be that they wish to exert power and control over a child or they wish to fulfill their sexual urges. It is estimated some 30 percent of adult sex offenders were sexually abused as children.
Whatever the reason, it is important not to make excuses for abuse. While understanding an abuser’s actions may help the community with prevention and treatment, abuse should never be excused or diminished. Those who abuse are actively making a choice – indeed a series of choices – to hurt a child.
An Abuser Is Often Someone You Know
In most cases, perpetrators of abuse are people that the child knows and trusts. This means that parents or caregivers likely know the abuser too. The abuser may be a family member, the child’s babysitter or daycare provider, teacher, clergy, neighbor, coach, instructor, or someone in any other position of trust that allows them access to a child.
This is perhaps one of the most insidious facts about child abuse. It’s a betrayal of our children and our trust in the people we know and possibly love.
Children are often “groomed” before they are abused. This means the abuser builds a trusting relationship with a child. They may give a child extra attention, buy them gifts, or offer to take them places to build a trusting relationship.
Once the relationship becomes sexually abusive, the child may become confused by their feelings for the person. They may think to themselves, “This person loves me, they would never hurt me, this must be OK.” The child may not want to report the abuse because it means the “extra special” relationship will stop, they may think their family won’t believe them because the abuser is so “nice”, or the abuser is threatening them.
In addition to “grooming” children, perpetrators of abuse “groom” non-offending adults as well. Abusers want to portray themselves as nice, child-loving, responsible adults. This helps them gain access to children on a regular basis and makes it more likely that the abuse will be overlooked, dismissed, or kept secret.
Family Members as Abusers
No one wants to believe his or her family member could be an abuser. However, if we don’t talk about it, it allows the abuse to go undetected in families for years.
Keep communication in your family open. You should know what other family members are doing with your child and what activities they are involved in.
If your child is uncomfortable around a family member, respect that. Allow them space. If your child’s discomfort is new or out of character, ask them about it, listen to what they have to say, and be supportive. Be proactive and if necessary, take steps to protect your child.
One-on-One Situations Outside the Home
Some 80 percent or more of child sexual abuse cases occur in isolated, one-on-one situations. When you eliminate or reduce these situations with children, you dramatically reduce the risk of sexual abuse. Here are some tips to help you manage these types of situations:
- If your child is involved in an extracurricular activity, scan the physical environment for hidden or secluded areas, and correct any dangers.
- If being in a one-on-one situation is required by the activity, try to increase the visibility of the activity. Can it be out in the open? Can you drop in whenever you like? Are their windows in the room or on the door? Can the door remain open? Make sure interactions can be observed or interrupted.
- Have open communication with any adult you leave your child with: a babysitter, coach, mentor, teacher, family member, clergy, neighbor, etc. Make sure you know what the adult and the child will be doing. Ask the adult, “What will you do today?” When you pick up your child, ask them, “How was your day?” or “What did you do today?”
There should never be a time you can’t have access to or check up on your child. Set rules, make sure you are comfortable, and make sure you keep communicating with your child.
“Strangers” Still Pose a Risk!
While 90 percent of children are abused by someone they know, 10 percent are abused by a stranger. It is still important to talk to your child about basic safety rules concerning strangers. Remind your child not to talk to, take anything, or go anywhere with a stranger. Also, for safety reasons, they should always get permission from a parent or caregiver before going anywhere with anyone.
Protect Your Child on the Internet
Children can also be exposed to strangers online. In fact, one in five children is sexually solicited while online.
The ease of creating a false identity online means that children sometimes may end up having conversations with people whose real identities they may not know. Predators often utilize various apps and websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Kik, Snapchat, Musical.ly, and others to form online relationships with children.
Conversations may start out with simple questions in an attempt to build trust with the child. Once trust is established, they may start receiving unsolicited and inappropriate messages from predators encouraging or even threatening a child to engage in sexual acts. This may include asking the child to send nude photographs or sexual videos of themselves or they may attempt to meet the child in person.
This is not to say every person your child interacts with online will try to exploit them. However, it is important for you to be aware that this is one way children can be victimized online. Parents need to be aware of what is happening online. Here are some tips to help keep your child safe:
- Learn about and visit the websites your child uses regularly.
- Keep computers and other electronic devices in common rooms of the house. Check in with your child and ask them questions such as “Where are you going online?” and “Who are you online with?”
- Set limits on the amount of time your child spends online.
- Know how to set parental controls and check browser history files.
- Set the rules about Internet safety and your values early on. Teach children that they should not seek out relationships from individuals they meet online, and that they should NEVER meet these individuals in person.
- Tell your child not to share personal or identifiable information.
- Talk to your child regularly about their life online.
- Ensure that your child has a safe support system
- Create an environment of openness and honesty with your child surrounding any topic.
What to Say if a Child Discloses
If a child discloses abuse to you, it is very important that you listen without judgment to what the child is telling you. The following list is a guide to help you assist a child who has disclosed abuse …
- Remain calm.
- Thank the child for telling you.
- Tell the child you believe them and reassure the child that it is not their fault.
- Listen calmly and openly. Allow silence in the conversation so that the child can take his or her time.
- Ask only open-ended questions like “What happened next?”
- Assure the child that what they are telling you is important and there is someone they can talk to about what happened.
- Check to see if the child feels safe returning home. Ask non-leading questions such as “How do you feel about going home today?”
- Call 911 if the child is in immediate danger
- Call the New York State Child Abuse Hotline: 800-342-3720
- Call the New York State Mandated Reporter Hotline: 800-635-1522
Do Not …
- Show shock or other strong reactions.
- Blame the child.
- Probe for more information.
- Make promises you can’t keep. For example, don’t say, “You will never have to see this person again.”
- Repeat what the child told you unless there is a clearly defined need for that person to know. It is important to respect the child’s right to confidentiality.
We understand that this has been a lot of information to absorb, however, the topics outlined above are crucial to creating a safe environment for your child.
As a parent or caregiver, you want what’s best for your child. With this information, you can lay the groundwork for fostering open communication with them. Shying away from or being unwilling to have these conversations is what abusers rely on and hope for. If these conversations are part of your routine, you will be an advocate for your child.
Your concerns as a parent or caregiver are important. For further information or to speak with a member of our team, please give us a call at 315-701-2985.
Child abuse can be prevented, and it starts with you. It exists in every community, regardless of age, race, education, socio-economic status, or culture. All adults share the responsibility to report suspected child abuse.
Children’s lives depend on your courage. If you suspect a child is being abused, make a call to the New York State Child Abuse Hotline. Someone will answer your call 24 hours a day. The information you provide is confidential and you will remain anonymous. If a child is in immediate danger, call 911.
When you call the Child Abuse Hotline to report suspected abuse, you will speak with a child abuse expert who will walk you through the reporting process. You will be encouraged to leave your name and telephone number; all sources of a child abuse report remain confidential.
The child abuse expert will ask you a series of questions about your suspicion of child abuse. It is helpful to have some basic information such as the name, date of birth, address, and phone number of the child you are concerned about.