It can be awkward to explain to a young child concepts about sex, but avoiding it puts your child at massive risk. There is a reason why pedophiles target young children, and it isn’t just because of a sick preference. Young children are impressionable and in many ways easy to influence and control.
Teaching your child about inappropriate behavior and the importance of consent early on can help them understand when their own boundaries are being violated. If there is already that knowledge and those “rules” in their mind, if they are approached and don’t feel comfortable, they will know to go to you immediately or to inform you right after it happens.
Setting up a safe place to communicate is also important. Family and friends, are, unfortunately, the number one perpetrators of sexual abuse in children. The second most common environment for sexual abuse in children is in religious settings.
There is one very clear commonality between these two perpetrators: they are people your child is taught that they should trust. Friends and family are trustworthy because they are close to you and because you likely trust them. Clergy members are trustworthy because they follow God, and God is good.
It is this level of trust and authority that makes it so easy for perpetrators to abuse children and get away with it. To help your child avoid this, you need to teach and reaffirm (and slowly add more information as they get older) about consent, inappropriate behavior, and what to do if they experience it.
Stranger Danger is a very common, popular protection skill that adults teach children, but it doesn’t help when the criminal is someone they know, much less someone they believe should be good and trustworthy. Rather than focus solely on strangers, focus on teaching about boundaries and consent. This is a very important skill for children, and they can learn it very early on.
As for improving communication, set up rules for yourself and your child. For example, no matter what, they can come to you if they are in danger or don’t feel safe. There are two important things to remember: one is to listen. Two, to believe. If they are just making up a story or misinterpreting something that does not mean you should brush off their concerns.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
Preemptive teaching about consent and boundaries won’t always protect your child from sexual and other abuse. This is because not all sexual abuse is so obvious, especially when it is with someone the child is familiar with. Rules can get muddled as well. You may have taught your child that adults should not touch them in certain areas, but then if the abuser tells the child that it is okay if they touch themselves in these areas, it can seem like it is okay.
Sexual education is important to help children learn these rules and nuances and to set more defined boundaries. Even with this education, of course, abuse can still happen. Watch out for these signs in the children in your life:
- Symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases
- Signs of physical trauma, especially in the genital area
- Fear of being alone, fear of being with a specific adult
- Negative and worrisome self-image
- Increase in sexual behavior (it may even become predatory)
- Increase in inappropriate sexual discussion (particularly if they know more than they should for their age)
- Mistrust of authority
What to Do if You See These Signs of Abuse
If you do see these signs of abuse it is important that you have a calm, open conversation with your child. They will feel ashamed, and they will not want to tell you in most cases. Making them realize that they are safe to tell you and that they are not in trouble at all is a very important baseline to make.
It is also very important that you take their accusation seriously and open an investigation. This may be done with the board, with the police, or even with an attorney.
When to Hire an Attorney
If your child was abused by a clergy member, teacher, or other authority figure, then you will want to hire an attorney. Civil lawsuits shed light on systems of abuse and can help you get the compensation you are going to need to invest in various therapeutic and wellness services to help your child process what happened to them and regain their self-image, confidence, and self-worth.
Always go with the attorney with the most specific experience. If you are located in California, and your child was abused by a clergy member, then a top California clergy sex abuse attorney is your best bet. They will have experience with the type of case, they will be up to date with the latest legislation, and they will also know all previous cases within the state that they can use towards your case.
Know it Will be an Ongoing Journey
Getting your child help will mean listening to them and their needs and trying out different strategies. Immediate therapy with a specialist can help them process and understand what happened and, most importantly, that it was not their fault. It can be very worthwhile to get counseling and to go to workshops that aim to teach you strategies and what to expect as a parent as well so that you can do better for your child.
It is going to be a journey. Your child may seem to bounce back without issue for years and then suddenly start to regress and relive their trauma once they hit puberty. They may deal with their scars from day one.
Adapt and work with your child. Make it obvious that they can go to you and that together you will find a way for them to move forward. Having that open communication and trust means that you can continually adapt and address issues as they come and go.