Children Often Keep Abuse a Secret, but Barriers Can Be Broken Down by Talking Openly About It
My daughter tells me everything. I know she would tell me if someone molested her.
Understand Why Children are Afraid to Tell
- The abuser shames the child, points out that the child let it happen, or tells the child that his or her parents will be angry.
- The abuser is often manipulative and may try to confuse the child about what is right and wrong.
- The abuser sometimes threatens the child or a family member.
- Some children who do not initially disclose abuse are ashamed to tell when it happens again.
- Children are afraid of disappointing their parents and disrupting the family.
- Some children are too young to understand.
- Many abusers tell children the abuse is "okay" or a "game."
Know How Children Communicate
- Children who disclose sexual abuse often tell a trusted adult other than a parent. For this reason, training for people who work with children is especially important.
- Children may tell "parts" of what happened or pretend it happened to someone else to gage adult reaction.
- Children will often "shut down" and refuse to tell more if you respond emotionally or negatively.
Good communication may decrease a child's vulnerability to sexual abuse and increase the likelihood that the child will tell you if abuse has occurred.
- Teach your children about their bodies, about what abuse is, and, when age-appropriate, about sex. Teach them words that help them discuss sex comfortably with you.
- Model caring for your own body, and teach children how to care for theirs.
- Teach children that it is "against the rules" for adults to act in a sexual way with them and use examples. Teach them what parts of their bodies others should not touch.
- Be sure to mention that the abuser might be an adult friend, family member, or older youth.
- Teach children not to give out their email addresses, home addresses, or phone numbers while using the Internet.
- Start early and talk often. Use everyday opportunities to talk about sexual abuse.
- Be proactive. If a child seems uncomfortable, or resistant to being with a particular adult, ask why.
One survey showed that fewer than 30% of parents ever discussed sexual abuse with their children. And even then, most failed to mention that the abuser might be an adult friend or family member.
Talk to Other Adults About Child Sexual Abuse
- Support and mutual learning occur when you share with another adult.
- You raise the consciousness of your community and influence their choices about child safety.
- You may be offering support and information to an adult whose child is experiencing abuse, and may not know what to do.
- You put potential abusers on notice that you are paying attention.