As parents, it is our responsibility to keep our children out of potential risky situations. Beyond that, we have to teach them what to do if someone tries to exploit them sexually.
He was the last person she ever suspected. But the evidence against her new husband was undeniable. The young mother of two little girls sobbed uncontrollably as her story unraveled. The man she thought was a loving husband and stepfather was now in jail. The accusation? Repeatedly molesting one of her daughters. Questions filled her mind. What happens next? Who can I trust? Most importantly, how do I go about talking to my kids about sexual abuse?
As a police officer and major crimes detective, I have investigated numerous murders, suicides, accidental deaths, and brutal assaults. In my opinion, the physical, emotional, and sexual victimisation of children is among the most despicable crimes.
The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, describes the natural progression of a culture bent on satisfying fleshly desires. Within Paul’s description, we find a culture much like ours today.
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. [Also] they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless." Romans 1:28-31
It’d be difficult to find a worse list of descriptions for a culture. Yet, Paul’s assessment of the Romans reveals the reality of rampant sin in our world. At times, our culture resembles the Romans. Furthermore, since the Romans did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God he gave them over to a depraved mind to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity (Romans 1:28-29, NIV). However, we can learn from Paul’s approach to a culture defined by sin.
The Impact of Sexual Abuse
Unfortunately, parents can no longer fully consider their children “safe” from sexual victimisation. Especially in a world built on a foundation of social media and the internet, our children face the threat of false security at every turn. It’s easy to see how this can quickly set a dangerous course for children and their families.
The definition of sexual abuse includes any act that exposes the child to, or involves the child in, sexual processes beyond their understanding, or contrary to accepted community standards.
In Australia 18 per cent of women and 4.7 per cent of men report having suffered sexual abuse before they had turned 15.
These alarming figures demonstrate why parents must work diligently to keep their children out of potential risky situations. Then, as parents you have the responsibility to teach your kids what to do if someone tries to exploit them sexually.
The person most likely to sexually abuse your child is a person your child knows and trusts. In most cases, a sex offender looks for a child who trusts him or her. Also, a sex offender will target a child that can be convinced to stay quiet about inappropriate physical contact. Because it could be a family member, neighbour, or trusted youth worker, you need to know what to do in these moments.
Talking to Your Kids about Sexual Abuse
Discussing sexuality with your kids is a daunting task. Within those conversations, talking about sexual abuse with your kids reaches a different level of uncomfortable.
However, in today’s world, responsible parents cannot afford to avoid the issue. Here are some practical suggestions to incorporate in your home:
Plan a specific time to sit down with your child to discuss sexual abuse.
Explain to your child that God made their body very special. Every part of their body is good, but some parts of their body are private.
Clearly identify for your child which parts of their anatomy are private. If your child is young, consider sharing the above information during their bath time. Another idea is to have your child dress in a bathing suit and show them that all areas covered by a bathing suit are “private.”
Let your child know they must tell you if anyone touches them in the private areas. No matter who the person is, or what the person says to them. Assure your child they will not be in trouble if they tell you they’ve been touched inappropriately. Rather, you will be proud of them. Then, you will help them through the situation.
It is possible that when you have this conversation with your child, he or she may reveal inappropriate contact someone has had with them in the past. Listen closely to what your child says, but avoid asking a lot of questions.
Sometimes, young children are quick to affirm information that may or may not be true. Instead, let your child know you believe them and love them. Report suspected sexual abuse to your local law enforcement agency, which will work to substantiate or rule out the information.
Talking with Your Teens about Sexual Abuse
As your children grow up, there’s a different approach to difficult conversations such as sexual abuse. When talking with your teen about sexual abuse, make sure you’re still using age-appropriate language and terminology. Also, keep in mind the value of having the same-gendered parent discussing this topic with their son or daughter. Consider these tips when discussing sexual abuse with your teen.
Rather than hiding from the news, use the news. It’s easy to think that completely avoiding the news and media will achieve purity for your teen. However, the news presents a key opportunity for conversations with your teen. When stories about sexual abuse arise, ask your teens questions. Then, have a meaningful conversation about their opinions and perspective. As they grow more comfortable talking to you, offer your viewpoint and what the Bible says about topics such as sexual abuse.
Discuss sexual abuse directly. As your teenagers grow up, you can discern whether they’re ready for certain conversations. Consider your child’s personality. Use statistics to convey the severity of these situations. Explain the reality that not every abuser looks like an abuser. Then, continue to have impactful conversations about the consumption of media and entertainment.
When they come to you, make time for them. When they don’t come to you, still make time for them. In short, make yourself available. As your teen experiences more freedom, it’s imperative that you secure his or her confidence that you are still interested in his or her life. You never know when your teen will finally be ready for that conversation you’ve been waiting for.
How to Talk to Your Child about Inappropriate Behaviour
One of the most difficult things about these conversations is knowing how to use age-appropriate language with your kids. That’s why it’s important for you to clearly outline what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. Here are some guidelines for talking to your kids about sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviour.
Reinforce the proper names of your child’s body and private parts. Then, clearly outline which body parts are private. Make sure that your children know that no one else is allowed to touch those body parts.
Let your children know that it’s okay to say no. Appropriate touch isn’t always obvious to your kids. So, it’s important to let them know that it’s okay to say “no” if a touch makes them uncomfortable. Also, support their level of comfort with touch. Look out of situations where your child is refusing touch such as a hug around family. Then, have follow up conversations about what you see to check-in with your kids.
Model appropriate touch. This might sound simple, but remember that your kids are very observant. Show them appropriate touch to strangers. Then, have consistent conversations about what might be inappropriate with others, even family.
Discuss the importance of being cautious about secrets. Before sexual abuse occurs, a certain level of grooming often occurs. In some cases, this can involve the keeping of secrets. Let your kids know that it’s probably inappropriate if an adult asks them to keep a secret. Additionally, if they see a friend or sibling being touched inappropriately, they shouldn’t keep that a secret either.
Final Thoughts on Talking to Your Kids about Sexual Abuse
As parents, we will never completely eliminate the possibility that our child will be sexually abused. There are simply too many factors outside of our control. Nonetheless, parents empower their children through simple conversation and love. Finally, remember that a conversation with your child could save them, and you, a lifetime of pain.
Broadcast: Protecting your child from sexual abuse