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Talking to children about sexual abuse

post #1 of 35
Thread Starter 

Sexual abuse is ridiculously common. I was a victim during childhood, and although it felt like I was the only one, in fact around one in three women and one in five men will have suffered sexual abuse by the time they turn 18. One way to help prevent sexual abuse is to equip children to defend themselves, and that should obviously start with telling them about the possibility that someone will try to do something bad to them. 

 

This is where I am lost. My children, 5 and 2, know the correct names for their body parts and they also know that their genitals are not for anyone else to touch, unless it is me or a doctor (with me present) for medical reasons (like when DD's vagina had chickenpox on it when she came down with that). And, for younger ones, to help with wiping after the potty. 

 

I wonder how others handle this. Do you explicitly explain that there are people who will sexually abuse and rape children? Do you tell them what to do if they find themselves in a situation where someone is trying to harm them? If you are a survivor yourself, have you told your children about that?

 

We have discussed self-defense, screaming really loudly to attract attention and scare off attackers, and that kind of thing. I protect my children from sexual abuse by being there all the time, or with close friends whom I trust. But you never know what might happen, and I'd like to equip my children to keep themselves safe independently, as well. 

 

Thoughts?

post #2 of 35

Lately, it seems not a week has gone by this summer where there hasn't been a story on the front page of our local paper about the rape of a child.  In every instance, it was a friend of the family, boyfriend or relative.

 

I am also interested in advice. 

 

I read Protecting the Gift and I think there is a lot of good information presented.  Further, based on my own experiences, there are situations that I simply will not allow my DS to be in. 

 

What I am struggling with right now is how to tell DS about sexual abuse.  He is the type of child that when he is told about a danger, he completely obsesses about it.  For example, he doesn't want to go near large rocks now because DH told him to watch out for rattle snakes.  (rattle snakes are common in an area we visit)

post #3 of 35

I don't tell my children that sexual abuse exists.  I do the preventative things (like the OP mentioned, teaching about genitals and how they are private and to tell me if anyone asks them to do or does anything that makes them uncomfortable, etc).  I'm also careful who I leave my kids with.  But at 6, 4, and 2, they have no idea what sex is let alone sexual abuse.  And I feel like teaching them about it would destroy their innocence.  Now, if they ask, that's different (I truly believe in being honest with children when they are curious, but in an age appropriate way, offering some information and only going further if they keep asking - it's easy to completely overwhelm a child by giving them more than they were seeking).

post #4 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by DahliaRW View Post

I don't tell my children that sexual abuse exists.  I do the preventative things (like the OP mentioned, teaching about genitals and how they are private and to tell me if anyone asks them to do or does anything that makes them uncomfortable, etc).  I'm also careful who I leave my kids with.  But at 6, 4, and 2, they have no idea what sex is let alone sexual abuse.  And I feel like teaching them about it would destroy their innocence.  Now, if they ask, that's different (I truly believe in being honest with children when they are curious, but in an age appropriate way, offering some information and only going further if they keep asking - it's easy to completely overwhelm a child by giving them more than they were seeking).

I agree. Mine are 5,3 and. I tell them that no one is allowed to touch their privtes ect but I would not tell them about sexually abuse/ rape for a long time. It would be too much for them and I do not see how it would help keep them from being abused anyway. And no way till they are much older would I tell them of my own childhood abuse.
 

 

post #5 of 35

Wow, those statistics almost sound hard to believe. Do you have the source?

 

Anyway, I was reading this one book and the author talks about how she taught her kids, that whenever someone tells you not to tell your mom and dad something, that you should run and tell them right away. I kinda like this idea.

post #6 of 35

What could your parents have said to you, or done when you are little that would have prevented you from being abused.  What warning signs did they miss?  What kind of situations do you not allow your child in due to your experiences? 

post #7 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by dejagerw View Post

Wow, those statistics almost sound hard to believe. Do you have the source?

 

Anyway, I was reading this one book and the author talks about how she taught her kids, that whenever someone tells you not to tell your mom and dad something, that you should run and tell them right away. I kinda like this idea.



Depending on the source, the one in three figure actually also includes physical abuse, but some don't. You can read about that here, http://www.unfpa.org/gender/violence.htm, which a list of sources at the end, or do your own googling - this is just the first result that appeared for me, but there is plenty of credible information around. Still, it is important to keep in mind that not every abuse victim will ever be included in statistics, since these things tend to be hidden. 

post #8 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by alimac View Post

What could your parents have said to you, or done when you are little that would have prevented you from being abused.  What warning signs did they miss?  What kind of situations do you not allow your child in due to your experiences? 



I am not sure whether this was directed at me, but I think so, so I will answer. I don't think my answer is particularly relevant to all abuse victims and parents, but it may be to some. 

 

The first red flag that the man who abused me would do so is the fact that he met me first, and then turned up at my house "out of nowhere". In inverted commas, because he went through a lot of trouble to find out my address. He then proceeded to pretend that he was in love with my mother, who was single. They started having a relationship very soon. He bought my mother expensive gifts all the time, and pushed to see me alone, without her, for "bonding". My mother told me he was impotent, but he wasn't - he was a pedophile obviously not interested in sex with grown women. 

 

On my part, besides behavioral changes, the biggest indicator that he was raping me was that I told my mother. Also, he picked me up from school every day and made me tell people he was my uncle, even though he came from a different country and it was obvious that this was not true. That is as much as I'll say on a public forum, but it's more than enough. I believe that parents have a duty to keep their children safe. I also know that abuse will happen without any clear pre-incident indicators sometimes, and that when they are there, they are often missed because abusers tend to be people who parents already trust, like a relative or close friend. When parents do notice warning signs, they absolutely have a duty to act on them. Also, children should be believed, and these things should be reported to the police. 

 

Due to my experiences, I am very careful who I allow my children to spend time alone with. So far, they are women who I know very well, in situations I understand. I would not hire a male babysitter. I avoid leaving kids with others at all before they become verbal. Also, I place a big emphasis on developing intuition. If a neighbor wants to kiss my children and they don't want to, I don't make them. If an adult wants to make small talk with my children, I leave it up to them whether they want to, but while supervising if they do choose to chat (they're still pretty young). I also go out of my way to help my kids to as many different people as possible, including strangers ("Would you like some bottled water? OK, you go buy it!"). This helps them differentiate safe, everyday interaction from dangerous situations in which something is "off". And of course, I teach my kids to not give out personal information like our address to strangers. My older one also carries a cell phone with her at all times so that she can call me whenever, and she knows to talk to me or a trusted friend if she wants to discuss anything that makes her feel uneasy. 

 

 

post #9 of 35

Thank you so much for sharing your story.  This is my biggest fear for my daughter and I have been wondering how the best way to keep her safe is. 

post #10 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by alimac View Post

What could your parents have said to you, or done when you are little that would have prevented you from being abused.  What warning signs did they miss?  What kind of situations do you not allow your child in due to your experiences? 


My experience was with the cousin of a friend.  The cousin was abusing the younger kids in the family (his cousins) and there is no way the adults couldn't have known what was going on as one (my friend) would scream at him to leave the kids alone and physically attack him.   Looking back on it, I now am certain that at least two of the three uncles were also sexually abusing their own kids as well as the nieces/nephews, which is probably why no one did anything about it.  I often wonder what happened to those little kids.  They had behavioral problems then, a warning sign that no one paid attention to, that likely got worse. 

 

I have guilt because I didn't tell someone.  At the time, I was probably scared to rock the boat.  This was a family that was well-known, big in the church, a "nice" family.
 

I will probably not allow my son to do sleep overs until I feel he is old enough/assertive enough to speak up for himself and others.  At this time, I have no clue how I will "know" he is old enough.  I have a couple of years to worry aobut that.

 

post #11 of 35



 

Quote:
Originally Posted by MittensKittens View Post

 

Due to my experiences, I am very careful who I allow my children to spend time alone with. So far, they are women who I know very well, in situations I understand. I would not hire a male babysitter. I avoid leaving kids with others at all before they become verbal. Also, I place a big emphasis on developing intuition. If a neighbor wants to kiss my children and they don't want to, I don't make them. If an adult wants to make small talk with my children, I leave it up to them whether they want to, but while supervising if they do choose to chat (they're still pretty young). I also go out of my way to help my kids to as many different people as possible, including strangers ("Would you like some bottled water? OK, you go buy it!"). This helps them differentiate safe, everyday interaction from dangerous situations in which something is "off". And of course, I teach my kids to not give out personal information like our address to strangers. My older one also carries a cell phone with her at all times so that she can call me whenever, and she knows to talk to me or a trusted friend if she wants to discuss anything that makes her feel uneasy. 

 

 



I also would not hire a male babysitters.  Part of me feels it is very wrong to place a restriction totally based on gender yet in my personal experience with a male teenage abuser as well as cases in my town where teen boys/young adult males abused kids placed in their care for whatever reason, the other part of me is comfortable with that prejudice. 

 

I also do not allow any friends/boyfriends of sitters in my house.  Sitters are there to do a job, not hang out with their boyfriend. (or girlfriends)

 

I like your statement about developing intuition.  We operate the same way.

 

post #12 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Caneel View Post



 



I also would not hire a male babysitters.  Part of me feels it is very wrong to place a restriction totally based on gender yet in my personal experience with a male teenage abuser as well as cases in my town where teen boys/young adult males abused kids placed in their care for whatever reason, the other part of me is comfortable with that prejudice. 

 

I also do not allow any friends/boyfriends of sitters in my house.  Sitters are there to do a job, not hang out with their boyfriend. (or girlfriends)

 

I like your statement about developing intuition.  We operate the same way.

 



I don't think it is prejudicial, because it is a simple fact that males are more likely to sexually abuse children. This doesn't mean a woman can't do it, of course. My babysitter is in her 40s, married, and has kids herself. She is a responsible person. Before I left her alone with my kids, I spent several months being in the house working (I am a writer) while she played with the kids to see how they interacted. I also attended a service at her church, went to her house, and met her family. 

 

It seems weird to me to leave my children with someone I don't know a lot about. 

 

Besides validating my kids' intuition, I also listen to my own. If someone feels off, we stay the heck away from them. 

 

On abuse prevention, I am single and I also decided no relationships for me. I like being single, and there are many reasons for this besides preventing abuse, but it sure is somewhere on the list. 

post #13 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by MittensKittens View Post

 

On abuse prevention, I am single and I also decided no relationships for me. I like being single, and there are many reasons for this besides preventing abuse, but it sure is somewhere on the list. 



I can understand this.  Should something ever happen to my DH, I would not bring another man into my son's life until he was an older teen. 

 

Another thing I have noticed about myself is if I get a bad vibe from someone, I don't worry about hurting their feelings.  I will not curb my feelings or actions.  Recently my son was playing a video game at a restaurant, the 1980 style Pac-Man, Astroids type of games, where several are lined up in a row.  We visit this restaurant often and there are always kids clustered around the games. 

 

A man with odd manners kept looking over the shoulders of the other kids. He was, in my opinion, getting entirely too close to the kids (all boys at the time) I didn't like how he was acting so I stepped right in between him and my son when he moved towards my son.  He had zero sense of personal space and actually continued to move towards me and I put up my arms to physically stop him.  I told him to back off NOW.  He scampered away.  My DH was a couple of steps behind me and said he thought I was going to knock the guy over.

 

It is very likely that this man may have had mental difficulties.  Pre-child, I would have be super concerned about being "nice"  Post-child, nope, Mama Bear came charging right in.

 

post #14 of 35

Based on my own experiences, I think that children should understand the general idea of sex as young as possible. I don't get the idea of keeping them innocent by keeping them ignorant of the existence of sex. I understand keeping them ignorant/innocent of the fact that sexual abuse exists, as well as other bad things like war, famine, burglary, human trafficking, the Holocaust, animal abuse, dog attacks, corrupt police officers, etc etc. Heck, I dread the day I have to tell my child that cupcakes are unhealthy. But sex isn't particularly an unhappy thing in itself.

 

On the other hand, definitely wait until after that phase wherein children like to make up stories.

 

On the other hand, I think telling your kid "don't talk to strangers," is a useless or perhaps even harmful idea. I mean, chances are you don't even mean it literally, but your kid has no way of knowing that you didn't say what you mean, much less knowing what you actually did mean. (I mean, look the word "stranger" up in the dictionary; is that actually what anyone ever tries to tell their kid?) It could perhaps give a child the impression that anyone who's not a stranger is totally okay to give all their personal information to and take candy from. Besides, sexual abuse is usually committed by a definite non-stranger.

 

 

Quote:
I don't think it is prejudicial, because it is a simple fact that males are more likely to sexually abuse children. This doesn't mean a woman can't do it, of course.

 

I wonder if males are actually much more likely to commit abuse or if they're just more likely to get caught? Actually, when I tried to search for information, I get the impression they're still caught pretty often. It seems like it may not be beneficial to insist on only female caregivers, since it may not greatly reduce the chances of abuse but may cause more trauma if the abuse does happen. Still, I can't blame you guys for being biased against male caregivers. It seems males are more likely to give us the willies (whether it should or not), and we should make a habit of listening to that feeling when it comes to children's well-being.

 

Personally, everyone who's ever been a step-father creeps me out. I'm sorry to all the good step-fathers out there.

 

Speaking of which, what do you do if one of your in-laws give you the creeps like that and your DH/DW/DP suggests having him or her babysit? Don't go along with the idea, sure, but how do one tell one's DH something like, "Honey, I don't want our kid around your beloved cousin because I worry he's a child molester"?

 

 

Quote:
Wow, those statistics almost sound hard to believe. Do you have the source?

 

I don't know about the accuracy or the source, but I don't find the stat very shocking. I wonder what the results would be if we posted a poll on MDC. (I don't want to post a poll about something so depressing.)

 

 

Quote:
Anyway, I was reading this one book and the author talks about how she taught her kids, that whenever someone tells you not to tell your mom and dad something, that you should run and tell them right away. I kinda like this idea.

 

That does sound good. It seems best paired with a general gently authoritative discipline style, to make your kids more likely to be willing to tell mom and dad everything. I think some abusers might wait until the abuse is underway before they tell the kid, "By the way, don't tell your parents about this. You'd get in sooooo much trouble if they found out." The parents' reactions to other things the child has "done wrong" would surely affect the child's likelihood of telling them about the abuse, right?

 

post #15 of 35

I told my kid that no one touches her vagina and that she isn't supposed to touch anyone else's vagina or penis. Very simple and clear. I also talked to her about secrets. That birthdays and presents are good secrets, but touching is not a good secret. I also tell her when people make me uncomfortable. Like when we are walking down the street and a weirdo comes around. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the book protecting the gift. I used to be a counselor with abused kids. It is almost ALWAYS someone that the parent knowingly leaves their child with. Stranger danger  is over rated.

post #16 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tintal View Post

I told my kid that no one touches her vagina and that she isn't supposed to touch anyone else's vagina or penis. Very simple and clear. I also talked to her about secrets. That birthdays and presents are good secrets, but touching is not a good secret. I also tell her when people make me uncomfortable. Like when we are walking down the street and a weirdo comes around. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the book protecting the gift. I used to be a counselor with abused kids. It is almost ALWAYS someone that the parent knowingly leaves their child with. Stranger danger  is over rated.



I love Gavin de Becker's books too, although most of the things he writes in Protecting the Gift and The Gift of Fear are very obvious. The most powerful thing he does is giving us "permission" to act on our intuition, and pointing out that it can save our lives and keep our kids safe. 

post #17 of 35
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cyllya View Post

I wonder if males are actually much more likely to commit abuse or if they're just more likely to get caught? Actually, when I tried to search for information, I get the impression they're still caught pretty often. It seems like it may not be beneficial to insist on only female caregivers, since it may not greatly reduce the chances of abuse but may cause more trauma if the abuse does happen. Still, I can't blame you guys for being biased against male caregivers. It seems males are more likely to give us the willies (whether it should or not), and we should make a habit of listening to that feeling when it comes to children's well-being.

 

Personally, everyone who's ever been a step-father creeps me out. I'm sorry to all the good step-fathers out there.

 

Speaking of which, what do you do if one of your in-laws give you the creeps like that and your DH/DW/DP suggests having him or her babysit? Don't go along with the idea, sure, but how do one tell one's DH something like, "Honey, I don't want our kid around your beloved cousin because I worry he's a child molester"?



Of course, we shouldn't SIMPLY insist on female-only caregivers, but on caregivers that we trust. That is also a reason I don't choose a public daycare - I am capable of vetting one person, but in daycares many people may have access to children, and parents can't always control those situations. 

 

I don't buy into the notion that there is no way to know who will abuse kids. I think there are nearly always indications, and we need to know how to recognize them. That is not to say that parents who genuinely didn't know are at fault (especially if the abuser is a child's father, for instance, there was a story on MDC a few years back and that mom stepped in to protect her daughter the second she found out). But I do think there is a lot we can do to prevent abuse. Unfortunately, abusers are often attracted to families who are already abusive (physically or emotionally) or dysfunctional. That certainly holds true in my case. 

 

As for the question you asked, that is exactly when I am talking about. Keep your kids safe. If someone gives you the creeps, don't allow them alone time with your child. No exceptions for family. Just tell your DH you are not comfortable with that. 

post #18 of 35

 

Quote:
Very simple and clear. I also talked to her about secrets. That birthdays and presents are good secrets, but touching is not a good secret.

We've talked about secrets and surprises. So things like birthday presents we are keeping something a surprise for someone but we do intend to tell them when it's the right time. So far it's been a pretty good distinction between good and bad secrets.

 

Recently we've been doing a lot of talk about not giving out personal info online and how people can pretend to be anyone. The kids have recently joined an online game where they can make friends with others and chat to them. It opened up a lot of discussions.

post #19 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by MittensKittens View Post





I love Gavin de Becker's books too, although most of the things he writes in Protecting the Gift and The Gift of Fear are very obvious. The most powerful thing he does is giving us "permission" to act on our intuition, and pointing out that it can save our lives and keep our kids safe. 


 I agree with the bolded. 

post #20 of 35

I didn't read the replys but my DD1 was sexually abused by her second cousin when she was 3/4yo. She waited yrs to tell me about it even though from the age of 2ish I had talked with her about how no one should touch you and you can always tell mommy I will never be mad at you ect. In the end it didn't help and it was a trusted family member who molested her. When this took place the family was really close and we were together every week/other week. I don't know what to tell you. She knew no one was suppose to touch her in her privates but he talked her into it/scared her off telling me about it. 

 

With my younger 2 I still tell them the same things I told DD1 but I don't feel they are old enough to understand what happened to her. She has been through therapy and we still have issues that come up because of it. It makes me so mad. It will forever effect her. : ( I no longer trust people at all. Even family. I have had people I had "bad feelings" about and knew I didn't trust them alone with DD but what was one of the hardest things for me was that my mommy radar never went off for this guy. He confessed but is not on the registry because they don't feel he is at risk to reoffend. Makes me mad. Anyways. Thats me story.

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