Conversations I've had with parents who are concerned about protecting their kids from sexual abuse often revolve around the newest iPhone app for tracking sexual offenders. But it is more likely for a child to be abused by someone close to them than by a sexual offender off the street.
What can you do to protect your child? Here are three steps:
1. Be aware of your child’s environment and the patterns of others.
- Know the families of their friends. Get to know their babysitters, daycare workers, after school friends, and children’s ministry leaders. Know what is going on in their friendships. If you don't already, get to know any relatives who spend a lot of time with your kids.
- Be aware of the patterns of others. Be wary of individuals who are more interested in child than adult relationships. Be wary of anyone who singles out one particular child.
2. Talk with your children about what is appropriate.
Respond openly to your kids' questions in age-appropriate ways ("No one should touch you in a place that you swimming suit covers"), and use natural teaching moments. It may also be helpful to use a book that has been designed for parents and children to talk about sex such as Stan and Brenna Jones’ God’s Design for Sex series. Here are the touching rules that should be covered:
- Children must be taught the difference between “good touch” and “bad touch.” Discuss this in the context of teaching your children about safety: “Don’t play with matches. Look both ways when you cross the street. Don’t let anyone touch a part of your body that your bathing suit covers except to keep you clean and healthy.”
- If someone touches inappropriately, children should know to say “No!,” get away, and tell a grown up
- Most importantly, children should know that there are no secrets about touching. “We never keep secrets about touching.”
3. Know the signs of abuse.
Be aware of sudden changes in behavior such as avoiding certain individuals and inappropriate and advanced sexual play. Familiarize yourself with this Protecting Kids from Abuse and Neglect checklist for churches as well. The definitions and counsel here apply beyond our church walls. Finally, If you do suspect that abuse has taken place, remain calm, comfort your child, and seek help immediately. You should call Child Protective Services and someone safe who is part of your church community right away.
Source: What Do I Say Now? How to Help Protect Your Child from Sexual Abuse (Seattle, WA: Committee for Children, 2001). DVD.