Knowing about sexual abuse helps keep children safe and protects them from it. When adults talk openly with children about sexual abuse, and discuss what the child can do if they are in a threatening situation, then they give the child permission to tell. Many parents feel unsure about how to broach this subject with their children and the following information aims to give some useful tips. Further web resources are also provided below.
SO WHAT DO WE TELL children?
Teach them about their feelings
Children need to be taught to trust their feelings. Talk about what makes them feel safe and happy. Talk about what makes them feel sad, angry or scared. Talk about what that makes their bodies feel like.
Children need to know it is good for them to tell someone they trust if they are scared.
Tell them that if they tell an adult about something bad that is happening to them and the adult does not believe them, they should keep telling until someone does. Tell them that if a person ever tells them they cannot and must not tell mum or dad about what that person does to them - this is wrong. Explain that this is a secret that cannot be kept and they can always come to mum and dad and tell them what is happening to them.
Use the right names
Children are empowered when we use the right names for sexual parts of the body when we are talking to them about sexual safety. Teach them to respect their bodies and their privacy.
Talk to children about the fact that there are parts of their body that belong to them alone and tell them what parts these are. You could refer to them as 'private parts' that are for nobody else to touch. You could say something like, "You know how people like privacy when they use the bathroom? That's because some parts of the body are private and personal."
Children need to know that their bodies are theirs and no-one has the right to touch them in a way that makes them feel scared or uncomfortable. Explain that just as nobody should touch their private parts, neither should the child touch anybody else's private parts.
A common tactic child sexual abusers use to groom a child is to ask or manipulate the child to touch the abuser's body first. Once the child has complied then the abuser coerces the child to let the abuser touch them back. An abuser might even say to the child, "Your parents wouldn't be happy with you if they knew you had touched me. They would be mad at you." They may use this as a way of shaming and controlling the child and preventing the child speaking up. Teaching children that they must say "no way - that's yuck" when someone else asks them to touch their private parts is a good strategy for preventing this commonly used grooming tactic being effective.
Tell the child that if someone ever tries to get the child to touch their private parts the child must say no and later make sure mum or dad hear about this.
Remove the guilt
Abusers commonly use guilt to shame and control the victim. Children need to know that if someone touches them in a sexual way it is not their fault and they should tell someone they trust.
Talk about grown-ups
The truth is that sometimes grown-ups do things that are not alright to children. Telling this to children means they will feel more safe to speak up. You could say something like, "It is wrong if a grown-up touches your private parts or tries to get you to touch theirs. If that ever happens come and tell me so I can help you. I will never be angry at you about something like this - I will help you."
Have a "no-secrets" policy
Surprises are good, but secrets are not. Encourage children to be open and honest with you*.
* Adapted from Commission for Children and Young people: Information Sheets: Child Sexual abuse www.kids.nsw.gov.au
There are a number of good resources for parents and children available online. The following links may help:
'Some secrets should never be kept' - a story book for younger children, read by Debra Byrne