We’ve all seen the made-for-TV movies and read horrific accounts in our local paper. We know that children are abused across the world daily, and we pray that our families will never have to feel the devastating effects of this malignance. However, all too often we adopt the idea that “it can’t happen to me,” assuming that because we are of a certain social status or we couldn’t possibly know someone so heinous, that we are safe; our children are safe. While that is true for some people, thousands of families across Missouri likely wish they had a different mentality before their worlds were turned upside down.
As parents, we want to protect our kids from the world’s dangers, many of which we can see and warn against. If only it were as simple as showing a picture of a villain and saying, “Stay away from this person!” Many predators, however, move easily among us, preying on anyone they deem vulnerable with silence being their greatest weapon. It is in the dark that these deeds flourish, and hopefully with a little light, we can illuminate some ways to help minimize the risks to our children.
The American Psychology Association has a broad cache of tips and information for parents and caregivers that should be given great consideration by all those who have or plan to have children. Knowledge and acknowledgement is the first step to fighting this scourge.
In honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, we’ve included a few topics from the APA site below that we felt were particularly pertinent for our readers from the section “Child sexual abuse: What parents should know.” We encourage you to view it in its entirety at www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/child-sexual-abuse.aspx. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also provides an amazing resource at www.childwelfare.gov/preventing/preventionmonth/index.cfm.
APA Guide for Parents
What steps can parents/caregivers take to prevent and minimize risk for sexual abuse?
Teach your children:
- Basic sexual education—a health professional can provide basic sexual education to your children if you feel uncomfortable doing so;
- That sexual advances from adults are wrong;
- To communicate openly—children should feel free to ask questions and talk about their experiences. Make it clear that they should feel free to report abuse to you or any other trusted adult. If you’re concerned about possible sexual abuse, ask questions;
- The difference between good secrets (those that are not kept secret for long) and bad secrets (those that must stay secret forever);
- The difference between “okay” and “not okay” touches;
- Accurate names for their private parts and how to take care of them (i.e., bathing, wiping after bathroom use) so they don’t have to rely on adults or older children for help;
- That adults and older children never need help with their own private parts; and
- That they can make decisions about their own bodies and say “no” when they do not want to be touched or do not want to touch others (even refusing to give hugs).
Make sure that you know your child’s friends and their families. If you feel uneasy about leaving your child with someone, don’t do it.
What should parents/caregivers do if they suspect abuse?
- Give the child a safe environment in which to talk to you or another trusted adult.
- Encourage the child to talk about the abuse, but be careful to not suggest events that may not have occurred.
- Guard against displaying emotions that would influence the child’s telling of the information. Listen, stay calm, and remain supportive of the child with words and gestures.
- Reassure the child that he or she did nothing wrong.
- Seek assistance for the child from a psychologist or other licensed mental health provider.
- Arrange for a medical examination for the child. Select a medical provider who has experience in examining children and identifying sexual and physical trauma. It may be necessary to explain to the child the difference between a medical examination and the abuse incident.
- Many states require that individuals who know or suspect that a child has been sexually abused must report the abuse to local law enforcement or child protection officials.
- In all 50 states, medical personnel, mental health professionals, teachers and law enforcement personnel are required by law to report suspected abuse.
- Ask for help! There are a number of organizations focused on providing assistance to families dealing with child abuse.
Who becomes a CASA volunteer?
Source: www.casaswmo.org A Court Appointed Special Advocate is a specially trained citizen appointed by the Juvenile Court judge to represent a child victim in cases of abuse and neglect. If you have 10 – 12 hours per month to devote to changing the lives of others and are willing to undergo the necessary training, you are needed. In Greene County alone, there are approximately 900 children active in the Juvenile Court because of abuse and/or neglect. Here are a few other qualifications of a CASA volunteer:
- No special skills are required—only the desire and commitment to make a difference. Advocates must be at least 21 years old and are asked for a minimum commitment of two years to ensure stability and consistency for the children CASA serves.
- Volunteers range in age from 23 to 80 years old. More than 60 percent of our Advocates are working professionals.
- The primary requirements for being a CASA volunteer are that you have a genuine interest in the well being of children, are a proactive communicator and successfully complete our thorough screening and training course. CASA volunteers are objective, responsible, committed and persistent, and understand the important role they have in a child’s life.
- Both men and women are needed as volunteers and volunteers with culturally-diverse backgrounds are welcome.
For more information on becoming a volunteer or making a donation, go to the CASA of Southwest Missouri site at www.casaswmo.org.
Myths about Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse occurs only among strangers. If children stay away from strangers, they will not be sexually abused. Fact: National statistics indicate that in approximately 88 percent of the cases, the offender is known to the victim. He/she is usually a relative, family member, family friend, baby-sitter or older friend of the child.
Children provoke sexual abuse by their seductive behavior. Fact: Seductive behavior is not the cause. Responsibility for the act lies with the offender. Sexual abuse sexually exploits a child not developmentally capable of understanding or resisting and/or who may be psychologically or socially dependent on the offender.
The majority of child sexual abuse victims tell someone about the abuse. Fact: According to a study by Dr. David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center and well-known researcher of abuses against children, close to 66 percent of all child victims may not tell their parents or anyone else because they fear being blamed, punished or not believed.
Men and women sexually abuse children equally. Fact: Men are offenders 94 percent of the time in cases of child sexual abuse. Men sexually abuse both male and female children. Seventy-five percent of male offenders are married or have consenting sexual relationships. Only about 4 percent of same-sex abuse involves homosexual perpetrators; 96 percent of the perpetrators are heterosexual.
If the children did not want it, they could say, “Stop!” Fact: Children generally do not question the behavior of adults, having been taught to obey them. They are coerced by bribes, threats and use of a position of authority.
All sexual abuse victims are girls. Fact: Studies on child sexual abuse indicate one in three females under the age of 18 and one in four males under the age of 18 are child sexual abuse victims.
Family sexual abuse is an isolated, one-time incident. Fact: Studies indicate that most child sexual abuse continues for at least two years before it is reported. And in most cases, it doesn’t stop until it’s reported.
In family sexual abuse, the “non-offending” parent always knows. Fact: While some “non-offending” parents know and even support the offender’s actions, many, because of their lack of awareness, may suspect something is wrong, but are unclear as to what it is or what to do.
Family sexual abuse only happens in low-income families. Fact: Family sexual abuse crosses all classes of society. There is no race, social or economic class that is immune to family sexual abuse. Incest is estimated to occur in 14 percent of all families. Up to 25 percent of American children are incest victims.
Non-violent sexual behavior between a child and adult is not damaging to the child. Fact: Nearly all victims will experience confusion, shame, guilt, anger and a poor self-image. Child sexual abuse can result in long-term relationship problems and be perpetuated from generation to generation. Dr. Nicholas Groth, who has worked extensively with sexual offenders, reports that 60 percent of convicted sexual offenders have reported histories of child sexual abuse victimization. For more information on topics involving child abuse, visit Springfield’s Child Advocacy Center’s site at www.childadvocacycenter.org.