Children learn by what they are taught in the world. They learn by their experiences, for example, if a crying infant’s caregiver responds to their cries by picking them up and soothing them, they learn that they will be taken care of when they cry. If a child is grounded for not cleaning their room, they will learn that there will be consequences for their actions. Children also learn by intentional design, like a caregiver teaching a child how to brush their teeth or a teacher providing instruction on higher math.
If children are not taught something, they aren’t going to know how to respond when they encounter it. Far too often, people who sexually abuse children use this to their advantage. For many of the children we work with, the only “education” they received about sexual abuse came from their offender, who taught them not to tell, or that they would be in trouble if they did tell. So how do we prevent this and deter people who want to hurt our children? According to the sexual abuse prevention organization Darkness To Light (http://www.d2l.org/), adult education is the key to preventing child sexual abuse. Darkness To Light suggests five steps that caregivers can begin to take to protect their children from sexual abuse.
- Learn the Facts. Understanding the facts of child sexual abuse will help adults safeguard their children.
- Minimize Opportunity. Most occurrences of abuse occur in a one on one isolated situation.
- Talk About It. Educate your children (in age appropriate ways) about healthy sexuality and body safety. The Mama Bear Effect, a website aimed to prevent child sexual abuse, has some suggestions here.
- Recognize the Signs and Symptoms. Know what to look for!
- React Responsibly. Do not over react, provide emotional support, and contact law enforcement immediately!
The scary reality is that people who sexually abuse children are good at what they do. It’s up to all of us to protect our children. What can you do to prevent child sexual abuse in your community?