This is tragic news and highlights the fact that sexual abuse of children is highly underreported in the U.S. One reason for this underreporting is that it is difficult to talk about—both for the child and for the parent. We seem to be ill-equipped to handle what is clearly a big problem—and in some cases, an epidemic—in our society.
Because of this, I want to spend some time today educating parents on preventative measures they can take to protect their child, warning signs to look for in your child, and what to do if you suspect your child has been abused.
Preventive measures every parent can take.
These may sound extreme, but your kids are worth it. To help keep your child safe from abusers, put the following boundaries in place:
- No sleepovers for kids of any age. Abuse occurs in all ages of boys and girls.
- Know who your kids are with at all times and make sure you know their friends’ parents very well. You may know the parents, but does that parent have a boyfriend, girlfriend or others over while your child is there? I’ve heard many kids say they were abused at a friend’s house, so it’s important to know who is at the house at all times.
- If your child is on a travel team for sports, be alert and again, know the chaperone very well. Remember, you can never pinpoint an abuser.
- No pornography in the home, on screens or anywhere.
- Teach your child from a very early age that his or her body is beautiful and worth protecting. That’s why they keep their private areas covered.
What to look for in your child if you suspect abuse.
If you suspect your child has been abused, they may display any of the following signs:
- Withdrawal from family.
- Anxiety or depression, particularly around adults who are the same sex as the abuser.
- Fear of going to certain places.
- Sudden change in the type of clothes they wear or shows they watch. Many who have been abused, particularly boys, will gravitate toward pornography.
What to do if you suspect abuse.
If you have seen any of the above signs in your child, and suspect your child may have been abused, do the following:
- Tell your child you are concerned because he isn’t acting like himself.
- Tell your child you are taking her to the doctor and make an appointment.
- Let your doctor know ahead of time what you are concerned about so that he or she can look for signs as well.
- Then, ask your doctor for a counselor in your area who works with child abuse survivors. Don’t expect that counselor to discuss the abuse right away with your child. Kids aren’t comfortable discussing this abuse, so the counselor will want to be cautious. This could take time, but that’s OK. As long as that person can help your child build trust, help with side effects of abuse and get your child on his way to healing, counseling is definitely recommended.
Parents, we already know it’s a scary world out there for our kids, but stories like the abuse allegations in the Boy Scouts organization reminds us that we must be diligent in protecting our children, proactive against abusers and educated about the signs of abuse and what to do if it happens.
You are not powerless even if it feels like it. Don’t let this news story cripple you with fear. Let it inspire you to educate yourself, be aware and remember how precious the life of a child really is.