Keep your child safe from sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse is a serious issue that affects the lives of far too many children across Canada. It’s estimated that a staggering 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse[i]. Even more disturbing is the fact that these numbers don’t reflect the 95% of people whose sexual abuse is thought to go unreported.[ii]
In Canada, child sexual abuse is found within most cultures and communities, and affects children of all ages—regardless of ethnicity, socio-economic status, education, or gender. Sadly, no child is completely immune to the risk of sexual abuse.
A child who has been abused may experience a range of behavioural, physical, emotional, and psychological difficulties—and the devastating consequences of abuse can extend well into adulthood. Adult survivors may suffer from depression or drug and alcohol abuse, and are often plagued with overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame and self-blame, among many other long-term effects.
Child sexual abuse can also deeply affect those who are trying to help a loved one recover from an abusive experience. In some cases, it can completely shatter families.
Knowledge is power
The effects of child sexual abuse are significant and far-reaching—both for the victim and those closest to them. So how can we prevent it from happening?
The key to prevention is education. A high-level awareness of the risks simply isn’t enough to stop sexual abuse from happening. It’s important to fully understand the signs and symptoms, common misconceptions, and how to talk openly with your child about sexuality, in order to reduce the risk of sexual abuse for children in your life.
Fact vs. fiction
There are a number of commonly held myths about child sexual abuse, which can be very harmful to a sexually abused child. It’s important to dispel any misconceptions about child abuse so that children feel able to speak out, and so adults don’t overlook the signs and symptoms of abuse.
Here are a few common myths:
False allegations are common
False allegations of sexual abuse by children are actually quite uncommon. A recent, large-scale Canadian study did not find any examples of intentional false allegations.[iii] Children are more likely to take back what they said and insist that the abuse did not happen when it did.
Sexually abused children will grow up to be offenders
Many people believe that sexual abuse is cyclical. In fact, research indicates that few children who are sexually abused go on to sexually abuse other children when they are adults.[iv]
It can be uncomfortable to talk to children about child sexual abuse, but talking openly with children about sexual development and sexual abuse is key to preventing abuse. Not only does it help to foster a supportive and healthy adult-child relationship, but it also creates a safe space where children can bring up problems or concerns, or talk about sexual abuse should it occur.
There are many ways to comfortably and appropriately talk with children about sexual development and child sexual abuse. Specific conversational techniques vary depending on the age of the child and your relationship to them, but a few common guiding principles include:
- Using proper names for body parts and processes
- Explaining the importance of personal boundaries
- Reinforcing that it’s alright to say ‘no’
As children grow, they naturally become more curious about their bodies and the bodies of others. It’s important to take advantage of teachable moments in everyday life to engage in a dialogue about sexuality and sexual abuse.
Keep your eyes open
Many people believe that predatory strangers are most likely to engage in sexually abusive behaviour. But in 95% of cases, a child who has been sexually abused will know their abuser.[v] The chance of it being a stranger is much lower—although still possible.
Abusers can be any age, ethnicity or sexual orientation, and may even be described as friendly, or good with children. Ultimately, abusers often appear and act just like any other person.
It’s important to watch for signs of abusive behaviour in adults. In particular, be on the lookout for indications of grooming, such as excessive physical contact, making frequent sexual references with children present, or displaying favouritism.
You should be particularly cautious when an adult insists on spending one-on-one time with your child. In this instance, you should always question whether or not alone time is necessary. If it is, be proactive in monitoring the situation by ensuring they meet in a public place or in a room with a window, and making it clear that you will be stopping by during their time together.
At all times, it’s important to listen to your child and take notice of any physical, emotional, or behavioural changes. Although such changes do not necessarily mean that a child has been sexually abused, recognizing when a child appears stressed is a critical first step in getting them the support they need—whether or not the stress is due to sexual abuse.
The most important thing you can do to keep your child safe from child sexual abuse is to get educated. To learn more about child sexual abuse and how to prevent it, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
[i] Martin and Silverstone, 2013
[ii] Martin and Silverstone, 2013
[iii] Trocmé and Bala, 2005
[iv] Alexander, 1999; Bonner et al., 1999
[v] Finkelhor, Ormrod, Turner & Hamby, 2005