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Preventing sexual abuse on children

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Cases of sexual abuse on children are increasing at an alarming rate in our society today. Some of these cases came about as a result of negligence on the part of the parents; that is why some of the following tips will put parents on their toes and help prevent as well as reduce the scourge.

As parents, we don’t have to scare the children in order to keep them safe. Teaching them the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching will go a long way in protecting them from harmful people.
As early as age three, children should understand that some parts of their body are private and that it’s not okay for just anyone to touch them.

You can start by explaining how certain parts of their body, those covered by a swimsuit, are private. No one should touch them there except for mommy and daddy (or primary caregiver) when they’re being cleaned and the doctor too, but only if mom or dad is there in the room. Don’t go into a whole rhetoric of “some people are bad and do things that hurt kids” explanation; just focus on appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.

We need to think beyond “stranger danger” syndrome. Instructing your child never to talk to strangers is good advice, but the truth is, 80 to 90 percent of abuse is committed not by strangers but by someone the child knows well and possibly loves.

“Abduction is a lesser concern”

According to Char Rivette, executive director of the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Centre, “Abduction is a lesser concern; you have to worry more about who your child spends time with on daily basis.”

Don’t keep secrets

Sex abusers almost always manipulate the children they molest through secrets. They’ll tell kids, “this is our secret. You can’t tell anybody, else you’ll die.” Remind your child frequently that no adult should ever ask him or her to keep secrets, and that includes you. “If you keep a secret with your child, it confuses the message that it’s not okay for other grown-ups to do,” says Rivette.

Believe your child
Establish a relationship of faith and trust with your kids. If you’re constantly questioning what they say, they may be more reluctant to tell you if something has happened to them. When you’re talking about inappropriate touching, let them know explicitly that you will believe them and that you will never be mad.

Warning signs and risk factors for abuse

You can’t drive yourself crazy being suspicious of every adult that comes into contact with your child, but since abuse often follows the same pattern, there are some warning signs you should be familiar with.

Know what to look for

No one wants to be suspicious of their own friends and family members. But you don’t have to be if you’re familiar with the most common red flags of a pedophile:

– Prefers spending most of his or her time with children over peers

– Allows children to do things that their parents don’t allow

– Makes fun of children’s body parts or describes children with sexual words such as “sexy”

– Seems obsessed with the sexual activities of teens and kids

– Has put themselves in a position of dealing with children (coach, teacher, counselor, etc.), in addition to other troubling signs

Be suspicious if your child is singled out as ‘special’

It’s always flattering when a teacher, coach, or counsellor recognises all the wonderful qualities your child possesses and seems to favour him or her over other kids. But this can be a major warning sign. “Perpetrators groom kids by singling them out and making them feel special,” said Rivette. True professionals are not so transparent about preferences.

Be extremely wary of one-on-one time

Once a paedophile has singled out a particular child, the next step is getting that child alone. The perpetrator may suggest private tutoring time, one-on-one tennis lessons, or even strolling out together or going shopping. As excited as your child may be, don’t allow this private time.

Many child sex abusers prey on the kids of single mothers, who may be more anxious for a male figure in their lives (and 95 percent of all perpetrators are male). These men also take advantage of the fact that a single mother likely has less time and less help, and may welcome someone who offers to babysit or help out.

Don’t take sleepovers lightly

As parents, we’re used to making sleepover plans with our kids’ friends’ families on the fly. But Rivette warns that we shouldn’t be so casual when it comes to where our children spend the night. “Don’t allow a sleepover unless you know the family well and have been to their home many times. Ask exactly who will be there and what they will be doing and if anything strikes you as odd, then trust your instinct.”
Evaluating a Program for Safety
How can you make sure that sports team or after-school club you’re signing your kid up for has done everything it can to weed out potential abusers?

Ask about background checks
Most schools and youth organizations conduct criminal background checks, but they may not screen for child abuse and neglect. Encourage them to do so. (And even if the school/program says they screened everyone, ask if they checked fingerprints.) Also, you should ask: do employees receive training in child-abuse prevention?

Meet everyone who will be working with your child
Often, we’ll meet the head of a school, but not the possibly dozens of other teachers and instructors who will be with your child on a daily basis. Make it a point to ask the headteacher to introduce you to all of the employees.

If you suspect abuse
We hope you never have to have this conversation, but if you have a bad feeling that your child might have been abused, there are steps you should take.

Ask questions
To encourage your child to talk, simple, open-ended queries such as “What’s the best thing about going to Sam’s house?” or “What’s the worst thing about going to his house?” help open up discussion, says an expert. You can also preface a conversation with something that gives the child some freedom. For example, you might say, “I remember once I did something that I thought my Dad and Mom would be upset about, so I didn’t want to tell them. But I finally did tell them and it was okay. Has anything like that happened to you?”

Look for changes in your child
Signs that something might be going on:
– Sexual behavior that is way beyond their years, a 4-year-old imitating sexual humping, for example, or using R-rated words for body parts that they’ve never used before.
– Regressive behaviour (acting much younger than they are)
– Increased dependency on non-abusing adults
– Withdrawal and isolation from others
– Increased aggressiveness or hostility
– Sudden fear of the dark
– Frequent nightmares
– Changes in sleep (either insomnia or increased sleeping)
Act quickly when you suspect something is wrong; contact the appropriate authorities that have the legal backing to handle such case.

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