As adults, it is hard for some of us to talk comfortably and candid about our own bodies. Our private parts are a part of our body just as head, shoulders, knees and toes are. There is no shame in our body parts. We feel embarrassed with nervous giggles and sometimes ashamed because it’s not something we openly talk about. If we don’t challenge ourselves with these insecurities and be proud of our body as a whole, someone else will teach your child about their body. How we respond to our own, will indicate how our children respond to theirs.
This next topic I am going to discuss is not a pretty one. In fact, it is a parent’s worst nightmare and a community’s worst fear: Child Sexual Abuse. Sexual abuse comes in many different forms that range from touching, non-touching and exploitation. Sexual abuse robs trust, safety, and love from an innocent child. This abuse creates feelings of guilt and awakens self-abusing behavior. No child ever asks to be touched, fondled or even exposed to sexual deviance. It is important to note that children cannot legally consent to sexual acts; they are just children. Therefore, it is completely the responsibility of the adult to make sure proper measures are taken to create a loving and safe environment for their children. Right now, I want to focus on preventative steps and how to help you have a positive and uplifting conversation with your child about their body.
LEARN THE FACTS: First, being immigrants from another country does not protect us from this heinous crime from happening right under our noses. Second, having faith and being religious does not repel people from touching your child in places where they should not be touched. Here are some statistics and relevance of child sexual abuse and as Arab-Americans, we are not exempt from these statistics. Every child is at risk, no matter what religion or nationality.
- 1 in 5 children are solicited sexually while on the internet.
- Nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) occur to children ages 17 and under.
- The median age for reported child abuse is 9 years old.
- 85% of child abuse victims never report their abuse.
- Nearly 50% of all victims of forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, and forcible fondling are children under 12.
- More than 90% of abusers are people children know, love and trust.
- 30-40% of victims are abused by a family member.
- 50% are abused by someone outside of the family whom they know and trust.
MINIMIZE OPPORTUNITY: More than 80% incidents occur when children are in isolated, one-on-one situations with adults or other youth. Supervise, supervise, supervise! It is critical to provide adequate supervision for your children and only leave them in the care of individuals whom you deem safe.
TALK ABOUT IT: One of the best protections against sexual abuse is our relationship with children. Have open conversations with your children about body safety, sex and boundaries.
- Teaching our children that their body belongs to them assures them that they are in control and it is okay to say “no”. For example, if your child does not feel comfortable giving someone a hug or kiss, they can give them a high five or shake their hand instead.
- Have your children name to you 5 adults that they trust. If they ever feel worried, scared or unsure, these are the people that are in their “safety circle”.
- Private parts are private. No one is allowed to touch their private parts; no one can ask them to touch their private parts; no one should show them pictures of private parts. And if any of these things happen – they need to tell one of their trusted adults in their “safety circle”.
- Teach your children the correct names of their body parts (vagina/penis). This allows your child to clearly communicate if anyone has touched or showed them their private parts.
RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS: The most common symptoms of child sexual abuse are emotional or behavioral changes.
- Children ages 2-9 may exhibit: fear of particular people, places or activities, regression to earlier behaviors such as bed wetting or stranger anxiety, victimization of others, excessive masturbation, feelings of shame or guilt, nightmares or sleep disturbances, withdrawal from family or friends, fear of attack recurring and eating disturbances.
- Older children and adolescents may exhibit: depression, nightmares or sleep disturbances, poor school performance, promiscuity, substance abuse, aggression, running away from home, fear of attack recurring, eating disturbances, early pregnancy or marriage, suicidal gestures, anger about being forced into situation beyond one’s control and pseudo-mature behaviors.
REACT RESPONSIBLY: Understand how to respond to suspicious or reports of child sexual abuse. Remember, very few reports are false and when a child discloses, believe and support them.
After reading all of the statistics and information about child sexual abuse you probably feel knots in your stomach and you feel nauseated from the fact that this might actually happen to your child. This is how you should feel. Child sexual abuse does happen. You are your child’s protector and teacher, and by taking these steps, you are ensuring that your child experiences a world full of trust, love and respect of boundaries. Having healthy boundaries in childhood will allow your child to flourish into adulthood. It is never too late (or too early) to start a discussion with your children to teach them about their body and learning to say “no”.
**Please contact my office at 313.427.8388 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for additional questions or inquiries.