Protect Your Kid From Sexual Exploitation & Abuse
It’s the big elephant in the room of parenting topics: child sexual exploitation and abuse. The worst form of violence against children, it’s no surprise parents have difficulty addressing it. The statistics are so horrifying, we don’t want to believe them.
Child sexual exploitation and abuse statistics:
- Approximately 1 in 53 boys and 1 in 9 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18, according to the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sex Offenses and Offenders (1997).
- 93 percent of children who are victims of abuse know their abuser, according to government reports.
- 60 percent of child victims are sexually abused by someone a family trusts.
- Nearly 40 percent of child victims are abused by older or more powerful children.
Most abuse gets carried out either by family members or people whom children or families know.
So what exactly can parents do to protect their children?
As an essential safeguard to your child in your family and your community, here is the advice experts offer:
Talk to your kids about sex, early and often.
Talking to your kids about their body, anatomy and sex can be daunting. However, children at a very young age have curious minds and are questioned about what they see around them.
Start when kids are young enough to name their body parts and teach them proper anatomical terms.
When naming the genitals for kids with a biologically male body, we use the terms penis and testicles or scrotum. Technically, the testicles are the inside part (they feel like a peeled boiled egg), and the scrotum is the skin or sac on the outside that holds them. Learn more by reading our book "Yoni Magic: The Spectacular Truth" (Ages 3-5+).
When naming the genitals for kids with a female body, we use the terms vulva and vagina. Ideally, we should start off talking about the vulva as the outer part, and the vagina as the inside part. If you want to transform an uncomfortable topic into a world of superheroes and vulva pride, "Yoni Magic: The Amazing Truth" will be your practical and fun guide. (Ages 3-5+).
When kids are younger, start with questions like, “What terms are we going to use?” and “Who gets to see who undressed?” As kids age, the questions change accordingly.
Use as many teachable moments as you can find.
If your child wants to be in a bedroom by themselves, explain it as a matter of privacy versus secrecy, saying: “Privacy means you get to do it by yourself but mommy and daddy know about it. Secrecy means that we don’t know about it, and our family doesn’t do secrecy. Our job is to keep you safe and secrecy is not ok."
Teach kids about arousal (as uncomfortable as that may be).
Arousal might be one of the crucial physiological responses related to sexual abuse that your kids need to know about. Explain why touching certain parts of their body might feel good and who is allowed to touch these parts. (The answer: No one but themselves can touch their mouth, their chest, and their private parts.) And no one can touch any part of their body without their consent, including hugs.
Arousal refers to the physiological and psychological changes that occur in response to sexual stimuli. But, one of the things that make kids so vulnerable to being exploited is when you have a skilled molester, they go out of their way to make sure their victims experience arousal, which feels good. And when kids equate arousal with love, they are sitting ducks for bad guys.
Ultimately, kids need to know from an early age that they have agency over their bodies. That means parents should never insist that kids kiss or hug people, whether it’s an aunt or uncle at Thanksgiving or the charming babysitter.
My Little Yoni has devoted an entire book to this important topic. Check out our book for girls, Yoni Magic: What's the 'M' Word? (ages 5-8+).xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Your kids are never too old to talk about sex & sexual abuse
If you feel like you “missed the boat” continuing to talk to teens about sex, it's not too late.
Nearly 40 percent of kids are abused by older children. Child sexual abuse has grown from 40 to 50 percent in the last 10 years, according to research by Darkness to Light. (The younger child in this scenario is in the 10-year-old age range.)
Many of these incidents are related to pornographic content online. Kids are getting access to pornographic [online] content more than ever. Without sex education, or safe, trustable adults to talk to, they don’t know how to react to the content they’ve seen. They might test out what they’ve seen with a younger, accessible child. A cycle of trauma begins that could be prevented with regular, earlier conversations and teaching our children proper consent, boundaries, anatomy and encouraging them to have honest conversations with the trusted adults in their lives.
As much as we’d like to put our kids in a bubble, and pretend they won’t be exposed to explicit content, it’s not possible.
As parents, it is our responsibility to provide honest and correct answers to our kids because giving them false information will keep them unsafe and ignorant. But, more importantly, you’re opening the door for open conversations or questions that they may have about their bodies and sexuality as they grow up.
Each conversation is an opportunity to build trust between you and your kid, to establish you as a trustable adult that they can come to for support.
Know that 'stranger danger' is mostly a myth.
We have grown up with ‘stranger danger’ being forced down our throats, referring to the idea that kids should avoid strangers to be safe from predatory activity.
The reality: 90 percent of people who are abused are abused by people who they know and trust.
People who abuse children look and act just like everyone else. They go out of their way to appear trustworthy and seek out settings where they can gain easy access to children.
Know the 3-words to say if a child tells you of abuse.
If your kid, or any kid you know, comes to you with a potential disclosure of being a sex abuse victim, there is only one thing to say: “I believe you.”
Those three words alone start a conversation off the right way. Don’t interrogate them. There are professionals who know how to properly ask questions and gather an accurate story. Making a child relive that trauma is not helpful to you and especially not good for the child.
A response should be all about thanking a child for being brave enough to tell you about their experience and making them feel safe and heard. The amount of courage it takes to break silence and speak up is heroic and the first step to healing.
Thank you for learning more about an extremely difficult topic and taking the steps to prevent abuse and break the cycles of silence and shame that perpetuate it. All children deserve respect, protection and safety.