Preventing child sexual abuse: Conversation is key
By Erin Rook, El Hispanic News
Portland, OR — Woodburn residents are still reeling from the Aug. 13 arrest of Rev. Ángel Armando Pérez, the priest at St. Luke Catholic Cathedral. Many are wondering how someone so trusted and respected could commit the crime he is accused of — chasing a 12-year-old boy down the street in his underwear after giving him alcohol and touching his “privates.”
Whether or not Father Ángel is guilty, the reality is that strangers pose less of a threat to children than those who are closest to them. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 93 percent of juveniles who are sexually abused know the perpetrator. In about one-third of cases, the offender is a family member.
At least one in four girls and one in six boys will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Some researchers believe the prevalence of abuse could be higher than 30 percent.
While it is disturbing to realize that every adult probably knows a victim (and probably a perpetrator) of child sexual abuse, parents are not powerless in the face of abuse. The most powerful tool parents have is conversation.
Talk about it
Talking about staying safe in neutral kid-friendly terms helps children maintain healthy boundaries and empowers them to seek support from trusted adults.
“It is never too early to have conversations with your children letting them know that it is not ok for others to touch them in a way that hurts them or makes them uncomfortable,” says Jennifer Marsh, vice president of victim services for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). “Start early [as young as 2] by talking to your kids and letting them know that they can always come to you when a classmate, teacher, coach, family member, etc. has touched them or made them feel uncomfortable.”
Child sexual abuse prevention organization Stop It Now suggests framing the conversation in term of “rules” rather than talking about “predators.” For example: “Say, ‘Some people need help if they can’t remember the rules for how to behave around kids.’”
Violating those rules might include such behaviors as hugging, touching, kissing, tickling, wrestling with, or holding a child who does not want this kind of contact, the organization explains. Essentially, anything that makes a child feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
The organization also suggests posing scenarios and asking children how they would respond. For example, asking what they would do if an adult wanted to show them naked pictures or the babysitter walked into the bathroom without knocking.
While you can’t always predict which adults may pose a threat to a child (and they are often the people you least expect), there are behaviors that may reflect an unhealthy relationship.
“If an adult seems to pay extra attention to your child, or your child dislikes being around a particular person — these are some warning signs,” Marsh says. “Another red flag is if your child begins to receive gifts from an adult that seem over the top or there is really no reason they should be receiving a gift.”
Offenders often gain a child’s trust gradually, offering gifts or grown-up privileges (such as R-rated movies or alcohol) to establish a relationship built on “special secrets” that appeals to a child’s fascination with adult life while being taboo enough to discourage mentioning it to parents.
“People who abuse kids often first build a relationship with the child. They may ‘test’ the child to see how the child reacts to different situations. For example, the adult may put their arm around a kid then move to hugging them or asking them to sit on their lap,” Stop It Now says.
This kind of calculated manipulation can dissuade children from talking about the abuse, making it especially important to pay attention to changes in a child’s behavior or attitude.
“Perpetrators are incredibly adept at controlling or manipulating their victims,” Marsh says. “Some of these tactics include threats of violence against the victim or their loved ones, gifts that, if accepted by the victim, convince the victim that they wanted or deserved what happened, or they tell the victim that no one would ever believe them.”
Keeping an eye out for changes in your child’s behavior can alert you to sexual abuse. Signs can include withdrawing from activities, wetting the bed, a change in appetite, or knowing things about sex they shouldn’t.
Listen and believe
If a child tells you they have been sexually abused, listen to their story (or encourage them to draw or write about it) but don’t challenge it.
“A parent’s reaction when a child discloses is one of the most important factors in determining how a child recovers from abuse,” Marsh says. “It is imperative that parents believe their children. It is ok to ask questions of your child, just be careful to use words that the child will not perceive as blaming or critical of their role in the abuse. Nothing a child, or adult, does can ever justify being hurt or violated.”
Marsh adds that children may describe the abuse using the playful sounding language of the abuse, such as “tickling” or “fooling around” and to not be afraid to ask the child what part of their body was touched.
Even if the child is accusing someone you trust and would never expect to be an abuser, it’s important for them to know you are on their side.
“It is so important to believe and support a child who discloses that they have been abused or hurt by an adult or another child,” Marsh says. “The support that a child does or does not receive when they are young can dictate the long-term effects of their trauma.”
Report and support
Whether you are acting on suspicion, or a child has disclosed abuse to you, what do you do with that information once you have it?
While some professionals are required by law to report information pertaining to possible child sexual abuse, anyone can call their local child welfare office or 911 to report a threat to the safety of a child. If you aren’t sure who to call, contact ChildHelp at 800-422-4453 for assistance.
To access support resources for yourself or a child, call The National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-HOPE) or visit online.rainn.org to access local counseling, medical and legal advocacy, and support for families. Oregon also has a group dedicated to supporting survivors of sexual abuse, Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service, at www.oaasisoregon.org. For more tips and resources visit www.stopitnow.org.
Este artículo también está disponible en / This post is also available in: Spanish
Short URL: http://www.elhispanicnews.com/?p=4526