Child Sexual Abuse: How Do We Keep Our Children Safe?

Part 1 – Child Sexual Abuse.

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month.

Child Abuse sexual victimisation rates are estimated in New Zealand as 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys. A horrific statistic that does not reflect the many cases that go unreported. Most cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by someone the child knows or is related to the child.

As a parent, caregiver or concerned adult what can we do?

Here are some signs to look for to protect your child, as well as what to do if you suspect they are experiencing sexual abuse or are at risk of being abused.

Encourage open conversations
The best weapon any caregiver has for protecting their child is to encourage ongoing open conversations about personal safety from a young age. Helping a child build their knowledge of personal safety is a form of primary prevention of child sexual abuse.

This is not okay.

This might include parents teaching their children the correct names for their genitalia, creating a shared language around warning signs, and basic rules regarding personal safety. Having these open conversations early on will build the child’s knowledge and may encourage the child to be more open about uncomfortable experiences they may have.

Why children may not tell
There are several reasons why children might not disclose abuse immediately. These include feelings of self-blame, embarrassment, shame, powerlessness or fear of the perpetrator.

Safe to Talk NZ – call, text, email or live chat
Call: 0800 044 334
Text: 4334
Email: support@safetotalk.nz
Safe to Talk is a 24/7 Sexual Harm Health-line. Confidential and Free.

Some children may simply not know how to talk about the abuse. The likelihood of non-disclosure may be extremely difficult for the child when the perpetrator is a family member or known to the family. Here, the child might feel conflicted, as they want the abuse to stop but they fear the consequences of disclosure such as family separation or distress. Grooming dynamics also shed light on why children may not disclose. Grooming is where a perpetrator intentionally manipulates child using psychological pressure, tangible incentives (such as toys and money) and attention.

Once abuse occurs, the child’s silence may be maintained by the perpetrator suggesting the child will not be believed about the abuse, using threats and blame or trying to convince the child it’s just a playful game.

What are some of the warning signs of sexual abuse?

While children may not disclose sexual abuse, they may show some of the possible signs. This may include one or more as follows:

  • Significant changes in behaviour (such as reverting to soiling or bed wetting, a decline in school performance).
  • Sexual behaviour or knowledge about sex that is beyond the child’s age.
  • Sudden fears or fear of being with a specific person.
  • Unexplained change in emotional state.
  • Becoming unusually secretive.
  • Pain in the genital or anal area.

But be alert not alarmed – these are possible indicators, not tell-tale signs. Just because an older child wets the bed does not mean they are (or have been) the victim of sexual abuse.

While children show curiosity and a range of behaviours while growing up, the take home message is to be alert to changes in emotions and behaviour that seem completely out of character for your child.

What do I do if I suspect my child is being sexually abused?

If you are concerned about a child, ask questions like “is anything worrying you?”, “are you OK?” and “is there anything you would like me to do to support you?”.
When a child disclose’s sexual abuse it may be intentional or non-intentional, complete or incomplete, verbal or non-verbal. The child may draw a picture or use toys to explain where they may have been touched.

If a child discloses to you that they are being sexually abused, give the child your undivided attention. Believing the child is critical to the child’s psychological well-being. Allow the child to use their own words and to take their time. Please assure the child that they have done nothing wrong. It is important the child feels safe and supported.

You can report the incident to police or child protection. These individuals are specifically trained professionals in questioning children. Even without a disclosure, you can report your concerns.

Safe to Talk NZ – call, text, email or live chat
Call: 0800 044 334
Text: 4334
Email: support@safetotalk.nz
Safe to Talk is a 24/7 Sexual Harm Health-line. Confidential and Free.

Child Matters
www.childmatters.org.nz

Barnardos
0800 22 76 27 367
www.barnardos.org.nz

Family Works
www.familyworks.org.nz

– Karrin Coates
Waikato Victim Advisor of SSGT


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