While the facts are staggering and disturbing, the reality is that every one of us can contribute to the solution to this problem! Deliberate choices can help create an environment where child sexual abuse cannot happen. These include:
1. Educate yourself about the problem. It’s important to know who the perpetrators are (they’re not typically “strangers,” but are often trusted family members or friends), how the problem occurs (often in one-adult/one-child situations), and the signs and symptoms that a child has been abused (often there’s a change in behavior, emotional regulation, health, toileting habits, etc.) I encourage you to spend a few minutes at the Darkness to Light web site for more information.
2. Be aware of your surroundings, and let others know that you are informed and deliberate about preventing child sexual abuse. Do you work with children? Do you have—and adhere to—a child safety policy? Do you make sure that people working with your child follow procedures that will ensure the safety of the children in their care? Do you avoid—and help others avoid—situations where a child is left alone with an adult? Do you know the parents and siblings of the children whose homes are open to your child? Do you know who’s at that home when your child is there?
3. Be one of the fewer than 30% of parents who talk to your children about the importance of making choices that will keep them safe. Tell children, “Secrets can be dangerous. It’s best not to keep secrets from adults.” Teach them about their bodies, and that it’s not okay for anyone (even trusted parents, friends, teachers, or siblings) to talk to them or touch them in a sexual way. Teach them not to give out personal information over the Internet, and check up on them through deliberate monitoring.
4. Make yourself available to children, interacting appropriately and safely, watching for signs of problems, listening carefully, and letting them know you respect and believe them when concerns are raised. And know who to contact if you believe that a child—yours or someone else’s—is being or has been abused.
If you have a heart for children who have been abused and neglected, and a few extra hours per week, you might want to do what I’ve done in the past—become a CASA volunteer (Court Appointed Special Advocate). More information is available at http://www.casaforchildren.org. Although this program is specific to The United States, readers in other parts of the world may have additional ways of supporting and advocating for children in your community.
I hope you’ll join me in deliberately protecting our children!