How can I protect my child from sexual abuse?

Excellent question! Protecting our young children from bad experiences of any kind is critical to their future health and potential. In addition to the excellent answer already published by Ian Kerner, I would like to add two comments.

First, the most frequent sexual abusers of children are people known to them, like dad, mom, uncle, aunt, brother, sister, cousin. So pick out a 'trusted adult' carefully. Child abusers are not easily identified as such. If they were, children wouldn't have to protect themselves.

Second, it may not be possible to protect your child 100% and still give them the opportunities to explore their world enough to grow, flourish and be confident in themselves. There needs to be a balance between protection and positive social experiences. On occasion, this may lead to your protection being ineffective. No parent can be blamed for not protecting their child against absolutely every eventuality. Taking reasonable precautions is the best you can do to achieve that balance so your child can grow and not be stunted by unnecessary fear.

Ian Kerner, PhD
Sexual Health

Sexual abuse is a very real threat to our children -- both girls and boys. While states have sex offender registries to raise awareness and provide information to concerned families, parents still need to educate their kids and arm them with tools to recognize when they are in unsafe situations.

When children are young, the best defense is teaching kids the difference between "good" touch and "bad" touch. Plenty of children's books cover this topic; parents can use them to start the conversation, explaining to their child which body parts are private. This can be a particularly rich time for parents to try using correct words for genitals, and convey their feelings and values related to touching, sexuality and boundaries. Children need to know when and how to say "No!" and to run away if someone touches them in a way that makes them feel funny or uncomfortable, and tell a trusted adult.

It can help to talk to your children and, together, identify trusted adults or safe places that they can go for help. Most important, kids need to know if someone does this to them, it is not their fault.

For older kids, sexual harassment and assault should also be discussed. They need to know the fine line between flirting and harassment, tips for reducing the risk for abusive encounters, how to communicate about sexual choices and feelings, and what to do if they or someone they know is abused, harassed or assaulted.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.