Frequently Asked Questions About Abuse
Child Abuse Prevention Tips
Find a support network for yourself to help you manage and ease the stress of raising children.
No one should be expected to handle the challenges of raising children alone. Finding a support network of friends, neighbors, family members or community professionals is a great way to learn new parenting skills, ask questions, and find an adult outlet. Building a support network will help to minimize the stress and frustrations that come with being a parent and will help to minimize those moments when you are “at your wits end”.If a child tells you they have been abused, believe them. Thank them for telling you and call for help.
The first reaction that a child hears after disclosing abuse is the most impactful on their healing. If a child discloses abuse to you, do not ask specific questions regarding the abuse incident. Call First Witness Child Abuse Resource Center and speak with an advocate who can help you to decide how to move forward.The most important thing you can do with children in your life is to make sure they feel comfortable talking to you. This will help to encourage them to tell you if someone is hurting or scaring them.
Build a culture within your family of open communication. Allow your children to ask questions about their bodies and about sexuality. When children understand that their thoughts and concerns will listened to with calm, patience, and care they are more likely to come forward if they are being hurt.
When speaking to your child(ren) about safety, remember that children are most often abused by a family member or people known to the family. “Stranger danger” should not be your only focus.
Remember that in cases of child sexual abuse the one thing that an abuser needs to have is access to your child. That access is gained through a trusting relationship with the child’s parent. Statistically, we know that in approximately 93% of child sexual abuse cases the abuser is known to the family and the child. When we concentrate only on teaching “stranger danger” we miss the most important risk to young children. Children should be taught that no one should touch their private body parts unless they are keeping them clean, safe and healthy… even parents, doctors and other relatives.Learn about ways adults manipulate and “groom” children in order to abuse them.
Abusers and perpetrators of abuse systematically gain trust and access to children by a process called “grooming”. Grooming includes breaking down a child’s defenses, reassuring the child’s family and the community that they are trustworthy and upstanding, and gradually eroding the child’s boundaries through inappropriate escalation of physical contact. An abuser may try to engage a child in secrecy and manipulate the child to maintain secrecy. All children should know that no one should ask them to keep a secret about touches to their body!Don’t be afraid to take a “parent time out” if you feel like you may hurt your child.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need a break from your children. All parents feel the occasional frustration of having to raise kiddos. Build a network of parents that can help with your children if you need a break. The better able we are to deal with the stress of parenting the less likely we are to “fly off the handle” and hurt our children.
Educate other family members about the guidelines you have set up for your children regarding their body and privacy.
Let other family members know that your children can have the option of a handshake, hug or high five when he or she greets them. We teach our children that it is okay to say no to adults about touches they get on their bodies. It is important that when children say no to a kiss hello from a relative that their choice is respected. One way to approach your family regarding this is to elicit their help ahead of time. A quick call to grandma or grandpa to let them know that your child will choose how to greet them will help. You can explain that by teaching your children that they have a choice about touches they get on their bodies, and by being able to say “no” to adults about body touches we are helping to keep them safe. First Witness can help you find the best way to speak to your family about personal body safety.
Learn who to report child abuse disclosures to in your community.
When a child discloses to you that they are being physically or sexually abused it is important that we as adults know who to contact for help. If a child is in immediate danger, call 911! If a report needs to be made to a child protection agency First Witness can help you to figure out whom to call and can help you to make a report. In Duluth, child protection reports are made to the Initial Intervention Unit at (218) 726-2012.
Place your computer in a public space in your home so that you can keep an eye on your child(ren)s internet usage.
The internet can be a great source of information for our children, however it is important to remember that the internet can offer some risks. It can be easy for our children to accidently find inappropriate materials on the internet. By having the computer in a public space you can monitor your child(ren)’s exposure to materials on the web. Even though the risk may be greater for your children when they get older, setting the standard early on regarding computer usage (in a public place) will help to lessen risks later. For more information regarding internet safety and children, contact First Witness Child Abuse Resource Center.
Speak up when you see inappropriate behavior between adults and children.
Abuse is encouraged and enabled by silence. It is imperative that protective adults speak up when we see interactions that are concerning. We tend to ignore our instincts when we see adults we know interact with our children in ways that we don’t like. We don’t want to upset or offend anyone. If we speak up we let the child and the adult know that we are paying attention.
Educate yourself on alternatives to physical discipline.
To learn more about alternatives to physical discipline visit the website of The Center for Effective Discipline at www.stophitting.org
Encourage your child(ren) to trust their instincts about unsafe situations. If a situation feels unsafe or risky, trust that it is and give them ways to get out.
We as adults make judgment calls everyday based on our instincts or a “gut” feeling. It is important to listen and act on those “gut” feelings if we feel like an adult may be unsafe around our children. Most often those who sexually abuse the children in our lives are those adults that are known to us and our children. It can be very easy to talk ourselves out of “gut” feelings because we don’t want to think poorly of family, friends and acquaintances. Ignoring our instincts puts our children at risk. When we speak to children about safe and unsafe touches we talk about the “icky” feeling that kids get when they are in unsafe situations. Encourage your children to speak up about those “icky” feelings, take these statements seriously and then help your children to make a plan so that they can feel safer in their interactions. First Witness Advocates can help you and your children to listen to instincts and make a plan for safety.Teach children not to give out their email address or phone number while using the internet.
Internet usage is increasing pervasive in the lives of our children. While the internet can provide a wealth of knowledge, it can also be a very dangerous avenue for those who harm children. Your children should know not to post personal information on the web. This should include any contact information. Many internet perpetrators will lie about their age to entice children into trusting them and then persuade them into giving out personal information. Your child(ren) should never give out their email, phone number or other personal information to anyone on the internet.Teach child(ren) that no one should ask them to keep secrets about body touches and that all secret touches are unsafe touches.
There is no reason that any one should ever ask your child to keep a secret about touches on their body. Even when touches are seemingly innocent, no one should keep secrets about touches. Tell your children to tell you if someone asks them to keep a secret about personal body touches. Telling children to keep secrets about touches builds a relationship that can seem “special” based on the implied “intimacy” that a secret can bring. This false sense of a “special” relationship can be confusing to children and can make them confused as to whether they are safe or not. All “secret” touches are unsafe!Get to know the important adults in your child(ren)'s life. i.e. teachers, coaches, group leaders and daycare providers.
By forming relationships and getting to know the adults in your child’s life you are telling those adults that you are involved and interested in what is happening between them and your children. This awareness that parents are involved will help to keep your children safe.Children should know that no one should touch their private body parts unless they are keeping them clean, safe, and healthy.
Rather than teach children that only certain people (mom, dad, grandma, doctor) can touch their private body parts, we teach about when touches are safe. Touches to the private parts are only safe if the person touching them is helping to keep them clean, safe or healthy. We teach children that even in these “clean, safe, and healthy” situations, if they feel confused or “icky” about a touch, they should tell an adult. It is an adult’s job to help kids figure out if a touch is safe or unsafe!
Allow your child(ren) to decide how to say hello and goodbye to family and friends. If your child(ren) doesn’t want to hug or kiss, offer handshakes or high fives.
By allowing your young children to decide how to greet others we are instilling in them control over touches they give and get from others. Children need to understand that they get to decide about touches to their personal bodies. By being respected in choosing how they greet others, children learn that it is okay for them to speak up and say “no” about touches they receive or give to others. This can help diminish the risk of future abuse. It is especially important that children understand that they can say “no” to adults regarding personal body touches.
It is normal for children to ask questions about their body. When a child has questions, be calm, receptive, and encourage them to continue coming to you in the future.
One of the most important things that you as a parent can do is to create a relationship of open communication with your child regarding their body and their sexuality. When we respond to children’s questions or actions with shame or anger we teach, through our actions and words, that we don’t discuss such things. By responding in a calm manner we enforce that we as parents are open to hearing your concerns about your body and your sexuality. This encourages and reassures your child that if something of concern happens to them, they can come to you for help. We tell children that the best way to make unsafe touches stop is to “tell, tell, tell”. By encouraging open communication we are teaching children that we will listen, believe, and help to keep them safe.
Let your child(ren) set boundaries for their body and respect these boundaries. If your child(ren) doesn’t like tickles or back rubs, teach them it is okay to say no to these touches from anyone including adults.
Helping your children set personal body boundaries will help them to identify that they have control over touches they get on their body. By beginning with seemingly innocent touches like tickles or backrubs, we are reinforcing general respect for other personal space as well as respect for our own personal space. One tactic of sexual offenders is to begin touching children in seemingly innocent ways to slowly break down a child’s boundaries. This is called “Grooming”. Understanding that they can say “no” to adults even about non-sexual touches can help to protect children.
Children are vulnerable to abuse because they rely on adults for care. As parents or caring adults we can’t protect children from everything. However, we can come together to educate ourselves on effective prevention.
You can educate yourself on the real risks of sexual abuse. You can begin to learn about appropriate sexual development in children so that you can recognize inappropriate sexual behaviors that may indicate abuse. You can learn about how to speak to your children about “safe and “unsafe” touch. You can learn how to speak to others about respecting your child’s personal body boundaries. You can also learn about how offenders “groom” victims so that you can understand what to watch for with the adults in your child’s life. First Witness offers education on all of these topics.Help your children to identify 5 trusted adults to whom they can turn for help. Include adults at school, in the neighborhood or in your faith community.
We know that the best way to end an abuse situation is for adults to protect children. At First Witness we teach children to “tell, tell, tell” if someone gives them an unsafe touch. You can help your children to identify adults they can go to if they need help. It is important that children identify more than just you as a parent. They are not always around you, and sometimes children do not disclose to a parent because they have been told that they will get in trouble.