A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds according to Childhelp. This statistic is alarming for anyone, let alone parents. Luckily, there are things you can do right now to help prevent child abuse:
1. Ask Questions
Do you know where your child is spending their time? Who they are with? When they are playing with friends? Do you ask how their day was? What their fears and hopes are? By asking questions you open a line of communication with your child. This helps improve your relationship, but also leads your child to be more open to communication if abuse does occur.
It's also important to let your child ask questions about abuse. Answer in a child appropriate way. Joan Cole Duffell, Executive Director of the nonprofit Committee for Children, says: "The best way to protect children from sexual abuse is to bring it out of the shadows. If we can break the taboo of talking about it, we will take away the offenders' best defense: secrecy." Make sure you and your child feel comfortable talking about all sorts of topics to help protect your child against abuse.
Too often parents listen with the intent to reply. Instead, try listening with the intent to understand. If your child is talking to you, drop everything else and make listening a priority. A 2014 survey showed that "a majority of kids (62 percent) say their parents are distracted when they are trying to talk to them." Put down your phone and pay attention to what your children are sharing with you. As a parent, if you are listening, you may be able to catch signs of potential abuse before it happens.
3. Educate your child and yourself
The facts of child abuse can seem overwhelming but it is imperative that you and your child understand the dangers and the help that is out there. Children should be taught about abuse in an age appropriate way.
With younger children, talking about touch is a good starting point. Talk about unwanted and uncomfortable touches. By explaining that there places that are and aren't appropriate to be touched by anyone, your child can determine what is right and wrong. Remember to distinguish that "bad" touches can feel good and that a "bad" touch is not determined by the way it feels but by what the child has been taught is wrong.
With both younger and older children it is appropriate to talk what tricks an abuser may use. Older children will benefit from learning about their bodies, warning signs and how to defend themselves in a bad situation. With all children, make it clear you can be approached and that they can be open with you about anything.
4. Instill safe boundaries
Make your expectations clear with your children. Teach them about healthy friendships with peers and adults. Help them understand the consequences of sneaking around and the importance of a curfew. Trust your instincts and encourage them to trust theirs. Teach assertiveness and allow your children to say "no" when appropriate.
It is important to be aware that a seemingly innocent situation can turn abusive quickly. An abuser tends to gain trust of the child and their family before victimizing a child. Let your child know that group settings are usually more safe then one-on-one situations. This does not mean abuse can't happen in groups so continue to be aware and attentive.
As a parent, do your part to monitor your child's technology and internet use. Even toddlers have access to tablets and devices, so you must be diligent even when they are young. Even in safe situations, it's important parents and child remain aware.
Abuse can happen even if you take all the correct steps. If abuse does occur, report it to local law enforcement by calling 911, The National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or by reaching out to a local victim advocate. There is help and there is hope. If you have any suspicion of child abuse, notify your local police department. Together we can make a safer environment for our children.