By Monica Davis, coordinator, Door County Sexual Assault Center
April is the month that we recognize the victims of sexual assault and child abuse. The statistics are staggering. It is reported that one in seven children, by the time they turn 18 will be sexually abused. However, it should be noted, that number is probably much higher as it is estimated that only 38 percent actually report that they have been abused. It is also estimated that youth ages 12 to 17 have a 2.3 times higher rate of sexual assault than adults. As a parent myself, these are scary statistics that beg the question, how do we keep our children safe from sexual assault and abuse? Knowing the warning signs and the facts help to empower caregivers, parents, professionals and other adults in protecting our children. Here are some tips.
It is often assumed that because a child is with a family member that they are safe. Unfortunately statistics show us that 90 percent of victims know their offender and 30 percent of children who are sexually abused are abused by family members. Sadly, children are often “groomed” by the abuser.
One way to protect children from sexual assault is to be aware of what grooming is and noticing that it is going on. Some of the red flags that a parent, caregiver or guardian may notice are: paying special attention to a particular child – including giving gifts, isolating a child from others, filling a child’s unmet needs or role of an absent family member, treating the child as if he or she is older and gradually crossing physical boundaries. Often secrecy, blame and threats are used to maintain control of the child.
Another suggestion for helping to prevent sexual assault is by teaching children the correct names of their body parts, including their private areas. By doing so there will be no misunderstanding if a child has to articulate to an adult where they are hurting or have been touched.
On that same note, teaching a child that the only reason anyone should be touching someone’s private areas is to keep them “clean and healthy.” To help young children understand what’s appropriate, a parent or guardian can give them clear examples. A few examples are: it’s okay for a mom to help change a baby’s diaper because it is to help keep the baby clean, and allowing the doctor to give you a shot in your private area is okay because that keeps you healthy.
It can be very difficult for a child to have this conversation with an adult. Children often will “test the water” so to speak to see how their parent or guardian may react if they told them. It is usually very difficult for children to tell, so if it looks like the child has something to share, allow them to lead the conversation and wait until they are ready to share. If the child does disclose sexual abuse or assault you should report this immediately to the Department of Human Services or Law Enforcement.
Some of the visible signs of sexual assault could be, sores on the gentiles or mouth, unexplained bruising on thighs and arms, foul odor, STI’s, frequent urinary tract infections, discomfort when walking, difficulty using the restroom or accidents, blood and or discharge not consistent with normal health. If you know an assault has just occurred and the child is in need of immediate attention Door County Ministry Hospital now is offering Sexual Assault Nurse Exams and treatment. For more information on keeping children safe from sexual assault or support services please contact the Door County Sexual Assault Center.
This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Teams and the Door County Elder and Adult-at-Risk Interdisciplinary Team.