Information For Parents And Guardians
Sexual abuse is a difficult topic to discuss with others, especially children. Conventional wisdom about what to say to children has changed in recent years and may be counterintuitive.
This section contains the latest information about the preventative discussions to have with your young children and teenagers, as well as what to do if you suspect he or she has been sexually abused.
Talking to Your Child if You Suspect That He or She Is Being Sexually Abused
Parents are surrounded by messages about child sexual abuse. Talk shows and TV news warn parents about dangers on the Internet, at school, and at home. However, parents do not get much advice on how to talk to their children if they are concerned that sexual abuse is occurring.
Talk to your child directly.
Pick your time and place carefully!
- Have this conversation somewhere that your child feels comfortable.
- DO NOT ask your child about child abuse in front of the person you think may be abusing the child!
Ask if anyone has been touching your child in ways that do not feel okay or that make him or her feel uncomfortable.
Know that sexual abuse can feel good to the victim, so asking your child if someone is hurting him or her may not get the information that you are looking for.
Follow up on whatever made you concerned. If there was something your child said or did that made you concerned, ask about that.
Ask in a nonjudgmental way, and take care to avoid shaming your child as you ask questions.
- “I” questions can be very helpful. Rather than beginning your conversation by saying, “You (the child) did something/said something that made me worry…,” consider starting your inquiry with the word “I.” For example: “I am concerned because I heard you say that you are not allowed to close the bathroom door.”
- Make sure that your child knows that he or she is not in trouble, and that you are simply trying to gather more information.
Talk with your child about secrets.
- Sometimes abusers will tell children that sexual abuse is a secret just between them. They may ask the child to promise to keep it secret.
- When you talk to your child, talk about times that it is okay not to keep a secret, even if he or she made a promise.
Build a trusting relationship with your child.
Let your child know that it is okay to come to you if someone is making him or her uncomfortable.
- Be sure to follow up on any promises you make—if you tell your child that he or she can talk to you, be sure to make time for him or her when he or she does come to you!
All children should know that it’s okay to say “no” to touches that make them uncomfortable or if someone is touching them in ways that make them uncomfortable and that they should tell a trusted adult as soon as possible.
- Let your child know that you will not get angry at him or her if he or she tells someone “no.” Children are often afraid that they will get into trouble if they tell someone not to touch them.
Teach your child that some parts of his or her body are private.
- Tell your child that if someone tries to touch those private areas or wants to look at them OR if someone tries to show the child his or her own private parts, your child should tell a trusted adult as soon as possible.
- Let your child know that he or she will not be in trouble if he or she tells you about inappropriate touching.
- Make sure to follow through on this if your child does tell you about inappropriate touching! Try not to react with anger towards the child.
If you have reason to be concerned about sexual abuse, there may be other signs of sexual abuse as well. This Website provides a list of warning sign for parents. Additionally, RAINN’s Web site provides a comprehensive list of signs that indicate child sexual abuse. As you talk to your child about sexual abuse, remember to focus on creating a safe place for your child. Even if he or she does not tell you about sexual abuse at the time of the conversation, you are laying a foundation for future conversations.
The U. S. Department of Justice
The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW)