DISCLAIMER: The following is not medical or legal advice. Anyone reading this article who suspects that either they or someone they know is or has been the victim of sexual assault, abuse or harassment should immediately consult a physician, an attorney, and, depending on the circumstances, the police.
Children are among those most vulnerable to sexual harassment or abuse. According to the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health website Kidsdata.org, approximately 9.4% of children in California have experienced sexual abuse in 2018.
Experiencing sexual assault at such a young age can be damaging to their emotional and mental health. As parents, we don’t want our children to become victims. Reduce the risk of harm by keeping yourself informed.
Protecting children from sexual harassment
Here’s what you can do as a parent to protect your child:
Raise awareness about sexual abuse
Sexual abuse and harassment is an uncomfortable but necessary topic for conversation. To bring up the matter with children in a discreet and age-appropriate way, parents can start by talking about body parts. Use the proper names for body parts (not nicknames) so they can be more comfortable with these terms.
As you slowly ease toward the main topic, discuss inappropriate behavior. You can contextualize this difficult conversation by providing examples from mass media (e.g., movies, social media, TV, etc.)
Educating your child about sexual abuse and harassment isn’t a one-way conversation. Allow them to express how they feel about this sensitive topic. You can do so by giving them open-ended questions. This will encourage them to ask their own questions and get clarified on certain aspects that may be confusing to them.
Be involved in the child’s daily life
Parents can’t always be around to protect their children 24/7. The next best thing is to know everything you can about their day-to-day routine. Ask your child about the adults they interact with like teachers, caregivers, coaches, and friends’ parents.
Set aside time every day to have a chat with your child. A simple daily update will help them feel more comfortable in sharing what happened to them during the day. It also provides much-needed peace of mind for the parents.
Help your child set personal boundaries
The best way to protect children from sexual harassment and abuse is by teaching them the concept of boundaries. Parents should let their child know that they have total control over their body and thus, they can say no to people who make them uncomfortable. Likewise, teach your children to respect other people’s bodies and to be mindful of their boundaries.
Encourage your child to speak out
Children need to know that they have a safe space to voice their concerns. A common tactic used by perpetrators is emotional blackmail. They put this pressure on their victims to keep them quiet.
Reassure your child that they can talk to you about their problems without getting in trouble. Let them know that their safety and wellbeing are your forefront concerns. This will give your child the courage they need to speak out if there’s something wrong.
Teach them better online habits
Parents should be aware of what their children do online, as well. It is usually impossible to monitor every aspect of your child’s online interactions. However, providing rules and explaining the dangers of talking to strangers on the internet can help. This is especially true for children in their early teens.
There are also software apps, products, and consultants who can help you to better protect your child from online sexual predators. Simply typing “best parental control apps and devices” on Google will lead you to several apps and devices to choose from to help you better protect your minor child with the help of digital technology.
Signs of sexual abuse in children
Proper information and open communication between parent and child are not enough. Parents have to be vigilant and alert in detecting the warning signs of child sexual abuse. Said warning signs may include:
- Extreme change in personality;
- Fear of being alone with certain people;
- Reluctance to change clothes or remove clothes to bathe;
- Regression to outgrown behavior (e.g. thumb sucking or bedwetting); and
- Bringing up the topic of sex or anything related to it.
Every child reacts to trauma differently. It’s up to the parents to be observant and to secure their child’s safety.
Note that this is not medical advice. If you suspect that you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual abuse or sexual harassment, you should immediately consult a physician, a lawyer, and – depending on the circumstances – the police.
Take action against sexual harassment and sexual abuse
California has recently updated some of its sexual harassment laws, including strengthening sexual harassment in the workplace laws and expanding the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse. Victims of childhood sexual abuse can file a lawsuit for up to five years from the discovery of the abuse or until they’re 40 years old.
Taking a case to court is a difficult experience for everyone involved, but it is a necessary step to getting justice and making sure no one else falls victim to the same abuser. It might also encourage others who have been victimized to come forward and tell their story.
If you or someone you know experienced sexual abuse as a child, don’t hesitate to contact Hogue & Belong for a free consultation about the victim’s rights. Hiring a sexual assault attorney to discuss your options is a wise first step in the right direction toward redressing past sexual abuse, assault, or harassment.