We talk a lot about preventing child sexual abuse. We talk about the adverse consequences that happen when children are sexually abused. But do we talk enough about how to stop it? Probably not. So, how do we stop child sexual abuse? First, we can learn the facts. The more we know about child sexual abuse, and the more we talk about it, the less enshrouded in darkness it is. Perpetrators count on our silence. They count on our children’s innocence, and shame. Bringing sexual abuse out of the shadows and into the light shatters the silence that perpetrators count on.
We have to learn what child sexual abuse is before we can stop it.
We hear the words “child sexual abuse” and our minds often jump to images of child prostitution or child pornography. Child sexual abuse occurs if an adult engages in any sexual behavior (looking, showing, or touching) with a child to meet the adult’s interest or sexual needs. The most common childhood sexual abuse cases that involve touching include genital fondling in which the adult manually or orally fondles the child’s genitals or has the child fondle the adult’s genitals. Child sexual abuse includes any act sexual in nature from voyeurism to exhibitionism to fondling to sexual intercourse.
We don’t like to talk about child sexual abuse. It’s “icky” and it makes us uncomfortable. That’s exactly what predators are counting on – the more we shy away from the topic, the stronger their collective hold on the innocence of our children. It is a horrible topic. Not one pleasant thing can be said about this insidious issue, but by not talking about, we perpetuate the fear, the shame, the guilt, and the abuse of our children.
What else can we do? Minimize opportunity. Make sure every encounter with every child is observable and interrupt-able. Easy enough, right? How about using proper terminology for a penis and vagina as well as breasts, and stop using “cute” nicknames for body parts? Having the correct words to identify body parts gives your children the language to own their bodies. Your children undoubtedly know the correct terminology for their arms, their knees, their ears and eyes and everything else but not their private parts. This shows them that our private parts are something to be ashamed about. Is this the lesson we are trying to teach? If so, it does not bode well for safety now or for healthy relationships with their own bodies or sexuality later in life.
Ignoring child sexual abuse won’t make it go away. We’ve tried that approach for centuries. That’s the old way, and it doesn’t work. Today, we know the more we talk about it, the less power we give it, and that makes a brighter future not only for our children, but for all of us.
Editor, Ask Lala