Dr. Renee Clauselle, a practicing child psychologist with a private practice in Franklin Square, New York, and Director of School Mental Health Services at St. John’s University, says parents must work with their children to teach them how they can protect themselves from sexual abuse through constant communication and role-playing.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the abusers are not strangers, but by people children know. They may be family members, people in the community or friends of the family. Only 10% of the abusers are strangers.
According to Darkness To Light (www.darkness2light.org), an organization dedicated to ending the sexual abuse of children, one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. Thirty to 40 percent of the victims are abused by a family member, another 50% are abused by someone outside the family who they know and trust, and approximately 40% are abused by older or larger children whom they know.
“Many in the public have responded to these accusations of child sexual abuse with disbelief, surprise, denial and, of course, sadness and/or anger,” Dr. Clauselle said. “While we all should be angry about sexual abuse and the predators that engage in it, we should not be surprised that the offenders are trusted members of our communities and/or families.”
What parents should do, Dr. Clauselle suggests, is have a talk with their children about their body and who is allowed to see it or touch it. They should also discuss with their children about their feelings and to trust their gut when they feel something is wrong. Rather than trying to validate or normalize the child’s feelings, parents should listen to what their child is saying, let the child express their feelings and take a proactive approach to solving the problem.
Parents should teach their children the proper terminology of their private parts, since predators try to confuse children by using nicknames to describe a child’s private parts. Further, Dr. Clauselle suggests that parents teach their children what constitutes a “good touch” (hugs and kisses from family members and relatives, handshakes and hugs from friends) and what constitutes “bad touch” (touching of the private areas).
“Let your children know that some touching, like tickling, could start off feeling good, but it can turn bad if it touches one of the private areas. Even if it feels good, if it is in a private part, it is a bad touch,” Dr Clauselle said. “Also explain that, if something feels weird, it probably is and they should remove themselves from the situation or call an adult.”
The most preventative measure parents should take is to role-play with their children, in which the parent pretends to be the predator who is a member of the family or community, Dr. Clauselle said. “As you do this, you will see your child’s expression change as they think to themselves, ‘That person would never do bad touch,’” she said. “The internal dialogue and internal conflict your child experiences when pretending that a community leader engaged in ‘bad touch’ is exactly the type of dialogue you want your child to have prior to any sort of abuse happening.”
The last thing parents should tell their children are that there are no secrets in the household. “Parents should explain to their children that it is their job to protect them and they cannot do their job without all the information,” Dr. Clauselle said. “Predators will influence children not to tell their parents. Parents should explain to their children that they should tell them everything and not be afraid.”