By Darian Towner, Family Preservation Coordinator
Summer has quickly come to an end, and fall is rapidly approaching. With children back in school, the requests for sleepovers or long days away from home with new friends are likely to increase.
Darkness to Light (d2l.org), a nonprofit committed to empowering adults to prevent child sexual abuse, promotes five simple and practical steps that are essential to keeping children safe; they’re also important to consider before allowing children to stay lengthy amounts of time away or overnight away from family.
The first step is learning the facts surrounding child sexual abuse. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 93 percent of child sexual perpetrators are known to the victim. The Administration for Children & Families reported that in Fiscal Year 2016 alone, Child Protective Services agencies substantiated or found strong evidence that 57,329 children were victims of sexual abuse. Being knowledgeable and having an accurate understanding of the widespread problem of child sexual abuse is vital in prevention; once you’re aware the problem exists and aware of the scope of the problem, then you can make better decisions in regards to your child’s safety.
Next is to minimize the opportunity for child sexual abuse to occur. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice confirm that as many as 40 percent of sexually abused youth are abused by older or more powerful children. Teaching children to limit one-on-one interactions with adults, older youth and even youth of similar ages can proactively protect children and reduce the risk of sexual abuse occurring. It is also important to model the behavior yourself as well, and limit your amount of time alone with youth. In addition, establishing boundaries for children on the Internet specifically is important. Ensuring children are aware of the dangers that strangers can pose on social media or through phone applications can protect children as well.
The third concept to understand is that communication is powerful; talking to children about their bodies, boundaries and safe touch is necessary. Open communication between children and adults creates a positive and healthy foundation for youth. By teaching a child to trust their “gut” anytime a situation or individual causes them to feel uncomfortable, you’re teaching them to remove themselves from a potentially unsafe situation in the future. Children who are sexually abused often keep it as a secret, but if a child has an understanding of boundaries and knows they can openly discuss uncomfortable topics with loved ones, they are more likely to disclose abuse at an earlier time.
Fourth, it is important to recognize the signs a child may exhibit if they have been sexually abused. While children respond in a variety of ways, there are several signs that can indicate abuse has occurred. Emotional and behavioral signals in children are more often seen than physical, including unforeseen withdrawal and depression, unexplained anger or rebellion, or uncharacteristically rigid and perfectionist behaviors. In addition, using language or behavior that is sexual and far from age-appropriate can be a signal that sexual abuse has occurred. If there are concerns of child sexual abuse, there are exams, screenings and interviews that can be conducted by professionals.
Lastly, it is imperative to react responsibly if you have concerns a child has been sexually abused. If a child bravely discloses to you that something has happened to them, it’s important to not overreact or victim-blame the child by asking accusatory questions, no matter the circumstance. Instead, offer support and encouragement — believe first. Immediately report the discovery of abuse to law enforcement and the local department of human services or a tribe’s Indian Child Welfare department.
While programs like FireLodge Children & Family Services fight to end problems impacting our society such as child sexual abuse, recent statistics prove this is an ongoing issue in our state and throughout our country. Since we know the problem is real and impacting our little ones, focusing on prevention can be key to keeping children safe and healthy. We challenge you today to focus on at least one of the steps above with the youth in your life.
If you know of a child who is experiencing abuse or neglect of any kind, contact the OKDHS hotline at any time at the following number: 1-800-522-3511. If your family has experienced child abuse or neglect or you might be at risk, please contact Family Preservation at 405-878-4831 or visit us on Facebook @CPNFirelodge to learn more about our program.