As parent, we should know how to talk to children about sexual abuse and must speak to out children about this issue urgently.
It is easy to read about child sexual abuse in the newspapers but extremely difficult to imagine finding ourselves in that situation. I know for a fact that teachers do not talk about these issues with young children. But as parents, we need to speak to our children about this issue urgently. Shouldn't every child be equipped with knowledge about the "Appropriate Touch & Inappropriate Touch" by the parents?
What is Appropriate & Inappropriate touch exactly?
Firstly, it's important to understand why I use the term "Appropriate & Inappropriate" instead of the conventional "Good & Bad" term.
Children associate the term "bad touch" to hitting someone or something that causes pain. Many types of sexual touch are not painful and may even 'feel good' to the child. The child can get confused with these 'good feeling touches'. They may misunderstand these "bad touches" to be "the good touches".
To make a child understand the term "Appropriate" you can give examples like pat on the back, ruffling of the hair, a high five or a simple hand shake. "Inappropriate" means any kind of touch that makes you feel unsafe, confused and leaves you uneasy. Anyone touching your private body parts is inappropriate. Touches that are told to be kept secret are also inappropriate.
It's important to be aware that such cases may happen to anybody (refer to the 5 myths below). Even a mere acceptance of this fact may lead you to be better prepared to safeguard your child against such instances.
STEP 1: RID YOURSELF OF ALL MYTHS ON CSA
Truth: About 50% adults report receiving some form of sex abuse as kids. Abuse almost always starts with inappropriate talk and touch before progressing to worse things.
Myth 2: CSA happens only in slums
Truth: Though children from lower socio-economic class are more vulnerable to CSA, it is by no means exclusive to that group. Kids from all levels of society are affected.
Myth 3: CSA happens only with girls
Truth: In our country we assume that since we have a son we do not need to worry about this issue. But the fact is, till age of 12, boys and girls are equally affected. Boys are victims of such sexual abuses too.
Myth 4: Abusers are social misfits and easily identifiable
Truth: There is no definite way of identifying an abuser from looks alone. Many abusers are family men with children and respectable professions like doctors, priests, teachers, etc.
Myth 5: Abusers are always strangers to the kids
Truth: This is one of the most dangerous myths. 70% of abusers are directly related to the child. They are family members. Another 20% are well known to the family and have free access to kids, e.g. family friends, teachers, neighbors, etc.
STEP 2: EMPOWER YOUR CHILDREN
Teach your children the following before teaching them specific Touch Safety Rules.
1. Correct names of ALL body parts.
Children often find it hard to talk about sexual abuse because they don't know the words to use. Learning correct (anatomical) words for private body parts gives children the words to use and helps them know that it is okay to talk about those body parts. When the person hears a child saying, "I will tell my mummy that you are touching my vulva / penis", the person will be alerted. He will know that this child will go and report. Most of the abusers look for quiet / shy children.
2. Teach children that "It is THEIR body, and this body is very beautiful and useful."
Let your children know that they will decide who touches them and how. Many a times we see, our relatives ask for hugs and kisses from a child and if our child decides not to give it, we force them to do so just so that our "relative" should not feel offended. We have to give our kids the power to decide. This teaches children that it's okay to say no to touches from people in their family and others they know. Tell relatives that you are teaching your children to be bosses of their own bodies as part of teaching them touch safety rules, so they are not offended.
3. Explain to your child "The Private Parts".
Explain to your child that these private parts are very sensitive to touch and one can get hurt if touched wrongly. So we have to take extra care of them. Tell them "These are the parts of the body that are private: LIPS, CHEST, BUMS, or your VULVA / PENIS".
STEP 3: INFORM YOUR CHILDREN
1. No one can touch your private body parts and you cannot touch anyone else's.
2. No one should be allowed to touch his or her own private body parts in front of you.
3. No one should ask you to touch his or her private body parts.
4. It is not ok for someone to ask you to take your clothes off.
5. It is not ok for someone to take photos or videos of you with your clothes off.
6. A doctor / nurse can touch your private parts if they have to examine you but only in the presence of a trusted adult. A maid at school / home who parents have approved or grandparents can wash your bum if parents are not around.
7. It is not okay for someone to show you photos or videos of people without their clothes on.
8. You c166an decide who can touch you, who can kiss you, or who can give you a hug. You have the right to say, "No."
STEP 4: TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO DEFEND THEMSELVES
1. Teach your children to - Point their index finger, look into the abuser's eyes and firmly say "DON'T TOUCH MY CHEST" (use the name of the body part they are touching inappropriately).
2. RUN! Do not wait to have any further conversation. Run to the person who you trust. If at school, then the teacher; else whoever is the nearest and the most trust worthy person.
3. In case the abuser does not let you run, SCREAM! Scream your lungs out. Someone close by will hear you and come to help.
4. Do not try to physically challenge the adult. They are bigger and stronger than you.
5. The most important thing you will do is "TELL YOUR PARENTS" about the incident.
6. People, who do wrong things, are the ones who don't want anyone to know. Whenever a person touches you and asks you to keep it a secret between the two of you, you should say "I DON'T WANT TO PLAY SECRET GAMES" and just move away. Report to a trusted adult immediately.
STEP 5: SUPPORT YOUR CHILD
1. Keep Calm. Do not panic. You might scare the child even more.
2. Believe the child. A child would not lie about something like an abuse.
3. Listen to the child patiently & completely.
4. Ask questions and get details.
5. Never blame the child.
6. Don't pressurize the child to talk.
7. Answer the child's questions honestly.
8. Respect the child's privacy by not telling other people.
9. Give positive messages "I know you could not help it" or "I am proud of you for telling"
10. Report the abuse.
11. Don't confront the offender in child's presence.
12. Arrange a medical examination.
13. Get professional help.
Remember, disclosure is difficult for children. It takes guts to speak about sexual abuse. Be patient and supportive. It is extremely important to keep the channel of communication open and have a good constant rapport with the child.
I strongly suggest that in today's times when incidents of sexual abuse are rampant in society, we as parents build bridges with our children, in spite of our very busy schedules! As our children grow, we must encourage them to share their daily experiences with us, even the smallest ones. Once this closeness and bond is created with the parent, it would be that much easier for the child not only to share his/her moments of happiness and joy, but also instances of physical abuse, being bullied or times of uncertainty and fright. This will encourage the child to speak openly about any kind of Inappropriate Touch they may have come across.
Unless we can shed the cobwebs of hesitation from our attitude, we cannot be open with our children. As parents, we cannot protect our child from every eventuality. But we can give them the power of awareness and also the confidence that no matter what, they can come to us, and we will be there for them.
To read our complete series on Child Sexual Abuse, click below:
What must you know about Child Sexual Abuse, All you need to know about the Ill effects of Child Sexual Abuse, How to protect your child him/herself from Child Sexual Abuse, How to find out if your child has been sexually abused?