It’s time to Talk to Your Child about Body Safety
By Ariel Pertosoff, School-Based Mental Health Therapist at Gulf Gate Elementary
Sexual abuse among children occurs at an alarming rate within the U.S. A recent study conducted by the Crimes Against Children Research Center determined that 1 in every 5 girls and 1 in every 20 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse. While movies often portray these traumatic events as being perpetrated by a stranger, among the cases reported to law enforcement, 93 percent of victims say they knew the perpetrator. While this might be shocking to some parents, there are ways you can help prevent sexual abuse from occurring.
Talk to your child about body safety. Teaching body safety is such an important lesson for children to learn and has been proven to help in the prevention of child sexual abuse. While it’s sometimes an uncomfortable topic for parents, it’s a conversation that shouldn’t be avoided. (It is important to note that sexual abuse does not only include rape, but also includes exposing children to pornographic material, obscene text messages, and fondling). For books and resources on how to get the conversation started, click here.
Teach your child proper names for their private parts. Children and adults often feel embarrassed by using the proper and scientific names for their genitalia. This is something that can be normalized if parents are willing to use the term “vagina” or “penis” with the same indifference they’d use if they were referring to their nose or elbows. Teaching your child the proper names of their body parts is crucial for their ability to effectively communicate if abuse does occur.
Discuss the concept of consent. While it may seem like too complex of a concept for children, consent should be discussed as early as possible. Children need to know that THEY are in charge of their bodies. This means that children should never be forced to sit on grandpa’s lap, kiss Aunt Suzie, or even hug Uncle Bill. It is important that we model consent for our children. This can be done by starting to ask your child, “Jenny, before we leave grandpa’s house would you like to give grandpa a hug, high five, or would you prefer to just say goodbye?” Empowering your child to make decisions regarding their own body early on sets the foundation for future conversations. Additionally, it is important to teach our children to respect the boundaries of others. Teaching them to listen when others say “no” is just as important.
These are just a few examples of ways to teach your child about body safety in order to help prevent the risk of sexual abuse. For further information and additional ways to help prevent child sexual abuse please visit https://www.rainn.org/or contact your local Child Advocacy Center.