Did you know there are 161 registered sex offenders in Wood County? The ratio of residents to sex offenders in Parkersburg is 264 to 1. Because this month’s issue is about healthy and safe kids, I think this is a great time to learn about how to discuss sexual abuse with your children and how to protect children against sexual abuse.
First, rather than worrying so much about “stranger danger,” we need to be aware of the people familiar with our children. In 85% of reported cases of sexual abuse, the abuser is a relative, close family friend or an adult the child knows and trusts. Contrary to popular belief, false reports by children RARELY occur. Research on the incidence of false reporting of child sexual abuse now shows that between 2 and 10% of all cases are false. The majority of false reports come from adults. Under age 5, false reports by children are 2%, under age 15 the false report rate is about 5%. This means that when a child tells you they have been sexually abused, you better believe them!
Child sexual abuse is any sexual act with a child by someone who is older and/or more powerful. It involves forcing, tricking, bribing, threatening or pressuring a child into sexual activity. The abuse can be physical, verbal or emotional. More specifically, it can include any of the following; sexual touching and fondling of a child’s sexual body parts, forcing a child to touch another person’s sexual body parts, exposing a child to one’s sexual body parts in a sexual way, exposing children to adult sexual activity or pornographic material, forcing (or allowing) a child to undress, pose or perform in a sexual manner, or attempted or actual oral, anal, or vaginal penetration. In most courts of law, children under 16 are deemed “incapable of consent” in sexual interactions with an adult. In legal realms, there is also a “three-year rule” in sexual activity between minors. Children engaging in sexual contact that have three years difference in age constitutes sexual abuse, with the older child considered the offender.
Conservative estimates suggest that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 10 boys are sexually abused before age 18. Fewer than 5% of children tell anyone they are being abused. Recent FBI statistics estimate there are enough sex offenders for one to live in every square mile of the United States. Of these estimated sex offenders, only 3% are actually arrested for their crimes. The average sex offender has molested over a dozen children before they are arrested. Given this information, two things are imperative; 1) children need to be educated about sexual abuse, and 2) the burden of safety should rest with adults, not the children.
Cory Jewell Jensen, a nationally recognized expert on child sexual abuse, gives some very helpful tips on how to talk with your children about sexual abuse. First, she suggests that you often talk openly with your child about sexual development and behavior, including sexual abuse. Go over the definition of sexual abuse given above. As you talk about sexual development, try to use proper names for body parts, and refer to sexual parts as “private” and “special.” Avoid attaching shame to the child’s sexual body parts by labeling them as “bad.” If a child thinks that certain areas of their body are bad or taboo, how likely do you think they’ll tell anyone if they are sexually touched?
Once you believe your child knows what sexual abuse is, tell them that if anyone does anything similar to sexual abuse, talks to them about sex, walks in on them while in the bathroom, or anything that makes them feel “weird” they should tell you or another adult as soon as possible. Talk to your children about secrets, and that some people try to trick or threaten children into keeping sexual touching a secret. Tell your children that such secrets aren’t kept in your family. In the event that your child is exposed to sexual abuse, instruct them to yell, escape, fight back, demand to be left alone, say you will tell, or say “no touching private parts.” Parents should have such “safety talks” at least twice a year with their children.
As parents and caregivers, it is important that you don’t just give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t overestimate your ability to judge someone else’s character. Ms. Jensen, an expert in sex offender treatment, reports her ability to pick out sex offenders is “about 50/50.” It is important that you know your neighbors, your children’s friends and their parents, and basically all adults who come into repeated contact with your children. For more information, visit http://www.cacecm.org/understanding%20%26%20protecting%20your%20children.pdf.