Nobody ever said parenting was supposed to be easy. Nevertheless, some topics are more difficult to address with children than others.
Recent news reports have highlighted the topic of child sexual abuse. They include allegations of child sexual abuse by a prominent football coach and a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that 1-in-5 women completing a recent telephone survey said they had been sexually assaulted, with more than half of the incidents occurring before age 17.
In response to these troubling reports, the American Academy of Pediatrics is providing parent tips for preventing and identifying child sexual abuse. The full news release is available on the academys website, www.healthychildren.org.
The prevention of child sexual abuse begins at a young age when parents teach their children, in a developmentally appropriate way, about their bodies, sexuality, privacy and distinguishing appropriate from inappropriate physical contact. Children learning the names of body parts should learn the name of genitals as well so they may learn that, while private, these parts are not so private that you cannot talk about them.
Preschool-age children and those in early elementary grades should be taught about the privacy of body parts and the difference between good and bad touching. As children get older, it should be reinforced that there should never be secrets between children and parents, and the child should feel comfortable talking with their parent about anything. Parents should also engage older children in conversation about sexual topics, creating an environment in which such topics can be discussed comfortably and nonjudgmentally.
Parents should recognize that most child sexual abuse offenders are known to the child. They may be relatives, family friends, teachers or coaches and other adults in positions of authority. The most susceptible children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, are those with obedient, compliant or respectful personalities. Children should be taught to be wary of adults offering special gifts or toys and should inform their parent right away if this occurs.
Sexual abuse involves any type of sexual act or encounter with a child. It may include genital contact as well as noncontact events such as taking pornographic photographs or showing pornographic images to a child.
Child sexual abuse often takes place over months or years. Offenders may groom their potential victim over time in an attempt to build trust with the child. Children who are the victims of sexual abuse may suffer depression, anxiety, behavioral problems or poor school performance. Yet many child victims suffer silently with few or no outward signs that there is a problem.
If a child discloses sexual abuse, it should always be taken seriously. Parents should contact their childs health-care provider local child protection service, or the police. Intervention is essential to stop the abuse and to coordinate services for the victim.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Health Center in Towaoc.