"What many parents now understand is that sexual abuse is quite common. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Roughly 90 percent of offenders are relatives of their victim, or acquaintances such as neighbors, family friends, teachers and coaches. "Child predators can appear to the outside world to be warm, caring, loving, and respectful," says Robin Sax, author of Predators and Child Molesters and a former Los Angeles prosecutor who specialized in sex crimes against children. "It is these very traits that allow them to continue their horrific acts."
More than a third of those who sexually abuse children are under the age of 18 themselves.
Go with your instincts if anything bothers you about someone who spends time with your child. Don't let awkwardness or fear of offending someone prevent you from acting on your gut instincts.
Check the policies of groups, programs, schools & daycares:
- Do they have an open door policy or windows so adults can be observed at any time.
- Do they requires two adults to be in the room with the kids at all times.
- Drop in unannounced from time to time
- Get involved or at least observe practices & activities.
- Talk to other parents about your concerns or see if they have any themselves.
- If your child doesn't want to be around a particular person or take part in certain activities, take him seriously.
Some children may show physical signs of abuse: unexplained urinary infections, redness, swelling in the genital area. Others may have stomachaches, headaches or sudden bedwetting. Behavioral signs can include mood swings, angry outbursts, sleep problems, drop in grades, withdrawal. But keep in mind none of these behaviors specifically points to sexual abuse.
2-4yrs old: use the right language and proper terms for body parts. Explain what's private and that no one other than her parents and doctor should touch her private parts. Give him ownership of his body - kids should be allowed to say "no" to hugs, hair ruffling and any other touching they don't want. It models that it's okay to say "no" even to "nice" people. Give honest, brief, age-appropriate answers to questions regarding sexuality.
5-8yrs old: reinforce boundaries. It's okay to refrain from hugs and kisses - even from grandma. At bath time talk about bodies and boundaries and that people shouldn't touch your private parts or ask you to touch theirs. Let them know that it's never their fault if someone behaves sexually with them and that they can always come to you. Teach internet safety - use parental controls, limit access, insist your child never disclose personal information online.
9yrs & older: Continue the conversations. Brainstorm ways to get out of uncomfortable situations with peers. Monitor devices - kids can easily and accidentally access porn via gaming systems, Smartphones and other devices with internet connections. Enable parental controls and limit access to certain games with mature content. Help identify trusted adults, so if they don't feel comfortable disclosing the abuse to you they might feel safe seeking out another adult. They should continue to tell until someone acts on the issue.
Childhelp USA maintains a 24-hour National Child Abuse Hotline.