“The very first part in healing is shattering the silence.”~ Erin Merryn
While the awareness around Child Sexual Abuse, CSA has increased over the past decade; the prevalence of CSA continues to be a problem throughout our society. CSA has no economic, political, religious, cultural, or racial preference. CSA has, and does, occur in all aspects of society. The effects associated with CSA most commonly have a profound impact on the physical, psychological and emotional and general wellbeing of the individual. “The wounds arising from childhood sexual abuse take many forms, but they all represent profound changes to the individual’s experience and her (his) relationship to the world.” (Fisher, 2005)” (Brown, 2005, p. 21) For children, distinguishing between those you can trust and cannot trust is challenging. As parents, while we need to reinforce the goodness and purity of our children; we must also equip our children with effective tools to distinguish between good and bad behaviors, communications, and personalities. It is never too late to teach our children to be his or her best advocate.
ACTIVELY COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR CHILDREN
“It is a wise father (mother) that knows his (her) own child.” ~ William Shakespeare
As fathers and mothers, we need to actively listen. Active listening is the ability, the skill, technique, or an inherent trait whereby, a person is purposefully and intentionally focusing on the communications being sent by another person or persons. An active listener not only listens and receives an intended message, but is capable of paraphrasing what messages he or she has received back to the communicator. An active listener recognizes that not all communication is verbally spoken, but is often communicated through verbal and nonverbal transmissions. It entails good physical posture, gestures, and purposeful eye contact.
As an active listener, you will align your body towards the intended recipient. You may lean towards the sender or receiver, maintain active eye contact, posture your body in an open form, and be relaxed while nonverbally communicating. Active listening is also being capable of reflecting any verbal or nonverbal communication that is communicated.
As fathers and mothers, our active listening should be purposeful in our actions, reflections, and all forms of communications. We need to seek to hear the verbal and nonverbal communications being projected from the lives of our children.
TALK OPENLY WITH YOUR CHILDREN
An open conversation should never be a vulgar conversation. It should not include explicit and offensive references to sex or bodily functions. Rather, open conversations should include conversations that empower and distinguish between good and bad communications, affection, and interactions.
– “Teach your child that it is your job to protect him.
– Teach your child that it is not her responsibility to protect others.
– Demonstrate daily that you will not be angry, no matter what your child tells you about any aspect of his life.
– Listen quietly. Children have a hard time telling parents about troubling events.
– Teach your child about her body, about what abuse is and, as age-appropriate, about sex. Teach her words that help her discuss sex comfortably with you.
– Teach your child that it is against the “rules” for adults to act in a sexual way with children and use examples.
– Start early and talk often. Use everyday opportunities to talk about sexual abuse.” (Kid’s First, 2014, Online)
BE AWARE, BE CLEAR, AND BE EMPATHETIC
“It is not always obvious when children disclose about sexual abuse and can be easy to miss. Children are usually not this clear and direct: I was sexually abused. It might sound more like: I don’t want to go to Uncle Joe’s house anymore or Please don’t leave me alone with her.” (VDCF, 2010, Online)
Children are often at odds with the abuser and the abuse. They may have feelings of attachment and a personal relationship to his to her abuser. They may have a vague or a comprehensive understanding of the abuse. Never try to persuade or alter a child’s perceptions of the abuse. The abuse is an authentic experience that needs complete attention and empathy. Children need advocacy, compassion and ultimately to be empowered in the face of abuse.
Personal empowerment offers the child a right to an abuse free environment. It empowers the individual to have authority and the power over his or her life. While personal empowerment seeks to reassure the individual, it goes well beyond reassuring the individual, it strengths the individual’s resolve to walk with boldness, confidence and have control of one’s life. Most importantly, it empowers the individual to lay claim on the right to be free of abuse.
Awareness is a critical key to CSA. Be aware of any changes, especially abrupt changes in the life of your child. Be aware of any distinct changes around communications, behaviors, attitudes, perceptions, and affection. Be especially aware of the following changes:
– Be aware of any sudden changes in behaviors, attitudes, or perceptions.
– If your child’s personality changes from clingy to detached. Be aware of any sudden changes between being clingy, needing excessive admiration and attention: to being detached, a separate and disconnected personality.
– If your child’s grades drop remarkably, being worthy of attention.
– Be aware of any sudden increased conversations about sex, sexuality or sexual exploration. Be aware of age appropriate sexual interest and conversations.
– If your child begins acting out sexual behaviors on a doll, toy, or another child.
– If your child suddenly begins to experience nightmares and/or problems falling or staying asleep.
– Refuses to sleep alone, whereas he or she has slept alone for a considerable amount of time prior to the sudden onset of need.
– If your child’s attitudes about school or an organization suddenly change.
– If your child resists to communicate with you.
– Be aware of any sudden changes in belief systems about life, deities, or death.
– If your child begins to display self-harming behaviors, attitudes, or communications.
– Any sudden desire to avoid a particular person or group of people.
– Be aware of any changes associated with your child’s eating habits.
While abrupt changes may be an indicator for most children of a critical incident or need; some children display such issues through gradual changes, behaviors and communications. It is always important to have good communications with your children. While some indicators may be of a healthy response to growing, maturing, and development, others may offer insights that there is an underlying issue or concern. Therefore, communication is a key component to knowing any modifications to your child’s personality, behaviors, attitudes, and perceptions.
Sudden changes may also be brought on by a family member’s or a friend’s death; divorce; familial economic problems or challenges; stressors related to parental conflict; stressors related to peer groups; issues related to academic performance; and any number of interactions that your child may have with others. Consider consulting with a professional (psychologist, counselor, or psychotherapist) if you witness a sudden behavioral shift in the life of your child.
DISCLOSURE OF ABUSE
The steps that you should take if your child discloses that he or she has been abused are: First-and-foremost, reassure your child of his or her worthiness. Be certain to thank them for displaying such courage and fortitude to discuss such a painful and adverse issue.
As a parent, you do not need to convey with your child that you are taking any drastic steps, but it is imperative that you make immediate contact with a professional (psychologist, counselor, or psychotherapist), as well as contact your local authorities to report the incident (911, police). Moreover, you should remain calm and collect in the presence of your child. Be certain to reassure the worthiness, goodness, and safety of your child. Be cautious about making derogatory comments about the abuser. Avoid displaying contempt, critical or disrespectful attitudes about the alleged abuser in front of your child.
– “Don’t question your child about the abuse as this could jeopardize an ensuing investigation. If he wants to talk about the abuse, listen carefully. Afterwards, write down what he said – in as much detail as you can remember.
– Don’t correct your child’s language if she doesn’t use the proper terms for private body parts. Use her language.
– Respect the feelings your child is experiencing. Each child expresses his or her feelings differently.
– Tell your child you will be taking action to keep her safe, but be careful not to promise things you can’t control (e.g., ‘I’ll make sure he goes to jail.’).” (VDCF, 2010, p. 16)
– Be certain to reassure the worthiness, goodness, and safety of your child.
CREATE A SAFE ENVIRONMENT
“There is no magic action you can take that will guarantee your children’s safety from sexual abuse and no personality type or situation that will act as a total safeguard. Everyone is at risk of experiencing sexual violence in his or her lifetime. This does not mean, however, that you are powerless to take preventive action.
One important strategy for protecting your children is to proactively plan for their safety… Everything we do to raise our children as healthy individuals with a strong sense of belonging and connection matters.” (VDCF, 2010, p. 17)
Safety begins by reassuring your child of your love, protection, and belief in him or her. It is essential that you remind your child frequently of his or her goodness and worthiness. Always have an open policy of active listening and communication. Do not belittle or cause your child to feel worthless or what they have to say is without merit or personal value. Every word your child communicates whether verbally or nonverbally is worth value.
Whether you are hiring a babysitter or a caretaker, be certain that you ask for references and a criminal background check. Establishing a safe environment begins at the moment you allow others to have an intricate part of the life of your child.
ESTABLISHING SAFE ENVIRONMENTS
Establishing a safe environment begins within the home. Always reassure, encourage, and seek to create confidence in the life of your child. Establish within your home an open policy for communication. Teach your child to show respectful communication, but again, allow them to vent and express a full range of emotions when the time is necessary. Encourage your child to develop healthy friendships. Teach your child to establish personal boundaries with others. Teach your child to recognize appropriate and inappropriate forms of communications, interactions, affection, and relationships. Most importantly, develop a relationship with your child that is welcoming, reassuring, comforting, and of a protective nature. Children who avoid discussing abuse, may be uncertain to the degree with a parent may respond.
Authors: Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., N.C.C.M.
Brown, A. D. (2008) The effects of childhood trauma on adult perception and worldview. Minneapolis, MN: Capella University, Proquest LLC; 154 pages; AAT 3297512
Fisher, G. (2005) Existential psychotherapy with adult survivors of sexual abuse. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 45 (1) 10-40
Kids First (2014) 7 ways to prevent child abuse. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from http://www.kidsfirstinc.org/preventing-abuse
Vermont Department for Children and Families, VDCF (2010) Step up: Protect children from sexual abuse. Author.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA