Talking to Your Kids About Sexual Abuse

By Jon Holsten
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Parents must keep their children out of potential risky situations and teach them what to do if someone tries to exploit them sexually.

He was the last person she ever suspected, but the evidence against her new husband was undeniable.

The young mother of two little girls sobbed uncontrollably as her story unraveled. The man she thought was a loving husband and stepfather was now in jail – accused of repeatedly molesting one of her daughters.

As a police officer and major crimes detective, I have investigated numerous murders, suicides, accidental deaths, and brutal assaults. In my opinion, the physical, emotional, and sexual victimization of children is among the most despicable crimes.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, describes the natural progression of a culture bent on satisfying fleshly desires – a culture much like ours today.

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God he gave them over to a depraved mind to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.(Romans 1:28-29, NIV)

Parents who consider their children “safe” from sexual victimization live in false security and set a dangerous course for their families.

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 67 percent of all sexual assault victims are children. Another study by the National Center for Victims of Crime (2000) shows that 33 percent of girls (1 out of 3) are sexually abused before the age of 18. Sixteen percent of boys (roughly 1 out of 6) are sexually abused before the age of 18. These alarming figures demonstrate why parents must work diligently to keep their children out of potential risky situations and teach them what to do if someone tries to exploit them sexually.

The person most likely to sexually abuse your child is a person your child knows – and trusts. The sex offender looks for a child who trusts him and can be convinced to stay quiet about inappropriate physical contact. It could be a family member, close relative, neighbor, or trusted youth worker.

Discussing sexuality and/or sexual abuse with your child can be uncomfortable, but in today’s world responsible parents cannot afford to skirt the issue. Here are some practical suggestions to incorporate in your home:

  • Plan a specific time to sit down with your child to discuss sexual abuse.
  • Explain to your child that God made their body very special. Every part of their body is good, but some parts of their body are private.
  • Clearly identify for your child which parts of their anatomy are private. If your child is young, consider sharing the above information during their bath time. Another idea is to have your child dress in a bathing suit and show them that all areas covered by a bathing suit are “private.”
  • Let your child know they must tell you if anyone touches them in the private areas – no matter who the person is, or what the person says to them. Assure your child they will not be in trouble if they tell you they’ve been touched inappropriately – rather, you will be proud of them, and help them through the situation.

It is possible that when you have this conversation with your child, he or she may reveal inappropriate contact someone has had with them in the past. Listen closely to what your child says, but avoid asking a lot of questions. Young children are sometimes quick to affirm information that may or may not be true. Instead, let your child know you believe them and love them. Report suspected sexual abuse to your local law enforcement agency, which will work to substantiate or rule out the information.

As parents, we will never completely eliminate the possibility that our child will be sexually abused – there are simply too many factors outside of our control. Nonetheless, parents empower their children through simple conversation and love. A conversation with your child could save them, and you, a lifetime of pain.

Copyright © 2005 Jon Holsten. Used by permission.

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About the Author

Jon Holsten

Jon Holsten is a veteran police officer in Fort Collins, Colorado. Jon has investigated and successfully helped prosecute dozens of child sexual assault cases.

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