Child Sexual Abuse Prevention

“Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.” ~Herbert Ward

We all know someone in our circle who has been a victim of child abuse. We hear stories from families, friends, and our community. We recognize the fact there is zero tolerance for child abuse of any sort, yet through fear or lack of knowledge, there are times where a child endures such trauma that it can remain with him or her for the rest of their lives. Child abuse is unacceptable. Children are our future.  It is imperative we provide them a safe environment when they are young so they can grow into strong people for our future.

Prevent Child Abuse America is one organization that uses 92 cents of every dollar raised towards programs that help children and families thrive.  Prevent Child Abuse America was founded in Chicago in 1972 and every year helps over 100,000 families. “Prevent Child Abuse America works to promote the healthy development of children and prevent child abuse before it can occur”.

A child’s development can be undermined by neglect, and by the exposure to extreme and sustained stress. According to Prevent Child Abuse, “When we invest in healthy child development, we are investing in the community and economic development”. The idea is to make sure child abuse and neglect never occur by focusing on public policies that prioritize prevention from the start, says Prevent Child Abuse America.

No population is left untouched by child abuse. Rural, suburban, and urban areas are not exempt from child abuse. All racial and cultural groups are affected, and abuse is present in all socioeconomic and educational levels. The long-term consequences of ill-treatment to children do not go unnoticed. Such consequences related to a child associated with abuse are drug and alcohol abuse, increased teenage pregnancy, and homelessness. Our society will have to contribute to correct the issues related to child abuse, let alone the severe emotional and behavioral issues the victims themselves must face from his or her trauma. The attention to prevention must be addressed.

Prevent Child Abuse America advocates for 1) Promoting the concept that putting a stop to child sexual abuse is everyone’s responsibility, and educating that sexual abuse is unacceptable. 2) Accurate information is portrayed and taught on the actual nature of sexual abuse. 3) Taking sexual abuse programs that are implemented, evaluating them, and making them stronger. 4) Because children are often not capable of protecting themselves, Prevent Child Abuse America advocates the shift in prevention from child to the adult. “Adults must exercise an affirmative obligation to safeguard them.” 5) New approaches are made to prevent child abuse by exploration, evaluation, and strengthening. 6) Those affected by child sexual abuse will have mental health services available to them.

Communities, schools and youth-serving organizations, and parents all have a role in promoting healthy childhoods for children that prevent any sexual abuse of children in their communities.

Community awareness and support is accomplished by contacting the public health department or organizations such as Prevent Child Abuse America. Aspects such as boundaries that are crossed by peers or adults speaking or touching inappropriately, resources for parents that will allow them to teach their children about healthy sexuality, and understanding if organizations are doing all they can to prevent sexual abuse and to keep children safe.  Communities can also encourage a connection to healthy sexual development and parenting at the library.  The community can help the library to promote a safe environment and education on healthy sexuality. Further, the community can support children by “Setting and enforcing a standard for public advertising that avoids being sexually exploitive of children”.

Schools and youth-serving organizations can also help in this effort by creating a respectful, healthy, and safe environment for every child. Safety policies should be in place.  For example, who can and cannot access the school grounds and make clear limits on this. Pick-up and drop-off rules, social media contact, photos of children, contact with staff, behavior expected, and trips to the locker room and bathroom have some sort of supervision, and policies for peer to peer abuse that discourages sexual harassment. Further, a structured in-person interview and criminal background checks to ensure a thorough screening of volunteers and employees are implemented. Organizational policies should be explicitly stated to volunteers and new employees by providing specific training. Prevent Child Abuse says, “Avoid putting the responsibility for sexual abuse prevention solely on children!”

Last but certainly not least, the family’s involvement with children on all aspects of sexuality.  Parents should learn and be encouraged to feel comfortable talking to his or her child and vice versa. Early education is essential to making a difference. Speak to your kids about family values, healthy relationships, proper names of the body and how they work, safe behavior for on-line and off-line communication, safe social media usage, and the difference between secrecy and privacy.  Children should be taught to set limits with the type of touch they have with peers or adults, what is appropriate, and what is not. Finally, have an open communication type relationship with your child to ensure that they can ask any question regarding sexuality, and to make certain they do not become subject to child sexual abuse.

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By Sarah Reno Baker

This column is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice or treatment.