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sexual abuse, prevention, children
Lesley Foulkes-Jamison, Ph.D., Private Practice, South Carolina

Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention

by Dr. Lesley Jamison

Reprinted with Permission from GAINESVILLE FAMILY MAGAZINE
All Rights Reserved

The incidence of sexual abuse among children and adolescents is alarming. Statistics from the National Center on Child Abuse Prevention in 1995 indicated that 25% of girls and 16% of boys are sexually abused before age 18. It is even felt that many incidents, particularly in boys, are not reported. Sexual abuse may involve sexual touching or fondling, exposing children to adult sexual activity, videotaping, taking pictures, or watching children pose or perform in a sexual manner, attempted rape, or rape.

Sexual abuse occurs in all income, religious, and racial groups. The majority of children (70%) are molested by someone they know. Although most perpetrators of sexual abuse are males, there are females who molest. There are a growing number of children who sexually abuse younger children. It has been reported that almost half of sex offenders are under age 18. Many sex offenders have reported that the first time they abused an individual was as a teenager.

Molesters often use to their advantage that children are taught to be respectful and obedient to adults. Children are often not prepared when a relative, neighbor, or other acquaintance make sexual advances. However, teaching children about personal safety will help them be prepared and prevent them from becoming a victim of sexual molestation.

We often discuss other survival skills with our children such as looking both ways as they cross the street without any anxiety. Teaching children about personal body safety is an essential survival skill. It is never too early to start teaching your child because a significant number of child abuse victims are under age seven. Children as young as two can learn about private body parts. Although it may be difficult or anxiety provoking discussing personal body safety with your child, appearing relaxed and open "ill facilitate your child's learning. Research suggests that even young children can help prevent abuse when they have been provided with appropriate safety information.

It is important to explain to children that although most adults have good intentions and are looking out for their best interest, there are some adults who are not. Teach children (1) that certain parts of their bodies are private, that no one should expose or touch their private parts or ask them to do the same-, (2) Except for quick cleaning by a care giver during bath time or examination by a doctor, your child should loudly say NO, no matter who the person is (stranger, relative, close friend) or what the person says, if the person tries to touch them any place a bathing suit would cover (3) if anyone touches their private parts, asks, says, or shows them anything that makes them feel uncomfortable to get away from that person and immediately tell an adult, and most importantly (4) that they can depend on you to protect and believe them.

Because perpetrators may use threats, bribes, or force emphasize to children that anyone who wants them to keep secrets from you is not safe to be with. Remind your child that it is never his or her fault.

Other safety measures to minimize your child's risks of being a victim include teaching your child what to do if they became separated from you in public; explain to children that they should never approach a stranger's car even if they are asking for help or to go anywhere regardless of the circumstances with a stranger; to check with you before accepting any type of gifts-, to check with you before going anywhere, even if it is with someone they know; to never open the door when home alone no matter who is at the door, even if it someone dressed in a uniform; and to inform you of any incidents of anyone trying to take their pictures.

As parents, there are also things that you can do to prevent your child from being abused. Be aware of the people who have contact with your child. This includes adult and child relatives, friends, neighbors, playmates and their families, baby-sitters etc. Do not let your child spend time in an unsupervised home. Also, although an irresponsible adult or older child may not be an offender, their lifestyle or poor judgment can place your child at risk.

A child will be at increased risk if they have contact with a person known to have molested children or with an untreated victim. Many child molesters continue abusing children even after conviction and treatment and untreated victims of sexual abuse are at risk of becoming molesters. It is very important to trust your instincts. If there is something about somebody that you just do not trust, even if you do not know why, limit or suspend your child's contact with that person until your fears have been alleviated. If your child seems to spend a great amount of time at a neighbor's house, find out why. Question the motives of adults or older children that want to spend time alone with your child, especially if they do not appear to have any same-aged friends. Screening all care givers of your child is also critical. Establish a rule that individuals that you do not know are not allowed in the house when you are not home. Ensure that your child's school takes their personal safety a priority.

Remember children learn through repetition. Periodically rehearse situations by playing [what ifl games to review the safety rules and reinforce correct responses. Also, pay attention to the remarks or behavior of your child. Periodically ask directly if anyone has touched their private parts. It is important to keep the lines of communication open with your child so that you can talk about any subject.

If your child reports abuse or you suspect abuse, stay calm and focus on your child's needs. Report the abuse to the police or child welfare agency. Seeking professional help for your child and family will be essential.

Dr. Jamison is a pediatric psychologist who trained at the University of Florida. She did her residency training and remained as an associate for many years at Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida,  CPANCF.COM, (352) 336-2888. She now maintains a private practice in South Carolina. We still miss her.
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