Have you taught your child about “good touch/bad touch”? That’s a good place to start, but not enough to protect your child from possible sexual abuse, according to Libby Bergman, executive director of the Center for Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment.

“Children need to know the difference between what touches are acceptable and what touches are not. They also need to be taught about stranger danger, but these methods put the onus on the child. As parents, we need to take the bulk of responsibility for protecting our children,” Bergman said.

Bergman has dedicated her working life to helping parents prevent their child(ren) from being abused. Bergman has worked as a therapist helping children recover from abuse and she wants parents to know what other steps to take so children don’t end up victimized.

The stark facts are that one in three girls will be sexually abused by the time they are 18 years of age. One in seven boys will be sexually abused by the time they are 18.

Given those appalling statistics, I interviewed Bergman and asked her to share her findings on the most important steps that we should take to protect our children.

Q. Why is it no longer enough to just teach kids about “good touch/bad touch”?

A. “By the age of 7 or 8 most children will have had some “good touch/bad touch” education from their parents, school, daycare, etc. This teaches children the difference between good and bad touch, they learn a little about how to resist bad touch and to tell an adult when they have a bad touch. They learn to ‘RUN YELL TELL!’ While this is better than no education, this makes our children responsible for protecting themselves. Protecting children and preventing abuse is our job.

Also, 90% of ‘bad touch’ occurs at the hands of a trusted adult, who frequently is caring for the child at the time of the abuse. This makes it almost impossible for the child to resist or avoid it. When children do tell, it’s after the fact meaning that the prevention didn’t occur.

Q. How are you defining sexual abuse?

A. “Most people think of the type of abuse sensationalized on TV shows and news reports, but sexual abuse is any sexual activity with a child by an adult, adolescent or older child. These acts may include touching the child’s private parts or asking the child to touch the perpetrator’s private parts as well as sexual behaviors that do not include touching like peeping, flashing, inappropriately photographing your child or showing adult-oriented pictures to a child.”

Q. What have you learned about perpetrators from your research?

A. “Offenders can be male or female, young or old, illiterate or PH.Ds and from any economic or ethnic group. Most children are sexually abused by people known to them. 90% of abuse happens by a trusted adult or teen. 34% of abuse happens by a relative. 50% of offenders are under age 18.

A psychologist who interviewed 1,000 convicted predators found that many are married with children and work. They attack in everyday situations like day care, schools, athletic events and health care settings. Most never have to use force. They manipulate the children.”

Q. What concrete steps should parents take?

• Make an effort to know your children’s friends and their families.

• Children need to be supervised appropriately for their age and maturity. Thoroughly screen and interview people who watch your children.

• Children need to know who they can talk to if they have a problem. Parents need to work toward becoming “ask-able” parents. Practice discussing feelings and situations. Focus on being a good listener, not reacting to things your child says or trying to fix everything.

• Teach your children basic sexual education. (See resource list.) Perpetrators are more likely to pick children who are naïve.

• Do not instruct children to give relatives hugs and kisses. This teaches them they have control over their body. Let them express affection on their own terms.

• Define abuse for your child and explain the importance of reporting abuse to you or another trusted adult.

• It’s important to warn children about strangers, but it’s equally important to protect them from the friend or family member who might abuse them. Role play different scenarios with them.

• Children need to know that their bodies belong to them and that they have a right to say “no” if they feel uncomfortable about the way they’re being touched. Model this in your home and read books on the topic. (See resource list.)

• Teach children appropriate names for body parts and show them you are comfortable talking about all parts of the body.

• Teach them that no one should touch the private parts of their body. (Books on resource list.)

• Teach children the correct names of body parts.

• Let children know that it’s OK sometimes to challenge adults. Perpetrators tend to pick children who are obedient and compliant.

• Let your children know that it’s never OK to get in a car with someone unless they have your permission first. Develop a code for emergencies.

• It’s imperative to trust your “gut” instincts about people. Teach your child to honor “funny” or uncomfortable feelings about someone and to avoid that person.

Recommended Books for Teaching Body Safety

“It’s OK to Say No” Amy Bahr

“Sometimes It’s OK to Tell Secrets” Amy Bahr

“Your Body is Your Own” Amy Bahr

“My Body is Private” by Linda Walvoord Girard

“Better Safe Than Sorry” Gordon Sol

“Something Happened and I’m Scared to Tell” Patricia Kehoe

“Touching” Jody Bengsma

“Tom Doesn’t Visit Us Anymore” Maryleah Otto

“My Body Belongs to Me” Paul Glickman

Recommended Books for Teaching Sexual Education and Maturity Questions

“What’s the Big Secret? A Guide to Sex for Girls and Boys” Laurie Krasny Brown

“How are Babies Made? Alastair Smith

“Where did I Come From?” Peter Mayle

“It’s So Amazing” A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies and Families” Robbie Harris

“Changes in You and Me: A Book About Puberty Mostly for Boys” Paulette Bourgeois and Martin Wolfish

“The Teenage Guy’s Survival Guide” Jeremy Daldry.

“What’s Happening to My Body?” Lynda Madaras

“Period” Jo Ann Loulan

“The Period Book” Karen Gravelle

“Care and Keeping of You: Body Book for Girls” American Girl

Other Resources:

STOP IT NOW!, www.stopitnow.com, 651-644-8515

The Center for Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment, http://www.mnpreventabuse.org , Libby Bergman 612-827-3028

Author's Bio: 

Visit www.getparentinghelpnow.com to receive the free mini-course “The 7 Worst Mistakes Parents Make (and How to Avoid Them!) and find instant answers to 17 common parenting problems. Toni Schutta is a Parent Coach and Licensed Psychologist with 15 years experience helping families find solutions that work.

Visit getparentinghelpnow.com to receive the free mini-course “The 7 Worst Mistakes Parents Make (and How to Avoid Them!)

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