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Limiting Children's Risk of Sexual Abuse

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

red no signThere are several things parents can do to limit their children's risk of sexual abuse. These things amount to educating children so that they understand the nature of the danger, what their rights are, and what they can do to protect themselves, and maintaining an open line of communication and display of interest so that children know they can trust and talk with their parents about serious problems. Further discussion of how to accomplish these goals is provided in earlier sections of this document concerning Communication.

In order to best protect themselves, youth need to be educated about dating violence at an early age.

  • Boys and girls need to know they have the exclusive right to decide how to use their bodies, who they allow to see and to touch their bodies, and to decide what they are willing, and not willing to do, sexually.
  • Children need to clearly understand that it's never okay to use physical violence, abusive language such as name-calling, intimidation such as yelling or threatening gestures, physical force, or emotional cruelty toward anyone; especially dating partners.
  • Children need to be clear that when a friend or dating partner says, "No," to a sexual act or another act of intimacy, they must accept and honor their friend or partner's decision.
  • Children should be taught that it is perfectly okay for them to refuse to participate in a sexual or non-sexual situation that makes them feel uncomfortable. It's okay to say "No".
  • Finally children must be clear that, "Love should not hurt!" Youth need to know that if someone insists upon hurting them in any significant way, or treats them disrespectfully after being asked to stop, that person doesn't really love them properly (even if they say they do!) and they should not stay with that person. If necessary, it is perfectly acceptable and reasonable that children ask trusted adults for help in coping with such situations if they become difficult or hard to get out of.

Parental Monitoring of Children's Relationships

Parents can also help prevent their children from being victimized by keeping a careful and attentive eye on their children's relationships with both peers and other adults so as to learn who their children' socialize with. Whenever possible, parents should also make the effort to meet their children's friends' parents or caregivers, as it is likely that children will spend time under their care.

If parents find they do not feel confident with the level of supervision provided by caregivers in homes their children visit, they may want to redirect their children towards socializing in better supervised locations. During late childhood and early adolescence, youth should have parental supervision when they are interacting in group-dating or large socialization activities, especially parties. These children are still too young to spend time together unsupervised.

Finally, parents should also take the time to educate children about the possibility of online sexual solicitation and sexual predators and take steps to monitor their children's Internet usage. It's important to communicate certain basic rules for interacting with strangers as early as possible, in particular, that it is never a good idea to agree to an unsupervised meeting (where a parent is not present) with someone who is known only through the Internet. More information about how to keep youth safe on the Internet can be found in our Middle Childhood Media article.