Limit the Risk
Once you understand how child sexual abuse happens, you can protect children from sexual abuse. Here’s how you can make a difference.
Since we cannot put children in a bubble, we must do what we can as adults to limit risk while at the same time providing children with a full and happy life. Adults can offer children healthy social experiences while using their instincts and best judgment for arranging and approving safe supervision scenarios.
Perpetrators rely on a degree of privacy to commit sexual abuse. Children need us to screen for the possibility of intimate, one-on-one scenarios with adults and other (older) children and work to eliminate or limit those potential opportunities.
As an informed adult, you can guide how children are supervised in everyday situations at home, at childcare, swimming lessons, play dates, neighborhood play and sports. You have the power to assess risk, ask questions and shape the nature of time a child spends with others.
There are all sorts of questions to raise, and anyone – especially someone in authority – who “pushes back” and is offended by your concern should be scrutinized closely or restricted from contact. Perpetrators rely on the trust children have for authority figures and older kids.
Set Expectations with Caregivers
Let others know what you expect when it comes to interactions with children. Post your safety checklist in a place for all to see in your work place and home.
- All members of the family have rights to privacy in dressing, bathing, sleeping and other personal activities.
- If you do not want to hug or kiss someone hello or goodbye, then you can shake hands instead.
- We don’t keep secrets.
Ask every organization, school, childcare center, or home where children visit to show you their safety checklist. Ask questions about the potential for one-on-one scenarios.
- “Are childcare field trips arranged so that no single staff member, volunteer or assisting parent will be alone with any of the children?”
- “Are sports practices structured so that they rule out the possibility of a child spending time alone with a coach?”
If you see another adult crossing a boundary with a child, address the issue by identifying the behavior and asking them to stop what they are doing. If you face opposition, be clear about the expectations you have and why.
- “It looks like Sara is done with the tickling game, so please stop when she asks you to.”
- “We want Sara to know that she has control over her body and boundaries, so we respect her when she does not want to be touched by others, no matter how innocent. That way, if someone does have bad intentions, she is able to stand up for herself and immediately tell someone she trusts.”
If you notice other children crossing a boundary, address it just as you would with an adult and then model for them an alternative. For example,
- “When Liam asks you not to hug him, please stop and be respectful. We should always ask before giving any touch.”
- “Let’s try it together. ‘Liam, may I give you a high-five?’”
Teach Children What is OK, what is NOT, what to do IF
Teach children that their body belongs to them and that it is okay to say “no” to any unwanted touch. Include yourself and any primary caregivers.
“If mom or dad or grandma or grandpa make you feel uncomfortable, it’s okay to tell us, and we will respect you.” “It’s OK to say, ‘I don’t want to play tickle monster with you right now’.
Teach children that they should not spend alone time with an adult before it has been ok’d by a parent. And that if an adult asks to speak with them in private, such as at school or after practice, tell them to ask to have the conversation in open view, or to be joined by a friend.
“My mom says that I can talk to you in the hallway, but not alone in the classroom.” “I need to have a friend with me if there are no other adults in the room.”
Teach children that if anyone asks to see or touch their private parts, or asks them to see or touch someone else’s private parts, the answer should always be “no” and to immediately find and tell the nearest adult. Create a safety circle that helps children identify at least two trusted adults in each of their networks; this helps them feel safe enough to say “no” and to report.
“If you are at school who might you tell if something is wrong? What about if you are at dance practice?”
Teach children by brainstorming what they would do if faced with various situations that are potentially unsafe. A child prepared to react effectively will be more likely to do so.
"If someone is tickling you and you want them to stop, what might you say?" “If someone asks you to keep a secret, what would you say?”
Teach children not to keep secrets. This may sound extreme because oftentimes childhood secrets are harmless. But secrets are often the trick that predators use to manipulate children: “This is our little secret. We have a special secret that we don’t share with anyone.”
Model the Behavior You Want to See
The best way to help others understand safety expectations is to model the behavior you hope to see. Ask every child, including your own, for permission before giving a hug or high five. Ask your spouse or partner permission before showing them affection, especially when in front of children.
“Honey, can I give you a hug?” “No? OK, maybe next time!”
If you are hosting children within your home or organization, share your safety expectations with their caregivers. Let them know your plan for care including who, what, when, where, and how things are happening. This sends the message that child safety is a top concern that adults can and should openly discuss.
“I want you to know that my husband and daughter are home with me and no one will spend time alone with the kids.”
Model the behavior you want to see with co-workers or staff members at all times and especially if you work with children. It’s also okay for you, as an adult, to say “no” to any unwanted touch. It helps children you care for understand that it is okay for them to do the same.
“I appreciate you so much, but I don’t feel like a hug right now. Maybe later.”
Feel like you can make a difference now? You should!
Thanks for reading this. Be bold and share this page with other adults in your community. Sharing this information is how we bring child sexual abuse in northern Michigan to an end, and keep children safe from harm.