protecting my daughter from sexual abuse

I was a victim of sexual abuse twice as a child, and as my daughter is now becoming a girl and moving into the world with school, I feel obligated to come up with some kind of plan to prepare her to protect herself. The biggest message that was lost on me as a young child and then pre-teen is that any form of sexual interaction that is unwanted is not ok and should be reported immediately to a trustworthy adult. Also, some adults that should be trustworthy (like a school counselor, or even a parent) fail to follow through and intervene. Keep telling adults until someone helps you!

Fellow SMC and adoptive mom Leah Campbell recently posted a link to Why We Don’t Keep Secrets in Our House, which features a great list of rules to start children understanding the “no touch” rules and prevent child molestation. It’s a great start, but I believe we have to go even farther and cast a net even wider to prevent more subtle forms of sexual abuse, like exploitation, exhibitionism, and voyeurism. It is easy to forget that many perpetrators expose themselves to children, or expose children to porn or sexual material as a means of abuse. Using subtle and hard-to-pin down tactics makes it harder for a child to report the behavior, because the child doesn’t yet have the maturity or the words to explain why something was wrong. For example, as an 11-year-old I completely understood that someone touching my privates was wrong, and reported it. Unfortunately, I did not understand that the same rules applied to being exposed to porn, emails of sexual natures, or exposure to male genitalia frequently under the guise of it being “an accident”. No one wants to go into great detail about the hundreds of ways they could be abused with a child, nor is it very appropriate to do so, so what do we do instead?

The article does make a great point with its “no secrets” house rule, which is that parents should make it clear to their children that openness and honesty will be rewarded, not punished, and that being asked or expected to keep a secret from the rest of the family is never ok. There is no secret, ultimately, that you should have to keep from your parents, although there is a clear difference between privacy (using the bathroom and showering, keeping a diary) and secrecy. Setting up this type of open communication with your children is absolutely necessary in preventing forms of sexual abuse, as abusers depend on it completely to continue their behavior. A child should be in the habit of discussing anything that makes her feel uncomfortable with her parent, and knowing that she will not be dismissed, ridiculed, or shamed.

I also think that from the start you should encourage your child to trust her own intuition, and never force her to hug or kiss or be held by someone when she doesn’t want to. I struggle with this when family is visiting from out of town, or friends at get togethers want a hug from my daughter. I feel strongly that she should be taught from the start that she is under no obligation to share her body in any way with anyone if she doesn’t want to. She should never be pressured into bodily contact, and her preferences for touch (when, who, and why) should always be respected. Often family members are hurt when the baby who loved sitting on their lap six months ago now refuses to, or friends demand a hug after buying her something. But really, what’s more important? Giving in to their ego’s wanting a hug, or preserving my daughter’s healthy set of boundaries?

So, my goal from this point forward, as summer draws near and visitors become more frequent, is to cheerily but firmly tell people who want a hug (or to hold or kiss or otherwise touch) from my daughter, and she is not interested, that I am teaching my daughter that her body is her body, and this is one of the many ways I will be raising my child in order to prevent sexual abuse from occurring to her. Because let’s face it, we will never be able to be with our children 100% of the time. Scary, but true.

In fact, I think I am going to create a facebook post reminding everyone I know to respect her choice not to be touched if that is how she is feeling. I want family and friends to know not to take it personally, and better yet, to be on board with it!

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Categories: parenting

5 Comments »

  1. We have a happy surprises no secrets rule, that way we can justify not sharing birthday presents, etc. After working in a group home for 10 years where the MAJORITY of the children were abused this been a huge subject beyond troubling me. I’m not concerned about a random dude at a park, she’s not out of my sight there, I’m worried about a friend’s older sibling, or their dad, the librarian at school, some random 6th grader. It terrifies me. I read somewhere a victim said they wished someone had told them the hurting your family threat wasn’t something that could happen. I’m always reminding G it’s my number one job to keep her safe, and I will do just that. I’m strong enough to handle any problems or issues that arise and never think anyone is a threat to me or her dad, she can ALWAYS come to us. I’ll be visiting the website you suggested, thank you.

  2. I read a while back about how “stranger danger” is not the problem–it’s “tricky people” in a child’s life who ask them to keep secrets. We have addressed the hug issue by asking Zuzu if she’d like to give a hug or a high five. It works pretty well because she has the agency to decide her boundaries but people are satisfied by the high five even if she opts not to hug them.

  3. What I really remember about this topic and my childhood is that it never occurred to me that any adult would be interested, would be able to do anything about it, and that I would be punished (by at least my 2 year older sister) for telling………
    This is a tough and important topic…….. Did you also notice the 19andCounting girls never mentioned the abuse by their brother? HE confessed…they didn’t say….. powerlessness. “Tricky People” is such a good phrase.

  4. A family I worked for had the no secrets rule and I thought it was great. With Wallace if someone wants a hug, I say something like “would you like to give ___ a hug?” If he says no I might offer to pick him up to say hi to them if he wants. I never push him to do it and verbally making it his choice shows the other person that I am respecting his boundaries and they should too. This is much easier now that he is older and can voice his opinion. When he was a baby I constantly had to remind people to respect him and read his queues. I still have to remind my dad when he does things like tickle him and he is saying “no.” I find it very important to use real words for body parts and not made up playful things like hooha and winky.

  5. I’m with you. I never force my child to hug anyone, we use the correct names for body parts, and I have talked to her about “tricky people” (grownups don’t need help from a little kid to find a pet, etc). There is a great book, Your Body Belongs to You” about the subject which is good for toddlers.

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