Prevent Sex Abuse: Become a Safer, Smarter Family with These 5 Tips

Lauren’s Kids, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating adults and children about sexual abuse prevention, developed the Safer, Smarter Families program to arm families with tools and resources to help keep children safe.

Words by Senator Lauren Book, M.S. Ed.

Beginning a new school year is a magical time for children, from shopping for clothes and supplies to meeting classmates and starting extracurricular activities. Unfortunately, the back-to-school season also brings increased opportunities for child sexual abuse, whether at the hands of a teacher, coach, baby sitter or other trusted adult.

According to The Advocacy Center, one in three girls and one in five boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, and one in five children will be sexually solicited through the Internet before they graduate high school, as indicated by the National Children’s Alliance.

As one of the 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse in America, I know what it’s like to have my childhood stolen from me. That’s why I’ve made it my mission to ensure all families are equipped with the resources needed to prevent abuse. The statistics may be scary, but you can teach your kids about personal safety from a place of fun, not fear.

The first step toward preventing your child from being victimized is to arm yourself with information. Here are five important things to know about sexual abuse:

  1. 95% of abuse is preventable.

The most important thing to know about child sexual abuse is this: 95 percent of cases are preventable through awareness and education. Continue to remind your child that they always have the right to feel safe and help them identify three trusted adults they can tell if they ever feel unsafe, confused or not quite right.

  1. “Stranger danger” is a myth.

The truth is that in more than 90 percent of abuse cases, a child is suffering at the hands of someone they and their families know and trust, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Remember, a stranger is just someone your child doesn’t know well, and you can’t tell if someone is safe or unsafe based on how they look or even how well you know them. Instead, empower your child to decide if a person is safe or unsafe by the way he or she makes them feel.

  1. Sexual abuse can happen to anyone.

Child sexual abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions, at all levels of education and in every ZIP code. We may think it will never happen to our child, but everyone is at risk. Predators are skilled at gaining the trust of both their victim and their victim’s family, which brings me to my next tip…

  1. Predators are master manipulators.

Predators are skilled and know exactly how to form close relationships with children and their families. They manipulate their target by a process called “grooming,” where they befriend and gain the trust of a child over time before beginning the cycle of abuse. Be cautious of any overly generous gifts or special attention your child receives from another adult. If an adult seems more interested in pursuing a relationship with your child rather than with you, that is a red flag. Other signs of abuse include nightmares, emotional withdrawal, acting out in school and inadequate personal hygiene.

  1. It’s never too early to teach kids about body boundaries.

Whether your child is five or 15, it’s never too early or too late to start a dialogue about personal safety. Teach your child the proper anatomical names of their body parts, and reinforce that their private parts (areas covered by a bathing suit) as well as their mouths belong to them and are part of their personal bubble. Also, when talking about touch, use the terms “safe versus unsafe” rather than “good versus bad.” Some touches may physiologically feel good, but emotionally make the child feel icky or confused.

Parents are the first line of defense to protect children from unsafe situations, so it’s critical to arm yourself with information. My foundation, Lauren’s Kids, created a free program called Safer, Smarter Families, which offers an interactive online tool to help you create a personalized Family Safety Plan, customized based on your child’s age as well as any developmental delays or disabilities they may have.

After answering a few short questions, you’ll be able to access your custom plan complete with engaging videos, printable activities and other helpful tips on topics such as body boundaries, cyber safety, healthy relationships and self-esteem.

For more ideas on how to protect your family from abuse and to generate an interactive, custom Family Safety Plan, visit SaferSmarterFamilies.org.


Senator Lauren Book, M.S. Ed., is an internationally respected and renowned child advocate, former classroom teacher and best-selling author. She represents the Broward County-based District 32 in the Florida Senate and serves as the Democratic Leader Pro Tempore. Book is also one of 42 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse living in the U.S. today, and founded Lauren’s Kids, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation, in 2007.

 

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