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Back to School: How Education Reduces Risk

There is no guaranteed way to protect children from sexual abuse. It can happen to children of any race, socioeconomic background, culture, or religion. However, there are steps that we can all take to reduce the risk of children being sexually abused — starting with education.

First, it is important to remember that if a child is sexually abused, the only person at fault is the abuser. Victims of sexual violence are never responsible for their own abuse! This post is meant to highlight things that parents, family members, educators and other concerned community members can do to help reduce the risk of childhood sexual abuse — not to pass the blame from the abuser to the victim.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), parents can take action in a number of ways to help protect their children from sexual violence. This includes being involved in their daily lives, getting to know the people in their lives, and choosing their caregivers carefully. Parents and other trusted adults should also learn the warning signs of child sexual abuse so that they can respond to changes that they may see in a child.

Beyond these steps, education is critical to helping kids. While many adults rightfully want to preserve the innocence of their kids by avoiding topics related to sex and private parts, doing so can actually make it easier for a predator to take advantage of them. If sex is a taboo subject, then children may have a harder time talking about being abused with an adult that they can trust. Giving kids the language to discuss their bodies and the permission to talk about a range of subjects can help them feel comfortable coming to you if they are being hurt.

You can do this in a number of ways:

  1. Teach your kids how to talk about their bodies, starting with using the appropriate names for their body parts.

  2. Tell your kids that nobody has the right to touch them or make them feel uncomfortable, and that they always have the right to say no to someone touching their body. Many parents find the “swimsuit area” example to be useful — teaching their kids that nobody should be touching the areas of their bodies covered by their swimsuits. At the same time, parents can talk to their kids about consent; just as no one can touch their bodies without their permission, they should not be touching anyone else without permission.

  3. Be open, honest and available. Questions about topics like sex and how the body works can be uncomfortable, especially when asked by an inquisitive child. Commit to being there for your children if they want to talk, and to being honest with them in an age-appropriate way.

  4. Tell your kids that they won’t get in trouble if they come to you with questions or concerns. Remember that predators often use threats to get kids to stay quiet about abuse. Make sure that your kids know that they won’t get in trouble for talking to you, and that you will always be there for them.

If your child is in immediate danger, call 911. Otherwise, you can call Blackburn Center at any time at 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122 to speak to a trained crisis counselor. We offer a variety of services to help victims of all types of violence, including child sexual abuse. PLEASE NOTE: Blackburn Center counselors are mandated by law to report child abuse, as are other professionals who come into contact with children in the course of their business.

Blackburn Center also offers free educational programs to students in schools throughout Westmoreland County. Our programs are designed to help students understand a variety of important concepts, from bullying to teen dating violence to sexual abuse. A full list of materials is available on our School Programs page, separated by grade level. If your school would like to schedule a free education or training program, contact us today.

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