These conversations should start early. Teach children that it is never okay for adults to act in a sexual way with children and that adults never need children to “help” them with any of their body parts.
For more information on how to talk to children about sexual abuse, please visit Stop It Now’s tip sheet on this topic.
If a child does not want to hug or kiss a friend or relative, honor that boundary rather than requiring physical affection. Whenever possible, ask for a child’s permission before touching them. If a child seems uncomfortable with a particular adult, find a time afterwards to ask them about their discomfort and talk about what is happening.
While it is possible for parents to monitor activity without a child’s consent or knowledge, it is often more productive for parents to take the opportunity to start a conversation with their children about their use of technology. Maintaining open communication and emphasizing safety should be high priorities. Parents should avoid taking a punishment-oriented approach to technology use, as this may encourage children to become more secretive about their activities.
Parents, caregivers, and concerned community members can ask questions about the following measures and advocate for youth-serving organizations and programs to adopt them.
When hiring staff and volunteers, organizations should ask screening questions, conduct reference and background checks, and check the sex offender registries.
This training should include requirements for reporting. All staff and volunteers should immediately report suspected child abuse directly to authorities. It is not enough for staff to report to a supervisor.
Choose group activities whenever possible. Consider whether it is ever appropriate for one staff member or volunteer to be alone with one child. If one-on-one time is necessary or unavoidable, these interactions should take place in open, observable areas, or be subject to routine, random observation.
For example, programs that pair younger students with older student “buddies” should also seek to eliminate or monitor one-on-one time between older and younger children.
Dramatic changes in behavior, reverting to behaviors common in younger children, or acting out sexually can be major red flags. Children may suffer from anxiety, changes in eating and sleeping habits, or nightmares. A more extensive list of potential warning signs is available here.
It is important for parents, caregivers, and teachers to understand normal child development, including development of sexual behaviors and knowledge. More information regarding age-appropriate sexual behaviors of children is available here.
If a child exhibits any physical signs of abuse, it is very important that the child receive an appropriate medical examination. Forensic examinations should be conducted by a forensic nurse examiner or other practitioner who is specially trained in administration of pediatric forensic examinations. For more information about forensic examinations, please contact your local Child Advocacy Center.
Children process trauma differently, and every child victim will have a different response to the abuse. A particular child’s trauma responses may be different from what some people might expect, but this should not be taken to mean that the child is making it up or that the child is “just exaggerating.” All disclosures of abuse should be taken seriously.
Because 91% of child sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone that the child or family knows, perpetrators often build up a relationship with the child before attempting to abuse them. This process, called “grooming,” often includes building up trust with the child and other family members by spending time together, giving gifts, or otherwise filling a need in the child’s life. Read more on our factsheet on grooming here.
Do not attempt to interview the child yourself or engage in “fact-finding.” The best way to ensure that the investigation is performed by trained professionals is to report the abuse to local law enforcement, Child Protective Services, or both. Consider the child’s safety and privacy when making your next steps.
It is critical that any disclosure of abuse be reported immediately. Some categories of professionals may have additional considerations regarding reporting.
Children often begin by disclosing abuse indirectly in order to determine how adults will react to the information. They may not share everything that occurred, or they may say that the abuse happened to someone else. It is important to remain calm, listen without judgement, and avoid reacting in a way that might indicate to the child that you are upset. If children feel that you are upset or angry, they may shut down and stop communicating about the abuse.