Four Ways To Prevent Sexual Abuse

Someone is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds in America. One of six American women is the victim of rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes. About 3 percent of American men are the victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes. These statistics are tragic, but thankfully a number of resources are available for education on how to prevent sexual abuse.

Harvard Medical School recently published an article that identified four main things all parents should do to help prevent their child becoming a victim of sexual abuse.

  1. Firstly, it is important for parents to teach their children the names of their body parts, including their genitals. This allows children to understand that while their genitals may be private, it is still all right to talk to their parents about them.
  2. Secondly, parents should teach their children that their genitals are private and no one is to touch them without permission. This not only teaches children that their privacy is important, but it also teaches them that others deserve their privacy as well, and it is not all right for anyone to violate it.
  3. Thirdly, teaching children that it is not all right for adults to ask children to keep secrets prevents children from being susceptible to manipulation. When an adult says that something is “just between us” or that the child will get in trouble for telling their “secret,” it is important for the child to know that that behavior is not acceptable, and to tell their parents.
  4. Finally, it is important, along with the open lines of communication, that children feel comfortable talking about sex with their parents. It is an uncomfortable topic for many parents, but making a safe space for children to ask questions and learn about sex is one way to protect your child.

Red Flags and Signs for Parents

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The American Academy of Pediatrics further advises parents to keep an eye out for adults who offer children gifts or toys. This is often one of the initial steps in “grooming” a child.

“Grooming” is the process of a perpetrator coercing a victim into a secret sexual relationship. The AAP recommends that parents stay involved with their children’s activities as much as possible, as it deters predators. This is because oftentimes perpetrators look for children with less of an adult presence in their lives and determine they are more susceptible to their advances.

Other signs of grooming include perpetrators, once having gained a child’s trust, filling the roles they see available in the child’s life. Once they have integrated themselves into a victim’s life, they proceed to isolate the victim. This is usually when the sexual abuse begins, and the rest of the relationship between perpetrator and victim is about managing and manipulating the victim into staying quiet about the abuse. With a strong parental presence, there is less of likelihood that perpetrators have access to their victims, which is why organizations like AAP stress the importance of parental involvement.

Giving Children a Voice

RAINN also encourages parents to simply show interest in their children’s daily lives, getting to know the people their children interact with, making sure that all caregivers are screened properly before being entrusted with children. While it is a difficult topic to broach with children, it is also important to talk about the cases of sexual abuse being highlighted in the media, asking questions to see what children understand about the situation, and answering any questions they have.

RAINN suggests that encouraging children to speak up and teaching them that their voices will be heard is imperative. If a child knows that there are adults they can trust and with whom they can be honest, that child is far more likely to talk to those adults about any uncomfortable situations, taking away a perpetrator’s opportunity.

Adult Sexual Abuse

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has developed a strategy called STOP SV to prevent sexual violence from occurring in the first place, for both child and adult victims.

The first step is promoting social norms that protect against violence, whether it is through encouraging bystanders to stand up and speak out when they see sexual harassment or abuse, or through rallying women and men to the cause of stopping sexual violence. The more people are supportive and vigilant, the less easy it is for perpetrators to strike.

Teaching skills to prevent sexual violence is the next step. Social-emotional learning—enhancing a core set of social and emotional skills early in life—can change the way young people think and feel about violence. This, coupled with education on safe dating and intimacy, as well as the promotion of healthy sexuality, can help build strong foundations that promote a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sexual violence. Empowering young people concentrates on building a confidence that deters potential predators.

The Concept of Consent

Important preventative and proactive measures to stay safe from sexual violence start with the concept of consent. Consent is an agreement between participants to engage sexually, and most importantly, consent is about communication. A verbal confirmation is often advised to protect all parties.

A common misconception about consent is that once it has been given, it cannot be revoked. This is incorrect. If you change your mind, or if things begin to develop in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you absolutely have the right to revoke your consent. Furthermore, assuming that someone is “asking for it” because of their appearance, demeanor, or actions is not consent. Both parties need to agree before consent has occurred.

If you find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation, there are a couple things to keep in mind.

  • First, it is not your fault, and you did not do anything wrong. The only person at fault is the person making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
  • Second, sometimes it is recommended to have a code word with friends or family for when you need help. Having a phrase or word that you can message to a trusted person is a way of alerting them to your distress in a way that isn’t clear to the person pressuring you.
  • It is also all right to lie to the person who is making you uncomfortable. Having an excuse to leave—whether true or not—is useful, and something you can think about before finding yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. Finding an exit from the situation is a priority.

Unfortunately, in our contemporary society, we must be vigilant to prevent sexual abuse from happening to children and adults. Sadly, even when attempting to follow the guidelines described here, circumstances and situations may put a victim in a position of no escape.

A victim should never have had to go through the trauma and life-lasting pain and suffering from sexual abuse. Thankfully, our legal system provides avenues and roads for a person to seek compensation, justice, and most importantly self-respect after suffering through sexual abuse.

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