How to Talk to Your Child About Molestation
It's difficult for most parents to talk to children about this emotionally laden subject. How can we warn children of potential dangers without destroying their basic trust of people or upsetting their view that this is a good world? We may shy away from the topic because we don’t think it’s possible to discuss the negative aspects of sexuality, such as adult exploitation of children, without giving disapproving messages about healthy physical affection or sex in general.
But children are bombarded every day with media events and stories involving murders, burglaries, kidnappings, rapes and molestations. We need to help interpret these events for children and put them into perspective. We must talk to our children about precautions they can take to thwart a potential molester. It may be easier for you to use news reports as a way of leading into this uncomfortable topic.
Child molestation can occur in any neighborhood. The offender can be of any age, race or economic level. In most cases, the offender is not a stranger, but a relative or an acquaintance of the family. The victim can be either male or female. Molestations very seldom take place in a child care program. They occur much more frequently in a home or neighborhood setting.
To help your children protect themselves, consider the following suggestions, adapting them to your own personal style.
- Teach children their full names, addresses and phone numbers as well as your workplace and neighbors’ phone numbers. They should also know how to use the 911 emergency phone number and how to call the operator.
- Talk to your children about their bodies, including vagina, penis and breasts. Teach them that these parts are private.
- Tell your child that if anyone tries to touch or look at his/her private parts, shows them pictures of private parts, or tries to photograph their private parts, then the child needs to tell you, a teacher, guardian or caregiver as soon as they can.
- Children should also tell you if an adult wants them to keep secrets. Emphasize that these kinds of secrets are never allowed.
- Let them know that people who want to do “secret touching” might try tricks to get children to do what they want, like giving them candy or gifts, or threatening them with punishment or separation from their family. Tell children that this is wrong and that people who do this will get in trouble for their behavior.
- Children need specific ideas of what behaviors to watch for, and permission from you to say NO and to leave a situation which makes them uncomfortable.
- Below are some conversational examples to help you:
“There are some people who may want to touch your body in ways you don’t like. Sometimes they may want to touch your private parts such as your penis, vagina, breasts, or have you touch their bodies. You have the right to tell someone they can’t touch you in a way that makes you uncomfortable.”
“They may want to show you pictures of naked people or try to convince you to go along with them.
These people can be strangers or even people you know. You may never meet such a person but, then again, you may.”
“Talk to me if you have any concerns or if you are confused by things that happen to you or your
friends. I'm here for you. Don’t be afraid to tell or ask me anything.”
- Throughout the year, play a “what if...” scenario with your children. For example, ask your child, “What if someone offered you a video game in exchange for something you were uncomfortable doing?”
- Encourage children to stay with their friends, especially on outings or in deserted areas, such as public restrooms.
- Never leave children alone in your car. Instruct children never to get into a car with a stranger or accept rides or gifts from acquaintances without your prior permission. Tell your children that you will never send a stranger to pick them up without first letting them know.
- Children should know that just because someone knows their name, it doesn’t mean that person can be trusted or
knows you. They could have learned a child’s name by eavesdropping or from a personalized jacket or lunch box. Tell your children to get away from a suspicious situation — run, shout, seek help from neighbors, storekeepers, police, etc.
- Get to know your neighbors. You can form a neighborhood watch group and/or invite a member of local law enforcement or child abuse prevention program to a neighborhood discussion group to learn more about this issue.
- Monitor your child’s Internet activities. Use a screening device to keep pornography off your compute. Explain that chat rooms are places where some adults try to meet children to take advantage of them. Tell your children never to give out personal information online, such as their full name, address, phone number, etc.
- Take children's stories seriously. They rarely make up tales of sexual abuse. Check out the information and take action when necessary. Call an agency for help if you’re unsure and want help in evaluating a situation.
Suspicious incidents that occur in your neighborhood, school, child care setting or family, should be communicated to the appropriate people – police, your physician, school principal, director, or Alameda County Children’s Protective Services, 259-1800 (24-hour hotline).
Share the information with members of your community, through phone trees, online groups or fliers, as a way of mobilizing for safety. Remember to assure the privacy of any family whose children have been involved. Some schools have sent warnings to parents when suspicious incidents have occurred and parents have welcomed these notices. This kind of communication should be encouraged.
There are children's books to help you with this topic. Whatever you choose to read, consider the following: will it help you and your child or will it increase your fear and confusion? Do you feel comfortable with the approach? Does it seem right for your child’s age? Does it emphasize self-confidence and healthy physical contact? Does it say where you can turn for help?
Child abuse prevention programs also need to approach this topic with great care. Parents should always know ahead of time when such a program is visiting their child’s child care or school classroom. Review the materials and approach being used, as well as the backgrounds of the individuals involved. Signed parental consent forms should be obtained for every child included in the presentation.
This is just the beginning of exploring this topic. How to talk with your child if a molestation occurs requires all your parental wisdom and skills. If something occurs in your family, your initial response is especially important. Try to remain calm and not transfer your own panic and sense of horror to your child. Spend the first moments reassuring your child and getting the specifics, calmly, as best as your child can give them to you. Try to avoid leading questions; let the child tell you what happened in his/her own way. It’s important for children to be reassured that whatever happened was not their fault. There are community organizations to help you, should you find yourself in this dilemma.
For a child who needs medical attention or counseling services, call the Center for Child Protection at Children's Hospital, 428-3742. Family Paths offers support and counseling referrals for low-income families, 800-829-3777 (24-hour hotline). For additional information or support, call BANANAS’ Warm Line, 658-6046.
The Megan's Law website (www.meganslaw.ca.gov) provides detailed information on registered sex offenders. You will be directed to a legal disclaimer before you can enter the site.
For Preschool-age Children
The Right Touch by Sandy Kleven, Illumination Arts Publishing Company, 1998
A Very Touching Book...for Little People and for Big People by Jan Hindman, Alexandria Assoc., 1983
Your Body Belongs to You by Cornelia Maude Spelman, Albert Whitman & Company, 2000
For School-age Children
My Body is Private by Linda Walvoord Girard, Albert Whitman & Company, 1992
Identifying Child Molesters: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse by Recognizing the Patterns of the Offenders by Carla van
Dam, Ph.D., Haworth Press, Inc., 2001
Reprinted with the permission of BANANAS, Inc. © 2007 BANANAS