What do children keep quiet about and what do adults not want to know? According to various data, between 11 and 30 % of children and young people experience sexual abuse. How to keep children safe and what should parents do if it happens?
It is difficult to give an exact figure of how many children go through this. The data varies greatly, as not everyone seeks help from the police or medical institutions. And how many cases are there when what has happened becomes a family secret that is kept secret for life? Also, many believe that sexual violence is rape per se, and if it has not happened, there is no harm done.
1. Meanwhile, all touching of a child’s private parts, “adult” kissing, indecent exposure and so on are traumatic for the little one. The consequences of childhood experiences can be very serious: anxiety and fears, difficult relationships with the opposite sex, problems with self-esteem, aversion of the body, depression. It is scary to think about it, because the abusers are often the nicest looking people, and sometimes even relatives (uncles, stepfathers, older brothers, grandfathers). It seems unthinkable, but that is the reality.
There is clearly something wrong with the child if…
The previously open and trusting child, who was easy to tell you about himself, gives only one-word answers to all the questions.
The child’s behavior and emotions have changed.
Children react differently to what has happened: aggression, apathy, sleep or appetite disorders, fears and anxiety – any unusual manifestations should alert you.
“Sexualised” behaviour in children, especially at an age when they should not yet be aware of the details of sex. Anatomical accuracy in describing genitals, knowledge of what feels good or unpleasant.He may have been enlightened by someone.
Sharp antipathy of the child towards an adult: does not want to sit next to them at the table or stand next to them when they are photographed, does not want to be alone with that person. Gently ask why this is the case. The child spends a lot of time in the company of an adult, receives gifts or money from him or her and is often left alone with him or her.
Why children are silent
Unless it is a violent attack in the stairwell, on the street or around the corner, the abuser often tries to create a relationship with the child in which the child will not say anything.
An adult can manipulate the child:
“You and I are friends, we won’t tell anyone. You’re not a traitor, you won’t tell our secret, will you?
Or intimidate the child: “If Mum hears about this, she will be very angry.
Sometimes abusers try to convince themselves that they are not doing anything wrong, and instill it in children: “This is how people show their love,” “I’d rather teach you than your peers.”
It is difficult for a young person to define the boundaries of the norm and they do not always realise that what is being done to them is not normal. The child may see the perpetrator’s actions as play, sympathy or even concern on the part of an adult:
Let me help you wash up”, “Snuggle up against me, it’s warmer”.
This is why children do not know how to explain and prove what has happened, they cannot articulate what has gone wrong. It can be difficult for a child to connect the events and the feelings that then emerge.
Many children blame themselves, fear that no one will believe them, that they will be accused of lying against a respected person – a teacher, a family friend, a relative – and this will make their lives even more difficult. There are also times when the abuser is the only adult who supports them and to tell about the abuse is to betray a “friendship”.
Why don’t parents believe them?
It is hard for mums and dads to imagine that this is possible. It doesn’t make sense that someone you trust would be able to hurt your child. It seems too unbelievable. Hence the blindness of parents, who sometimes go years without noticing what is happening right under their noses. And even if they do notice, they push away the suspicions that creep in. Mothers may be dependent on the male abuser financially and psychologically. They are afraid of a scandal.
How to keep a child safe?
Children can become victims of harassment because of a lack of information. It is understandable that they do not yet know that there are “good” and “bad” touches, that there are places that should not be touched. It doesn’t occur to them that they should tell their loved ones about these attempts, especially if sex is a taboo subject in the family.
It is the job of mum and dad to talk to their children openly about it, as it is impossible to protect them by hiding the information. When talking to your child, call things by their proper names. Be explicit about who has no right to touch him and where.
The word “nobody” is an empty word. If it turns out to be a grandfather, cousin, uncle or other familiar person, the child will have no idea how to react. So explain in detail, but without intimidation. Emphasize that in case of any doubts or fears your child can turn to you, that you are on his/her side, that there is always a way out and you can find it together.
The basis of your child’s safety is your trusting relationship with him/her. Allow your child to say “no” and be an example of someone who knows how to say “no”. Allow your child to disagree, to resist. Explain that not everyone has to be obeyed at all times. This is not always convenient for parents, but it is important for security.
What not to do
Take on the function of law enforcement and conduct your own investigation. This work is beyond your competence.
Trying to influence the abuser – to shame, “educate”, punish. This is ineffective. In all likelihood, the abuse will continue, only it will be more skillfully concealed.
To dismiss your suspicions, convince yourself that it will all be forgotten, and to leave your child alone with the situation he or she finds himself or herself in. One in three girls and one in five boys experiences sexual abuse before the age of 18.
If the fears are confirmed
First and foremost, support the child. Try to listen without overreacting emotionally and reassure them that you are on their side.
Do not be afraid to ask for help from the law enforcement authorities. You do not have to have evidence to do this.
It is up to the investigation to gather the facts. You can formulate your appeal as a concern, a suspicion, listing the signs that have come to your attention. You are obliged to accept the complaint and to carry out an investigation informing you of the progress. If you encounter difficulties, you can contact the public prosecutor’s office and complain about the failure to follow up on your report.