Protecting children against sexual abuse
It's news that would alarm any parent: Yuma County has experienced a 31 percent increase in child sexual abuse. Even scarier, many of the cases involve the “most vulnerable,” children birth to 4 years old.
What can parents do to prevent it from happening to their children? What should parents and childcare providers do they if they suspect abuse?
What should you teach your child?
Parents should be a child's first advocate, notes Diane Umphress, executive director of Amberly's Place. They should be the first in their children's line of defense, which means teaching their children about appropriate and inappropriate touching.
According to Committee for Children (www.cfchildren.org), a children's advocacy organization, parents should explain to children that there are three kinds of touches:
• Safe touches. These are touches that keep children safe and are good for them, and that make children feel cared for and important. Safe touches can include hugging, pats on the back, and an arm around the shoulder. Safe touches can also include touches that might hurt, such as removing a splinter. Explain to children that when you remove a splinter, you are doing so to keep them healthy, which makes it a safe touch.
• Unsafe touches. These are touches that hurt children's bodies or feelings (for example, hitting, pushing, pinching and kicking). Teach children that these kinds of touches are not OK.
• Unwanted touches. These are touches that might be safe but that a child doesn't want from that person or at that moment. It is OK for a child to say no to an unwanted touch, even if it is from a familiar person. Help your children practice saying no in a strong, yet polite voice. This will help children learn to set personal boundaries.
The Committee for Children (CFC) also recommends that parents teach their children about the “rules” of touching private body parts.
“Once children can name their private body parts and know about different kinds of touches, you can teach them that there is another kind of unsafe touch that is also not OK. This kind of touch is when someone older or bigger touches their private body parts. How you explain this will depend on the age of your child,” states the CFC.
For a young child you might say, “Another kind of unsafe touch is when a bigger person touches you on your private body parts and it is not to keep you clean or healthy. So we have a family safety rule that it is never OK for a bigger person to touch your private body parts except to keep you clean and healthy.”
The “clean” part of this rule applies to young children at an age when an adult might help them with diaper changing, going to the toilet or bathing, the CFC notes.
The “healthy” part of this rule refers to doctor visits, for example, when the doctor gives a child a shot. In addition, an adult family member should always be present at doctor appointments, explains the CFC.
For an older child, the organization suggests parents say this: “Another kind of unsafe touch is when someone touches you on your private body parts and it is not to keep you healthy. So our family safety rule about touching is that no one should touch your private body parts except to keep you healthy.”
For specific “rules” to teach children, please see accompanying box.
What if you suspect child abuse?
First of all, Umphress says, always believe your kids if they say someone hurt or touched them inappropriately.
When it comes to child abuse, “don't automatically think it couldn't have happened,” she noted.
And pay attention to your “gut” feeling. If it's telling you something is wrong, don't brush it off, she added.
Consider the possibility if a child is behaving abnormally, such as wetting the bed, having a hard time going to sleep, not doing well in school and knows or talks about things he or she should not know about, such as sexual matters.
However, don't submit the child to an interrogation. If you suspect child abuse, ask only four simple questions and leave the rest to law enforcement:
– What happened?
– Who did this?
– When did this happen?
– Where did this happen?
If you suspect child abuse, parents and childcare providers are obligated by state law to report it to police. Failure to report it is a Class 6 felony.
But what if you're not sure?
“It's the job of law enforcement to investigate,” Umphress said. “They won't jump and arrest someone. Do mistakes happen? Sometimes, yes, we find out nothing happened, but it's rare. What's important is the well-being and sanity of children.”
According to the Yuma Children's Justice Project, a federally funded, multi-agency effort intended to improve the handling of crimes against children, mandated reporters are immune from civil and criminal liability if police find out nothing happened, except in cases where reporters are found to have acted with malice.
Police will keep the investigation confidential. And that requires that the reporting party keep it private as well. This will also protect the child's dignity.
“After reporting it to law enforcement know, don't let the rest of the family know. It's too much pressure on the kid. It should just be between the person reporting it and law enforcement,” Umphress explained.
The Yuma Children's Justice Project recommends that suspected abuse first be reported to local law enforcement (before calling CPS), simply because they are able to respond faster and have more resources to investigate.
Child interviews and investigations will be conducted by qualified law enforcement officials or trained forensic interviewers. Interviews are videotaped to reduce the number of times the child is required to tell his or her story.
For more information or questions, call Amberly's Place at (928) 373-0849 or the local police department.
Sexual abuse indicators
Pain, itching in the genital area
Sexually transmitted disease
Frequent and unexplained sore throat, yeast or urinary infections
Genital bleeding or bruising
Difficulty walking or standing
Excessive masturbation in young children
Depression or suicidal gestures
Eating and/or sleeping disorders
Academic or behavioral problems in school
Sexual knowledge which exceeds child's age
Indications of physical abuse
Bruises in different stages of healing or on parts of the body where bruises are not common.
Lacerations, burns, fractures or dislocation
Bite marks, object or pattern shaped injuries and/or abrasions
Child's fear of adult contact
Poor social skills
Aggressive or acting out behavior, withdrawal
Fear of returning to home
Child offers unbelievable explanation for injuries
Indicators of Child Neglect
Failure to provide adequate housing
Failure to provide medical or dental care
Failure to provide proper food and clothing
Failure to provide proper supervision and education
Source: Yuma Children's Justice Project
Teach your children the following safety rules:
It is not OK to touch someone else's private body parts.
It is not OK for someone to touch his or her own private body parts in front of you.
It is not OK for someone to ask you to touch his or her private body parts.
It is not OK for someone to ask you to take your clothes off or to take photos or videos of you with your clothes off.
It is not OK for someone to show you photos or videos of people without their clothes on.
Source: Committee for Children (www.cfchildren.org)