Empowering children by talking about sexual assault
Think of four young girls you know. Now, think about this: One of those girls will likely be sexually abused before she turns 18, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime. Boys are also at risk: 1 out of 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.
These can be disturbing statistics to hear, but another danger that contributes to these numbers is not discussing this important topic with children.
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness month, which reminds us all of the importance of having an honest conversation about sexual violence with the children close to you.
“Conversations about sexuality and sexual abuse can be uncomfortable, but these are crucial to have throughout a child’s development,” says Jennifer Slominski, RN, TNS, SANE-A, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) coordinator at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill.
As a SANE coordinator, Slominski is among the first people to help sexual assault victims after they come to the emergency room. Instead of sitting in the waiting room, Slominiski interviews the victim and does a physical examination, collecting evidence that might be used to catch the perpetrator.
Slominski says one key to addressing sexual assault is to talk to children early and often. “It’s important to consider talking to children about their bodies and matters of sexuality as an ongoing dialogue throughout their development, rather than one ‘big’ conversation,” she advises. “Children in grade school need to understand their anatomy and that inappropriate physical contact is not okay.”
Slominski recommends taking the following steps toward discussing sexual assault:
- Talking with a child about sex should come first, then explaining that some parts of their bodies are private.
- Address inappropriate physical contact. It’s not the typical “stranger danger.” About 90 percent of sexual predators are relatives or people the child knows, according to the American Psychological Association.
- Help your child to understand that they need to tell you if someone is touching them inappropriately. Reassure them that you will not be mad at them. They need to know you support them.
- Remain conversational and open. Answer all of their questions or find another close, trusted adult who can.
“We cannot completely eliminate the possibility that our children will be sexually abused,” Slominski adds, “but we can empower them through education, communication and love and support.”
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health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care sites, also including freelance or intern writers.