The thought of child sexual abuse is so repulsive most parents won't even consider it.

Behaviours to watch for

There are, however, certain tip-offs in your child's behaviour that would indicate a need to get further information, or check it out with a counsellor:

  • Sexually "acting out": sex play with dolls or toys, drawing naked bodies, speaking or acting seductively, or instances of sexual aggression

  • Behavioural changes at home and school, such as withdrawal or rebelliousness, a feeling that "something is not quite right"

  • Sleep disturbances and increased nightmares

  • Bed wetting

  • Clinging – fear of being left alone

  • Depression

  • Lack of appetite

  • Psychosomatic illnesses

Actions to take

If you discover that your child has been victimized, here are some important actions to take:

  • Believe your child. No matter how dignified the accused or unlikely the accusation, children can't make up certain things unless they've been exposed to them.

  • Write down exactly what your child says and include dates. Record any unusual behaviour that might confirm the incident.

  • Go to the authorities. School officials, police or your family doctor are trained in this area.

  • Assure your child that neither the abuse nor its outcome is his or her fault.

  • Offer therapy, but don't insist on it until the child is ready and feels comfortable with the counsellor. If possible, choose a Christian counsellor who will honour your family's values.

Equip your child

To provide your children with some extra protection against victimization, here are some suggestions:

  • Teach your child to say no. Sometimes "good kids" haven't been taught to set boundaries or follow their instincts. They want to be polite.

  • Tell your children that if something feels wrong to them, it's okay to make a scene – hit, kick, bite, scream or run. You want them to avoid danger by doing whatever is necessary.

  • Give your children a lesson on right and wrong touching. Tell them no one has the right to touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable, no matter who it is. Major video stores offer free community service videos that teach "appropriate touching." Proper words are: "No one is allowed to touch your private areas." Don't say, "Never let someone touch you." This puts the responsibility on the child, where it doesn't belong.

© 1993 Cynthia Culp Allen. Used by permission. This article first appeared in the July 1993 issue of Focus on the Family magazine.

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