No parent wants to think about the possibility of their child experiencing sexual abuse. This is a very real concern, however, as 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused in our world today. Instead of just being afraid, however, there are very practical things you can do to reduce the risk of abuse to your child.
An Obstacle for Some Parents
There is an obstacle that prevents some parents from better protecting their children from sexual abuse. Ironically, that obstacle is the fear of ruining a child’s innocence by teaching them about sex. But when we refrain from talking to our kids about sex we are not protecting them, we are putting them in danger.
I am speaking from personal experience. I am one of the 1 out of 6 men who were sexually abused as boys. My abuse started at five years old and continued until I was fourteen. The following are the things that could have prevented the abuse I lived through.
Teach Names of Body Parts
A counselor friend shared with me a story of a little girl who told her mother, “Mom, the babysitter keeps poking me with his stick.” That sounded odd to the mother but not alarming, so the mother replied, “Well, tell him to stop.” It was weeks later, after several other babysitting times, when the mother finally realized the babysitter was sexually abusing her little girl.
The mother had never taught her little girl the names of male and female sex organs, so the girl had no words to explain what had happened to her. This girl suffered sexual abuse much longer than if she knew how to tell her mom what had happened.
Ask What Your Children Do and With Whom
Most of us know that when sexual abuse happens it is often between people who know each other well. A 2017 study found that for every adult who abuses a child there are seven children who sexually abuse another child. More specifically, the demographic who abuses children the most is boys ages 11 to 15.
This aligns with my story. My abuser was twelve when he started abusing me at age five. His family was close with ours and they attended our church. We moved when I was eight and another boy who was fourteen began abusing me. His family was also close with ours and attended our church. But abuse can also happen between children of the same age, when one coerces another into doing sexual things.
My parents never asked what I did at either older friend’s house or questioned why we were so often alone and out of sight. That put me in great danger.
Teach What God Made Sex For
My parents never told me anything about sex or sexuality. Not once. I knew what to call body parts by age five but we lived on a farm where I had seen animals mating and I had a lot of questions.
Had I known what God created sex for and how it worked I would not have brought those questions to a boy twice my age. Had I known God’s plan for sex I would have told a parent when someone tried to get me to do something outside of God’s plan. My lack of sex education did not create innocence but vulnerability.
Teach About Sexual Temptation and Desire
Teaching about sex must include talking about sexual temptation and what to do when we feel tempted. The Bible teaches us to tell each other when we are tempted and kids need to learn to tell their parents when they are tempted, even sexually tempted.
Kids need to know before they reach puberty that they will experience sexual desire, and that is good. However, we must coach them to manage their sexual desire. Kids need to understand what to avoid doing with their sexuality that would be harmful to others or themselves.
My own sexual abuse awakened my sexuality too early. Counselors call this “hot-wiring.” By the time I was ten or eleven I was experiencing sexual temptation and desire. I needed someone to teach me what to do with temptation and desire. When my parents opted out of my sex education they handed that over to the world. The world gave me two teenage boys and pornography as educators.
Discuss the Reality of Pornography
Our kids need to know what pornography is and what to do when they see it long before they do. The average age of exposure to pornography today is eight. That means half of all kids in our country see pornography before age eight. That means children today need to know how to react to pornography at age seven. This is protection, not corruption.
I was introduced to pornography at age nine by the teenager abusing me. Pornography is very often used by abusers to make children feel that the sex acts they are asked to do are normal. If people take lots of pictures of it, how wrong can it be? Pornography was used on me to get me to comply.
Afterward, I remember wondering if my dad had ever seen pornography as a boy. I wanted to ask him but I was afraid to. This would have been another helpful conversation that could have cut short my abuse by several years.
Make Sex a Calm Conversation
Kids don’t want to talk to a parent who is anxious or agitated. It is imperative that any time we talk about sex or porn we remain calm and pleasant. Our kids need to experience positive conversations about sex and sexuality so they aren’t afraid to talk to us about sex or potentially abusive situations.
When I was nine I actually tried to tell my mother what the older boy was doing with me. I was afraid, so I hinted by asking if it was normal for boys to do certain things. My mother got visibly agitated and upset so I changed the subject and assured her everything was fine. I never said another word about what was happening to me, and the abuse continued, getting progressively worse, for five more years.
Teaching Healthy Sexuality Prevents Abuse
You may have noticed that everything in this blog is part of teaching God’s design for healthy sexuality:
Teaching God’s Design for sex in this way also protects our children agains sexual abuse. Ignorance is not innocence, it is dangerous in today’s culture.
Dr. Juli Slattery, author of Rethinking Sexuality, puts it this way:
“In what world is knowing God’s design for sexuality ruining anyone’s innocence?”
Knowing God’s design for sex protects our children from abuse.
Director of Training