Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is a difficult topic. Taboo, even. But it’s happening now, all over the world — even here in Bucks County. It may be uncomfortable, but we need to talk about abuse in order to stop abuse.
Children have the right to grow up safe and healthy, free from abuse. The good news is, there are actionable ways to prevent CSA from occurring in our communities.
Protecting children means that we, as adults, must be proactive in recognizing the signs of abuse and applying trusted methods to stop it.
At NOVA, we believe the five steps outlined below offer an excellent starting point to create safer environments for all children in our lives.
- Learn the Facts
You may have heard that about 1 in 10 children experience child sexual abuse before their 18th birthday (cite). But did you know that up to 60% of CSA victims are abused by someone their family trusts?
Stopping CSA starts at home and starts with awareness. If these statistics shock you, it means we need to do more to educate ourselves and each other.
- Minimize Opportunity
Once we know the facts, there are simple things we can do to prevent CSA on a daily basis. For example, we know that isolated one-on-one situations with children and adults (or even older children) leads to a much higher risk of abuse. To create safer environments, we can work to favor group settings with multiple adults present at once.
- Talk About It
The stigma surrounding CSA is obvious. But in order to stop it, we need to be comfortable addressing topics with our children related to healthy sexuality by teaching respect and body boundaries. Starting the conversation may be difficult, but lack of conversations leaves children vulnerable. It is important that we talk about CSA with our children openly, honestly, early and at an age appropriate level. When you start the conversation with a child, you are establishing yourself as a trusted adult that your child can come to with questions or concerns.
- Recognize the Signs
It is not always obvious when a child is being abused. Most of the time, the signs are subtle and require us to look closely at physical, emotional, and behavioral changes. These can include anxiety and depression, chronic stomach pain or headaches, behavior that is either “overly compliant” or non-compliant or rebellious. When we notice an unexplainable change in a child it is important for us to let that child know we are there to listen whenever the child is ready to talk.
- React Responsibly
Sometimes, it is easy to ignore our own suspicions or those that another person shares with us. But it is important to listen to our instincts — and be ready to believe our children if they tell us they’ve been abused. If a child does disclose abuse, remain calm, tell the child you believe them, reinforce that the child did the right thing by telling you and that the abuse is not their fault. And whether or not we are 100% certain abuse has occurred, the next step is to report the disclosure or suspicion to professionals for investigation and help.
If you suspect a child in your life is being abused, call ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313. We encourage you to add this number into your phone’s contact list.
Professionals (mandated reporters) who come in contact with children are required to report when they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child under the care, supervision, guidance, or training of that person or of their agency, institution, or organization is an abused child. In addition, any person (permissive reporters) may report suspected abuse, even if the individual wishes to remain anonymous.
There’s much more to learn to stop and prevent CSA. NOVA has a mission to train 5% of Bucks County adults on CSA prevention by the end of 2021, and we need your help to reach our goal.