How to Prevent Child Abuse {And What to Do if It Happens}

April is Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month and Houston Moms Blog is dedicated to helping raise awareness about child abuse prevention. This is one mom’s story.

Recently, I joined a new group of parents. It wasn’t a voluntary membership; I did everything to avoid it. It’s the loneliest club, one that no parent wants to be part of :: my child was sexually abused. 

I’m an overprotective mom. No sleepovers, no babysitters. The kids didn’t play outside unsupervised until they were much older. I have family members who have been abused, and I was terrified of it happening to my kids. I took several steps to prevent child abuse, many of which are listed here. And it still happened to us.

Being cautious about who your children spend time with is important, but far from the only step you can take. I know that what happened is not our fault. I also know what I did right, and what helped us put a stop to the abuse right away.

On the advice and counsel of experts and therapists, here are a few steps that can help all of us to stop and prevent child abuse::

Teach Bodily Autonomy

Bodily Autonomy is the concept that we are individually responsible for deciding what can and cannot happen to our bodies. Who can touch us, and how. 

This is not meant to be a debate about discipline or medical choices. Rather, it is a conversation about how to teach children and teens consent, appropriate relationships, and safe/unsafe touch. Practicing bodily autonomy can help prevent child abuse {both physical and sexual} as well as teen dating violence and domestic abuse.

A very simple way to begin is to not force a child’s affections. Don’t make a kid hug or kiss someone they don’t want to. If a child expresses that they are uncomfortable with a person, find another friendly and appropriate way to greet them.

Use Anatomical Words

Many cases of child abuse go unreported or are not convicted because the child cannot adequately describe what happened to them. Child abusers also tend not to abuse children who know the names of their body parts. 

From the time they can speak, teach your children the anatomical words for their body. Use those words unabashedly and avoid “cutesy” terms for genitals. “Private parts” is okay but children should also know the specific name of each part.

If you are unsure how to start, your pediatrician or family doctor are excellent resources to help normalize and legitimize these words.

Learn About & Define Child Abuse

Talking about how to prevent abuse is a powerful tool in prevention- and we need to include children in that conversation. Kids are never too young to learn about healthy relationships and boundaries.

You do not have to wait until abuse has already occurred to talk to kids about what child abuse is. Use this age-appropriate guide to define child abuse, why it occurs, and what to do if it happens to them or someone else. 

Child abuse is widely regarded as a global epidemic on the rise. Here is what to do if you suspect or find out that a child is being abused ::

Believe Them

It is a sobering fact that children almost never lie about abuse, particularly sexual abuse. In fact, children are more likely to cover up abuse than to disclose it. If a child discloses to you that they have been abused in any way, believe them.

Police and Child Protective Service have methods of investigation to determine if abuse has occurred. They can also determine if a child is being coached to lie about it. Let the police do their job. Your job is very simple- believe the child, tell them it’s not their fault, and report it to the authorities.

Report It

I know this part seems terribly obvious. Call the authorities, simple.

Still, finding out that a child has been abused, especially when it is your own child, is incredibly disorienting. I remember every detail of that day but mostly the paralyzing shock and confusion.  I am thankful for the close family and friends who made sure I acted without delay.

If you are aware that someone is experiencing child abuse, call 9-1-1 and CPS {yes, both!} right away. The police will to make a report to Child Protective Services but you should make your own report. If you suspect or know that child abuse is occurring, do not wait and see if other people will tell someone. Report, report, report!

Get Help

In the weeks and months following disclosure, my family almost didn’t make it. Today, we are on a path of healing which I credit mostly to the amazing power of a support network. 

Counseling is of the utmost importance for survivors of abuse. Therapy is also beneficial for parents and caregivers of child victims as well as others in the family who may be indirectly affected by disclosure. In addition to counseling, you may need assistance with medical bills and legal advice. Help is out there. 

If your children or someone you know is experiencing child abuse, there are many local and national organizations here to help:

RAINN {The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network} helps find resources available in your area. Call their hotline at 800.656.HOPE.

Child Help USA has specifically trained operators to help deal with questions about child sexual abuse. Call their national hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.

MOSAC {Mothers of Sexually Abused Children} helps parents and families cope with sexual abuse. On their site, you can find literature and resources for the entire family. 

Darkness To Light is dedicated to education, awareness, and prevention. They can also assist survivors of abuse with reporting abuse, local resource referrals, and answering questions. 

HAWC {Houston Area Women’s Center} provides counseling, education, and emergency services to victims of domestic and sexual violence. Find a full list of their services on their website or contact them at 713. 528. 7273

Bridge Over Troubled Waters is a family crisis center which provides temporary and emergency shelter for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Call their 24 hour Hotline at 713. 473. 2801.

Family Time Crisis Center focuses on intervention, safety, counseling, guidance, and support for children and families in crisis. Contact their 24 Hour Crisis Hotline & Emergency Shelter at 281. 446. 2615.

Casa De Esperanza provides family support programs to help families provide a safe and stable home for children. They provide crisis intervention, temporary shelter, and after care. Contact them at 713. 529. 0639.

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