America’s Olympic sweetheart, Simone Biles is the latest prominent young lady to come forward with claims of sexual abuse. She says her abuser was a trusted authority figure, the US gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar. Simone joins over 140 female athletes who say the doctor took advantage of them when they were just children.
We reached out to Jacksonville Pediatrician, Dr. Prasanthi Reddy on steps parents can take to minimize the risk of their children being similarly abused.
By Prasanthi Reddy, MD
As a mother and a pediatrician, it is disturbing to learn about the abuse of power amongst people that we most trust to care for our children. Child sexual abuse is unfortunately more common than most people know. It is a difficult subject for parents to discuss with their children. Parents often fear the loss of childhood innocence when acknowledging such atrocities in this world
Unfortunately it is a subject that every parent needs to discuss with their children. Knowledge is power even for children. Here are some guidelines from American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Center for Victims of Crime that will help guide parents.
- 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse;
- Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident;
- During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
- Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
- Children are most vulnerable to CSA between the ages of 7 and 13.
- Incidence of abuse are commonly under-reported.
What parents should know about child sexual abuse:
- Most offenders are known to the child; they may be family members, relatives, friends, teachers, coaches, babysitters, and others in positions of authority.
- Children most susceptible to sexual abuse have obedient, compliant and respectful personalities. They may be children from unhappy or broken homes, as these youngsters may be eager for attention and affection.
- Children who are victims of sexual abuse can display many or few behavioral symptoms. They may withdraw from family or friends, display poor school performance, experience depression, anxiety, or exhibit aggressive and self-destructive behavior. Or they may not display any outward abnormal behavior.
- Child sexual abuse often involves more than a single incident, and can go on for months or years.
- Sexual abuse includes any kind of sexual act or behavior with a child, and includes activities involving genital contact as well as non-contact events- such as showing pornographic images to children, taking pornographic photographs of a child, etc.
Tips that can minimize your child’s risk of molestation:
- In early childhood, parents can teach their children the name of the genitals, just as they teach their child names of other body parts. This teaches that the genitals, while private, are not so private that you can’t talk about them.
- Parents can teach young children about the privacy of body parts, and that no one has the right to touch their bodies if they don’t want that to happen. Children should also learn to respect the right to privacy of other people.
- Teach children early and often that there are no secrets between children and their parents, and that they should feel comfortable talking with their parent about anything — good or bad, fun or sad, easy or difficult.
- Be aware of adults who offer children special gifts or toys, or adults who want to take your child on a “special outing” or to special events.
- Enroll your child in daycare and other programs that have a parent “open door” policy. Monitor and participate in activities whenever possible.
- As children age, create an environment at home in which sexual topics can be discussed comfortably. Use news items and publicized reports of child sexual abuse to start discussions of safety, and reiterate that children should always tell a parent about anyone who is taking advantage of them sexually.
- If your child discloses any history of sexual abuse, listen carefully, and take his or her disclosure seriously. Too often, children are not believed, particularly if they implicate a family member as the perpetrator. Contact your pediatrician, the local child protection service agency, or the police. If you don’t intervene, the abuse might continue, and the child may come to believe that home is not safe and that you are not available to help.
- Support your child and let him or her know that he or she is not responsible for the abuse.
- Bring your child to a physician for a medical examination, to ensure that the child’s physical health has not been affected by the abuse.
- Most children and their families will also need professional counseling to help them through this ordeal, and your pediatrician can refer you to community resources for psychological help.
- If you have concerns that your child may be a victim of sexual abuse, you should talk with your pediatrician. Your physician can discuss your concerns, examine your child, and make necessary referrals and reports.
Prasanthi Reddy, MD, FAAP, CIC is the medical director and owner of Rainbow Pediatric Center (RPC). She is a board-certified pediatrician with special interests in childhood development, asthma and pediatric concussions.
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