Talking to kids about sexual abuse

In the United States, the Justice Department released statistics in 2001 that showed one in every six rape victims was under the age of twelve. The majority of sexual abusers were male, but perpetrators can also be women. The scary truth is that abusers are often friends, acquaintances and even family members. This last kind of abuse is called incest.

The situation in South Africa
There is every reason to believe that current statistics in South Africa are even more frightening. In this country there is a culture of non-reporting and underreporting of sexual offences. With the recent moratorium placed on the release of crime statistics, accurate figures are currently not available. Earlier figures released by the SAPS make for some terrifying reading, though.

Between 1994 and 1999 23,900 rape cases were reported to the police. It is reasonable to assume that many of these cases involved children. The SAPS estimate that only between one in twenty and one in thirty-five rapes are reported to the police. The same kind of reporting ratio would hold in cases regarding minors. When parents assume that their children are not at risk, they are very wide off the mark.

What is abuse?

As a result of the fact that there are people in this world who force others to have sexual intercourse or perform sexual acts against their will, your children need to be warned in order to make them vigilant.

When force is involved in obtaining sexual favours, and this includes emotional manipulation, this is called sexual abuse.

Rape is not the only kind of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse can include unwanted touching, fondling, watching, talking or being forced to watch someone’s else private parts or sexual activity.

These are all crimes punishable by law. But they are often underreported, as, in the case of adult rape survivors, children are often made to feel that they were somehow responsible for what happened. Fear of repercussions and intimidation can also help to silence the victims of abuse.

Things to tell your children:

  • No-one ever has the right to touch you or make you do something without your permission – not even friends or other people you know.
    • If children are hurt by adults, it is never the fault of the children.
    • Most adults are trustworthy, but some are not. (You don’t want your child to run every time a stranger approaches, but at the same time, they must have an idea that not all strangers have good intentions).
    • There is nothing that you cannot tell your parents.(The moment someone wants to do things to them about which they are threatened into silence, they should tell. Very often the threat of exposure makes potential abusers back off.)
    • Never accept presents, like sweets or money, from strangers.
    • Don’t ever accept lifts from strangers, even if they tell you that your parents sent them. Get a codeword that can be used in these circumstances. (Practice this with your children.)
    • Don’t go anywhere alone with someone you don’t know well. Let your parents know at all times where you are.
    • Your address and telephone number. (Roleplay this – make sure even young children have memorized this)
    • If something has happened to you, don’t keep quiet. Scream, run away, go to the nearest woman you can find.
    • Stress the fact that most people are OK. This is very important, as you want to make your children abuse-proof, not anti-social.
    • It is important that children should not confuse healthy sexual feelings with sexual abuse. If talking about abuse is the only sex education your children receive, they will grow up associating all sexual feelings with something negative. Talk about the healthy and joyful aspects of sexual experiences.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, April 2007)

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