An involved parent is the number one "protective factor" against child sexual abuse

Regardless of their age, your child needs to know that they can come to you even if "something doesn’t feel right to them."
Regardless of their age, your child needs to know that they can come to you even if "something doesn’t feel right to them."

"It is my honour and privilege to sentence you. You do not deserve to walk outside a prison ever again. You have done nothing to control those urges and anywhere you walk, destruction will occur to those most vulnerable," said US Judge, Rosemarie Aquilina, while sentencing Larry Nassar, the doctor and osteopathic physician charged with the sexual assault of more than 100 young girls. 

The convicted offender had used his role as a physician to gymnasts as a cover for his crimes, and because he was believed to be treating their children, the abuse sometimes shockingly took place in the presence of their unsuspecting parents

His story is a grim reminder that strangers are not the ones we should be most concerned about when warning kids about sexual abuse.

Much like the disturbing US story, this abuse in South Africa occurs under similar circumstances, perpetrated most often by those who work in close contact with children, and not solely by strangers in the dark. 

One of the most recent incidences involves a teacher arrested for the alleged sexual assault of 23 pupils at Valhalla Primary School in Pretoria. 

The abuse was reported only after a sex education talk regarding consent was given at the school, proving that children need to be informed about what constitutes sexual abuse. 

Read: Consent in the classroom: The reason 23 pupils in Valhalla reported their sex pest teacher

From what age should children be taught about sexual abuse? Tell us your opinion and we could publish your comments. 

SA stats 

The 2016 Optimus Study, a national study of child sexual abuse in SA,  found that "one in three children have experienced some form of sexual abuse," the staggering statistics revealing that more than 700 000 South African children have been sexually abused, "the equivalent of filling up Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium eight times over." 

In terms of reported cases, the study showed that only "1 in 9 to 1 in 13 cases," are brought to the police. 

The picture the study paints is a dark one, however, the authors advise that engaged parents can be one of the best "protective factors", noting that involved parents "were significantly associated with a lower likelihood of young people reporting that they had been victims of sexual abuse."

Also see: "No means no": How this teacher explains consent to 3-year-olds in the sweetest way

Tips from experts 

In 10 Ways to Keep Your Child Safe from the Sneakiest Sexual Abuser, Dr Elizabeth Jeglic and Dr Cynthia Calkins point out several ways parents can keep their kids safe from abuse. 

Here are some of their top tips. 

1. Strangers aren't usually the biggest threats 

The doctors urge parents to be aware of the stranger danger myth, as cases of sexual abuse are largely carried out by adults known to a child. 

According to the Optimus Study, 10% of child abuse is perpetrated by a familiar face, and that in these cases, the abuse took place "four or more times." 

2. The home isn't always a safe space, and neither are familiar places

Dr Elizabeth and Dr Cynthia highlight that abuse is more likely to occur in the home, a fact matching the South African reality. 

The Optimus study reports that abuse occurs in the home in more than 50% of cases. 

"Contrary to this, two out of every three cases (66.3%) involving a perpetrator unknown to the victim had occurred in an area close to the victim’s homes such as the community, streets nearby or local parks." 

Schools were also singled out as a space where predators find victims.

3. Teaching consent is key 

It's important that parents ensure their children have a firm grasp of consent and that they know they always have a say about what is done to their bodies, regardless of who (relative or stranger) they interact with.  

Using proper anatomical terminology when referring to body parts is also recommended as this lowers the risk of a child being "misled by someone who tries to tell them they are touching them for some non-sexual reason."

4. Fostering healthy communication with a child is a parent's best weapon

There is no guaranteed way of protecting our children, but for the doctors, "the single most important thing you can do is have open and regular communication with your child." 

Regardless of their age, your child needs to know that they can come to you even if "something doesn’t feel right to them." 

Chat back:

From what age should children be taught about sexual abuse? Tell us your opinion and we could publish your comments. 

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