What Can You Do if You Suspect Child Abuse?

Stay alert to sexual abuse and teach your children what it is.  Tell them they can and should say “No!” or “Stop!” to adults who threaten them sexually.  Make sure your children know that it’s OK to tell you about any attempt to molest them no matter who the offender is.


What Is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse can happen to children of any age (0-18 years old), from all backgrounds and neighborhoods.  Sexual abuse can be any sexual act performed with a child, to a child, or in the presence of a child for the sexual gratification of another.  Child sexual abuse can range from unwanted kissing to sexual intercourse.  Sexual abuse can include touching and physical contact as well as solicitation, pornography, and online enticement.  Most sexual abuse is committed by people whom the child knows as well as strangers.  People who sexually abuse children can be friends, relatives, caregivers, trusted adults, and strangers. Child sexual abuse may be defined differently by different groups of people such as counselors, police, and child protection agencies.  What should be kept in mind is that sexual abuse affects children and parents in a variety of different ways.  Each person’s experience is unique.

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages you to take the following steps:

  • See if your child’s school has an abuse prevention program for teachers and children.  If it doesn’t, get one started.
  • Talk to your child about sexual abuse.  A good time to do this is when your child’s school is sponsoring a sexual abuse program.
  • Teach your child about the privacy of body parts.
  • Listen when your child tries to tell you something, especially when it seems hard for them to talk about it.
  • Give your child enough of your time so that the child will not seek attention from other adults.
  • Know with whom your child is spending time.  Be careful about letting your child spend time in out-of-the-way places with other adults or older children.  Plan to visit your child’s caregiver without notice.
  • Tell someone in authority if you suspect that your child or someone else’s child is being abused.

Prevention measures to safeguard your children should begin early, since a number of child abuse cases involve preschoolers.  The following guidelines offer age-appropriate topics to discuss with your children:

  • 18 months – Teach your child the proper names for body parts.
  • 3-5 years – Teach your child about private parts of the body and how to say “no” to sexual advances.  Give straightforward answers about sex.
  • 5-8 years – Encourage your child to talk about scary experiences.
  • 8-12 years – Stress personal safety.  Start to discuss rules of sexual conduct that are accepted by the family.
  • 13-18 years – Stress personal safety.  Discuss rape, date rape, sexually transmitted diseases, and unintended pregnancy.  Your child’s teacher, school counselor, or pediatrician can help you teach your child to avoid sexual abuse.  They know how this can be done without making your child unduly upset or fearful.  For further information on child sexual abuse and other forms of abuse, write to the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse, P.O. Box 2866, Chicago, IL 60690.

Your pediatrician understands the importance of communication between parents and children.  Your doctor is trained to detect the signs of child sexual abuse.  Ask your pediatrician for advice on ways to protect your children.


This ERIC digest was adapted from the flyer CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE: WHAT IT IS AND HOW TO PREVENT IT, copyright 1988 American Academy of Pediatrics.



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