The Darkness to Light Foundation’s Stewards of Children program, a highly regarded child abuse prevention training program, reports that nationally one in 10 children will be sexually abused by age 18, that children are most vulnerable to abuse between ages 7 to 13, and that 90 percent of victimized children are abused by someone they know.
Offenders are most often family members, relatives, friends, teachers, coaches, baby sitters and others in positions of authority. In Middle Tennessee, Darkness to Light reports that 60 percent of child victims are abused by a biological or extended family member and 27 percent are abused by a trusted caregiver or family acquaintance.
According to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the offender usually uses coercion and manipulation (grooming), not physical force, to engage the child. A child’s environment, including protective guardians, may also be groomed so the offender’s intentions appear less suspect. The AAP says child sexual abuse often involves more than one incident, and that the abuse can go on for months or years.
Children who are victims of sexual abuse can display many or few behavioral symptoms, the AAP report says. They may withdraw from family or friends; display poor school performance; experience depression or anxiety; or exhibit aggressive and self-destructive behavior. Or they may not display any outward abnormal behavior.
Communication is Crucial
It’s important to have an open line of communication with your child on this subject, which can be difficult for many parents. The AAP offers these tips to help minimize your child’s risk of molestation:
- In early childhood, parents can teach their children the proper name of the genitals (penis, vagina), 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.
- Try to teach children early and often that this topic should not be a secret, 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 get older, try to 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.
Five-Step Training Program for Adults
The Nashville Child Protection Coalition endorses the Darkness to Light Foundation's Stewards of Children Training program, which teaches adults how to better protect children. The coalition helps coordinate efforts to bring Stewards of Children to Nashville businesses, organizations and community groups.
The Stewards of Children says its training program leads adults through five steps—1) Learn the facts; 2) Minimize opportunity; 3) Talk about it; 4) Recognize the signs; and 5) React responsibly—to prevent and recognize child sexual abuse. The program also motivates adults to react responsibly on behalf of children. The training is designed for organizations, agencies and corporations that serve children and youth.
Stewards of Children training can be taken online or in a group led by an authorized facilitator. The facilitator-led training typically takes about two hours. Watch this video about the training:
People interested in the training can search for a provider on kidcentral tn, or they can go to the Tennessee Darkness to Light web page, which lists training opportunities and registration information.
Support and Resources
Contact the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673), and get information online at RAINN.org. This service is free, confidential and available 24/7.
Contact the Tennessee Children's Advocacy Centers (TNCAC).
Contact the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence to learn more about how to prevent sexual abuse, or to locate sexual assault programs in your area.
Contact the Tennessee Association of Mental Health Organizations (TAMHO) for access to mental health treatment services that can address the traumatic effects of child sexual abuse, or call 1-800-568-2642.
Report suspected abuse to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services 24-hour Hotline, either online or by calling 877-237-0004.
Contact Tennessee Voices for Children for advocacy, training, support or referral for the emotional and behavioral well-being of your child and family.
Learn more about stopping child abuse.
Learn more about caring for kids who have been sexually abused.
Learn the warning signs of child abuse (English).