Preventing child sexual abuse

How can you keep children and youth safe from child sexual abuse?

A boy looks out a window

The issue of child sexual abuse

While instances of child sexual abuse are severely underreported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in four girls and one in 13 boys experience child sexual abuse during their childhood. While many people assume that “stranger danger” is at the root of child sexual abuse, up to 91% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known to the child. This can be someone the child is close with like a family member, someone who is an acquaintance like a neighbor, coach or family friend, or someone they meet on social media or on a gaming platform. 

Individuals who sexually abuse children may do so in a variety of ways including exposing oneself to a child, fondling, masturbating in front of a child, intercourse or sex of any kind with a child, child pornography and sex trafficking. Children and youth who experience sexual abuse are at risk for numerous health problems including physical health, such as urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted infections, etc., and mental health problems including substance abuse issues, depression, eating disorders, anxiety and relationship challenges throughout adulthood. 

Preventing child sexual abuse

While child sexual abuse can be a crime of opportunity, often times predators use intentional actions to manipulate and seduce children, families and communities in order to abuse children, hide their abuse and decrease their risks of being caught or stopped. This process is called grooming. Predators can groom adults and communities by providing a service or otherwise proving themselves valuable (i.e., shoveling the sidewalk for a single mother) or getting involved in their community (i.e., coaching soccer, volunteering or participating in community events). Predators can work to charm those around them and can be very skilled at manipulation.

You can help to prevent child sexual abuse in the following ways:

  • Be aware of grooming tactics used by predators. 
  • Educate yourself on the characteristics of predators.
  • Build a strong and supportive relationship with your child.
  • Teach your child about body safety boundaries and consent and the facets of healthy relationships. 
  • Tune in and be aware of who is interacting with your child in physical (at school, during sports, at church or where they hang out) and virtual spaces (online, during gaming, using apps or texting).

Michigan State University Extension has created several resources about creating safe environments to help keep children and families safe from child sexual abuse:

Resources on preventing child sexual abuse

For more information about preventing child sexual abuse, check out the following resources:

Child sexual abuse is a threat to children’s physical safety, mental health and their overall safety. By tuning in, being vigilant and actively working to prevent child sexual abuse, you can help keep your children, family and community safe.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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