An edited version of the above, “Important to talk to kids about sexual abuse”, was sent to Straits Times Forum on 22 April, 2018.
It is alarming to know that child sexual abuse cases are on the rise (Child abuse cases hit 8-year high, with spike in sexual abuse; Apr 15).
We affirm the stepping up of efforts to train more professionals and educate the public on child protection, family violence, and the need for intervention. We also agree that parents should discuss sexuality issues and sexual abuse with their children at the earliest possible time. (Spike in child sex abuse cases over last three years; Apr 16)
Many parents, however, are uncomfortable with broaching these topics with their young ones. But the costs of not addressing it might be devastatingly higher, so discomfort is a small price to pay to protect their children from such harms.
Parents can begin this important conversation by scheduling a fixed time to sit down with their child to discuss these issues.
Start by explaining to the child that every part of their body is good, but some body parts are private. Use the proper names, like penis and vagina, for these private body parts to help the child to identify them. This allows kids to understand their private parts correctly and talk about them with their parents, if the need arises.
Explain to the child that private body parts are not meant to be touched by others—except by their parents when they bathe and dress the child, and help the child to relieve themselves; and by doctors during medical exams.
If the child is not old enough to understand this, teach them that the parts of their body covered by a swimming suit are private areas that others cannot touch.
Tell the child that they must—and can always—let their parents know if anyone touches them in those private areas or any other body part in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. Emphasise to them that this is regardless of who the person is (even if it is a family member, relative, neighbour, or teacher) or what the person says to them.
Parents should assure their kids that they will not get into any trouble or punishment if they have been inappropriately touched. Instead, parents must make it clear that they will be proud of their children for telling them, and that they will help their kids through the situation.
There are other steps parents can take to continue this conversation further. What is of utmost urgency and importance is for parents to start this important talk with their kids, so as to responsibly protect them from sexual abuse.
Sarah Chua (Ms)
Parenting Specialist, Focus on the Family Singapore