Opinion

Taking responsibility to stop sexual abuse in children | What every parent should know | Patti Skelton-McGoughan | Parenting Lifeline

One theme that has emerged from the Penn State sexual abuse scandal is the importance of adults taking responsibility for reporting suspicions about child abuse to the proper authorities. But many adults are unsure about what they see or where to report it.

So what do we do if we feel something is amiss? "Trust your gut," says Director of Youth and Family Counseling at Youth Eastside Services, Debbi Halela. "If something doesn't feel right, or your child is exhibiting unusual behaviors, don't ignore it."

Empower children

To help your child avoid being a victim, be sure to talk about appropriate and inappropriate touching. And teach children refusal skills so they know it's OK to say "no" to an adult if they feel uncomfortable. Teaching about stranger danger is important, but your child should also understand that abuse can happen with someone they know—in fact, only 7 percent of sexual abuse occurs with a stranger.

Encourage children to talk with a trusted adult if someone makes them feel uncomfortable, touches them in appropriately, or tries to coerce them. Oftentimes children are more at ease talking to someone other than their parents, so experts recommend asking them to tell you three people they could talk to. Offer prompts if needed, such as, “What about your teacher or Aunt Suzy?” Tell them if the first adult didn't seem to understand, talk to one of the other adults. Be sure not to minimize what your child—or any child—shares with you.

 

What to watch for

Debbi says there are a variety of symptoms when a child has experienced sexual abuse. In general, if your child has significant changes in behavior, a decline in typical functioning, or other signs of distress, consult a professional such as a counselor or your family physician. For a complete list of signs to watch for in children and teens, as well as warning signs in adult abusers, visit StopItNow.org.

 

How to report

Knowledge and awareness are the first weapons in the fight against sexual abuse. At YES we have counselors specially trained in helping children and their families identify and overcome the trauma of sexual abuse. And in Washington state, we have a toll-free reporting number, 1-866-363-4276. Remember you don't need absolute proof to talk with someone about your suspicions. You may be offering one piece of a puzzle that helps avoid future tragedies, like the ones in recent news stories.

 

Patti Skelton-McGougan is executive director of Youth Eastside Services. For more information, call 425-747-4937 or go to www.youtheastsideservices.org.

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