The Importance of Teaching Children Body Safety
We teach our children water safety and road safety — it is equally important to teach our children ‘body safety’ from a very young age. As both a teacher and a mother, I strongly recommend to all parents that ‘body safety’ become a normal part of your parenting conversation. The sexual abuse of children has no social boundaries and any child anywhere can become a victim. Educating your child with body safety skills is an empowering and crucial life-skill that could save them from the irreversible damage of childhood sexual abuse.
Before I begin, however, I would like to reassure parents that when teaching your child body safety you will not have to talk about the sex or the act of sexual abuse. Just as we teach road safety with a clear, child-friendly and age-appropriate message, the teaching of body safety uses a similar sensitive and age-appropriate technique.
The statistics of 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday is truly frightening, and as many experts point out, this statistic only reflects reported cases. 95% of children will know their perpetrator. The community’s focus has so often been on ‘stranger danger’ — however, the reality is, the perpetrator will most likely be someone in the child’s immediate family circle and a person they know and trust.
Our children are more vulnerable
Worryingly, disabled children are 1.8 times more likely to be sexually abused than non-disabled children (Sullivan et al, 1997). The following factors may help to explain why this is the case.
- Disabled children receive intimate personal care often from a number of care-givers and service providers and are therefore more vulnerable to undetected abuse.
- Because some disabled children are mentally impaired they have less resistance to sexual abuse and are perceived by the abusers as an ‘easier target’, i.e. the child will be less able to tell and know that the sexual touch is wrong (frankly speaking it may feel pleasurable to them); the child is more likely to believe the abuser when told this sexual behaviour is ‘normal’.
- Children may have communication difficulties and/or a reduced or inappropriate vocabulary, and are therefore unable to speak out and let others know of the sexual abuse.
- Some disabled children, especially in a care setting, may not have someone they can turn to who is receptive and understanding to what they are trying to communicate.
- The child may feel too powerless, intimidated or fearful to communicate what is happening. Abusers will use this power to intimate both disabled and non-disabled children alike.
To assist parents, carers and educators, here is a summary of the 10 Key Body Safety Skills every parent/carer/educator should teach both their disabled and non-disabled child. Please note, these skills can be taught gradually and in daily conversations as your child grows.
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