Systemic changes can help stop sexual violence against children

As a parent, one of your primary drives in life is to keep your child safe from harm. But every year, sexual abuse happens, in some form, to 120 million children around the world. It happens to one in 10 girls before they reach adulthood. They may be victims of rape, incest, inappropriate touching or child pornography.

The statistics don’t discriminate based on where you come from or how much money you have. It’s a problem everywhere. And for too long, this pervasive issue has been quietly swept under the rug – or not discussed at all.

This week, a coalition of U.S. advocacy groups – whose mission is to stop sexual violence against children – published a detailed report on the subject. Its findings outline factors in children’s environment, education and support networks that make them more vulnerable to sexual predators.

The report proposes many initiatives that a community can take to prevent sexual abuse. Here are some of its suggestions:

Parents

Having open dialogues with your children about tough issues can make them more likely to identify when something is wrong – and speak up. It’s important that they know that you trust and support them.

  • If your child tells you about being abused, believe them. Take action to remove your child from the predator right away.
  • If your child doesn’t directly tell you about abuse but shows other signs of discomfort – such as being afraid to be alone with a particular person – it’s important to investigate further.

Educators

The report points to the value schools can play in educating children about inappropriate behavior early on. Schools can teach children what constitutes sexual abuse, as well as the difference between safe and unsafe touching.

  • For youth, schools can aid in educating about safe dating and healthy relationships.
  • For younger and older children alike, schools can also facilitate conversations about what a child can do if they witness abusive behavior.

Community organizations

Within the community, there are usually many organizations dedicated to children and adolescents. These may include church youth groups, scouting organizations and athletic teams. The report highlights the need for:

  • A defined reporting mechanism for abuse within such organizations – as well as a clear course of action to remove the accused perpetrator from their role during investigations
  • Required background checks for anyone who works at such youth- and child-focused organizations

These sorts of changes may seem small, but they can have a profound impact. The U.S. women’s gymnastics team did not have such safeguards in place, and consequently Larry Nassar – the team’s sports medicine doctor – was allowed to abuse these athletes for decades.

Stopping sexual abuse isn’t something that happens overnight. But with thoughtful changes in our community and within institutions, we can work to create a safer society for our children.

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