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updated 4/17/2006 2:33:16 PM ET 2006-04-17T18:33:16

While there is no sure-fire way to protect your child from all dangers, there are some steps that you can take to help reduce the risk of him or her being sexually assaulted:

Communicate, communicate, communicate

  • Tell your children that you are always there to talk about anything. Tell them that you are there to help them solve problems and to protect them.
  • Teach your children that it is against the “rules” for adults to act in a sexual way with children and use examples.
  • Teach your children that their bodies are their own and that it is OK if they don’t want a hug or other contact that might make them uncomfortable.
  • Speak to your children about using the proper names for their body parts. Armed with information, children are better able to report abuse to you.
  • Model comfort when talking about these issues. If you are not tense talking about these issues, then they are less likely to be worried about talking.
  • Talk to your children about sex when they show interest or curiosity.

Teach your children that it’s OK to say no and it’s OK to leave uncomfortable situations

  • Tell them that if someone does something to make them uncomfortable that they should tell that person that they are uncomfortable. Emphasize to them that if the person doesn’t listen, doesn’t stop, or continues to make them feel uncomfortable that they should tell someone— a parent, teacher, trusted adult.
  • Tell them that if anyone touches them on the body parts that are covered by a bathing suit, then they should tell an adult they trust. Tell them that it is OK to say no and to leave the situation. Tell them that you can later figure out together if the person was trying to be helpful or not.

Trust your own instincts. If your instincts tell you something is wrong, follow-up.

  • Call a hotline such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

Stay calm if a child discloses abuse to you, or hints at possible abuse.

  • Don’t overreact.
  • Believe the child and communicate that belief to him or her.
  • Thank the child for telling you and praise his or her courage for speaking up.
  • Emphasize that what happened to the child was not his or her fault and that the child did not deserve to be treated like that.
  • Encourage the child to talk but don’t push for or imply details. Ask questions such as, “what happened next?”
  • Get professional help for the child.
  • Tell the child that it is your responsibility to keep the child safe and that you will do the best you can to protect him or her.
  • Report to the local police or child protective services agency.

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