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Talking to your kids about sexual abuse

For all of the strides of the #MeToo movement  -- and the bravery sexual abuse and harassment victims continue to demonstrate by speaking out -- it is still difficult to talk with kids about sexual abuse. It can seem inappropriate or unnecessary. The topic is difficult to bring up. No parent wants to admit the possibility that their kids may be subjected to such horrors.

Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of girls and 16 percent of boys under 18 will suffer sexual abuse of some type. You may have difficulty believing that number. Because it is a taboo subject, the prevalence of sexual abuse is often underestimated.

Every so often on this blog we remind parents how to speak with their kids about sexual abuse. These tips come from pediatricians, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and other experts.

With the push for sexual safety as strong as it has ever been, now is a good time to revisit the way to make the conversation about preventing sexual abuse as easy and effective as possible for you and your kids.

Here are five tips for having "the talk":

  1. Have the conversation more than once. This is the most important part, of course. You do need to have the talk, no matter how uncomfortable, and more than once. Remind children about privacy and boundaries before sleepovers, starting a new athletic season, or any time they will be in regular contact with an adult without your direct supervision.
  2. Don't just talk about "stranger danger". It is easier to think of sexual perpetrators as creepy strangers hanging out in playgrounds. But the vast majority of child sexual abuse occurs between the child and someone he or she knows, such as a religious leader, coach, babysitter, family member or child care provider.
  3. Teach kids the words for body parts, and use them. Call body parts by their names without using colloquialisms or allusions. Using correct anatomical terms helps to eliminate confusion and establish what is and is not appropriate.
  4. Talk about secrets. Sexual crimes are often hidden through "secrets." Tell your kids there are no secrets in the family - and that they can tell you anything, especially if an adult has made them promise it was just between them.
  5. Tell them it's okay to say no. If they do not want to be touched, they can say no. This includes hugs and kisses from you, grandparents and siblings. Giving kids the language to say no means they are more likely to say no if someone tries to touch them inappropriately.

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