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June 30, 2015

Forget stranger, danger - the threat is likely in your own home

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By Jeppestown [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
When I was younger, I was, as many other young children were, taught that strangers could be dangerous; that strangers were not allowed to touch me; that I should never trust strangers to take me to my mom; that sort of thing. But parents are too afraid to admit that the danger is - has statistically been proven to be - much closer than strangers.

Research has shown that eight out of 10 children (Another site claims this number is really 90%, while 68% are abused by members of their family) who have been sexually abused knew their abuser. This mean it's family members, friends, neighbours, teachers. I personally know at least three people who have been abused at the hands of a family member, and it is exactly because parents trust these people that this kind of thing can happen.

DIF Zapopan has created a series of public service announcements warning people of this fact. Called 'Some things are hard to see', the campaign's advertisements feature various abusive situations between children and family members. They are heartbreaking and cut you to the core.

Here is one of the PSAs (click here to watch the rest):



The fact that abuse does not usually occur by strangers is more commonly known since I was a little girl, and yet sexual abuse of children is still rampant. Sexual child abuse in South Africa is often a point of conversation. A simple Google search (for young girls only) reveals news story upon news story of minors being raped by people in their community. It is scary to think that very often, familial child abuse often goes unreported because the child - or the family - is too afraid to say something.

Children's minds are not fully developed yet, and this is why it is so easy for abusers to take advantage of them. Often children will not tell anyone what happened because they felt ashamed, didn't think they would be believed, were threatened not to tell by the abuser, or didn't know that what was being done to them was wrong.

This is where I believe parental communication is of the utmost importance.

Planned Parenthood believes talking to children about sex in early childhood is a good idea. It makes sense that the knowledge parents impart to their children about sexuality will help them make good decisions for themselves and their bodies. Much as a parent would tell a child why jumping off the side of a cliff into an ocean below is dangerous, parents need to equip their children with the knowledge they need to make decisions concerning their own safety sexually. This knowledge would include what makes a relationship or action good or unhealthy and a child will be aware when something is being done to them that is not right. (Watch this video if you feel uncomfortable talking to your child about sexuality.)

Many communities believe talking about sex is taboo but I think this is like sending your child into a jungle without any survival skills. Even abstinence-only education is flawed, making teens who have been sexually abused feel worthless and dirty.

Having an open and honest relationship with your child will not only help you to impart your knowledge from your own mistakes to them, but will also instill trust in them - something necessary if you want them to tell you if they are being abused. You want to know if your child is hungry, don't you? So why wouldn't you want to know if someone is hurting them?

Note: This [PDF] from Unicef South Africa is a helpful guide for parents about sexual abuse, what they should look out for, and what steps they should take if their child has been abused.

{Image credit: By Jeppestown [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

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