Nothing is more devastating or more tragic than the physical or sexual abuse of our children. The trauma and pain a child experiences lasts for decades, even a lifetime; but it doesn’t end there.
The trauma and pain is passed down to the next generation through their children and their grandchildren and so on.
In a study on Latina sexuality conducted by The Institute of Institute in 2000, 12 percent of the participants had indicated they experienced rape or incest by the time they were 12 years old. It is estimated that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be victims of sexual abuse before the age of 18; and girls between the ages of 11 to 17 are three times more likely to be raped than boys.
The misconception regarding child sexual abuses is that the perpetrator (the abuser) is a stranger, when in fact most times it is someone they know.
Sadly, most sexual abuse against children is conducted by family members, neighbors, friends, even other children. The abuse can include intercourse, oral and anal sex, digital penetration, or use of an object in conjunction with penetration.
Non-sexual methods of abuse include photographing the child for sexual purposes, showing the child pornographic material, masturbating in front of the child, making the child witness others being sexual, and even ridiculing the child’s sexual development, preferences or genitalia.
How Can We Change These Statistics?
What can we do to keep our children safe? How can we be more vigilant to ensure that our children are given the chance to grow up in a safe environment and lead healthy lives? What more can we do that we are not already doing?
It’s important to talk to your children about sex—in an age-appropriate manner. You’re already doing it.
Here are a few examples: every time you tell them it’s “their body and no one is suppose to touch their private parts," when you talk to your daughter about her menstrual cycle and wearing a bra, when you talk to your son about his semen coming in as he reaches puberty (something we often forget to do and would assuage our son’s fears), or as they get older when you talk about sex and love and condoms. These are all ways we teach our children healthy sexual behaviors.
Ironically, we also contradict ourselves at times by confusing our children or denying them the boundaries and safeguards we gave them for their protection. For example, we tell children it’s their body, yet we force them to hug and kiss a relative (yes, even their grandparents or aunts and uncles).
Though this may be our cultural custom—to kiss and hug upon greeting or departing, it instills in children the idea that it’s their body but they have no rights and no boundaries when it comes to relatives. And since most children are abused by non-strangers, we are opening the door to possible abuse.
Instead of forcing the child to give hugs and kisses when they don’t wish to, explain to the adult that you are teaching your child to set boundaries for themselves and enlist their help.
Yes, I know this is difficult. I went through it with my mother when my son decided he didn’t want hugs and kisses during one of her visits. Even if there are a few hurt feelings, the fact that you’re reinforcing your child's right to “not be touched” ensures their emotional health and reinforces your teachings.
When we tell children they should tell us if anyone touches their “private parts” (chest, buttocks, and genitals) and merely dismiss their complaints when they say the neighbor kid slapped their bottom because we thought it merely a playful spank on the culito, we negated everything we taught them about having the right to set boundaries for their body.
They also learn that their concerns didn’t matter.
One of the most common complaints from children is unwanted tickling and yet most adults see nothing wrong with this. However, remember, if you’re telling a child it’s their body, then what right does anyone have to tickle them when it’s uncomfortable for the child and makes them feel bad?
The most appropriate thing to do is to listen attentively, praise the child for telling you and then have a talk with the adult or friend about the healthy boundaries you’re trying to set for your child and enlist their assistance.
It’s essential that we create a safe haven for children to talk about sex. If you are too embarrassed to talk to them about sex, ask a trusted friend to talk to them for you, with you present.
Remember the old adage, it takes a village to raise a child.
Employ the services of a counselor or sex therapist to discuss these issues with your teen. If you make sex a taboo subject, then whom do your children have to go to when they have concerns or, God forbid, when they’ve been assaulted.
Dr. Charley Ferrer is a world-renowned Clinical Sexologist and the only Latina Doctor of Human Sexuality in the United States. She is the award winning author of The Latina Kama Sutra, The W.I.S.E. Journal for the Sensual Woman, and The Passionate Latina: In our own words. She is the founder and Executive Director of the Institute of Pleasure whose primary mission is to provide education on relationships, mental health services to women and men, and conduct research on sexuality. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.For more on Dr. Charley, go to www.instituteofpleasure.org.