While there is no magic action you can take to guarantee your child’s safety from sexual abuse, there are steps you can take to decrease the risk. Research tells us there are factors that may increase and decrease the likelihood of child sexual abuse.
Step One: Identify Protective Factors
Start by identifying and enhancing protective factors that can act as safeguards against being victimized (see examples below).
- Displays confidence, has a positive outlook and positive body image.
- Is able to express a full range of emotions (e.g., anger, happiness, fear, sadness).
- Sets personal boundaries, respects other people’s boundaries.
- Knows and uses the correct names for body parts, including genitals.
- Has a close, secure relationship with at least one adult.
- Is willing and able to be an active member in the community (e.g., participates in community functions and activities like girl or boy scouts or sports teams).
- Uses the correct names for body parts, including genitals.
- Models healthy personal boundaries around touching, with other children and adults.
- Has strong, supportive relationships between family members and an extended network of support.
- Has consistent structure and routine, including spending time together.
- Has a sense of family connectedness and belonging; it feels safe at home, school and in the neighborhood.
- Adults provide close supervision, have clear boundaries, and carefully consider any situation involving alone time.
Step Two: Identify Risk Factors
Next, identify factors and plan to mitigate factors that may increase your child’s risk of being victimized (see examples below).
- Is insecure, has low self-esteem; feels lonely or disconnected.
- Does not know the correct names for body parts.
- Lacks access to information about sex and sexuality.
- Is exposed to videos, music, or video games that are violent, sexually explicit, or degrading to women.
- Has unsupervised access to technology (e.g., the Internet, cell phone).
- Has a disability (e.g., cognitive, physical, emotional and/or learning).
- Does not supervise minors closely.
- Has children involved in one-on-one situations with an adult or older youth (e.g., tutoring, transportation).
- Has high levels of conflict, domestic violence, mental health and/or substance abuse issues in the home.
- Is socially isolated; lacks connection to the community; moves frequently and/or changes schools often.
- Lacks a strong bond between children and parents; no quality time together.
Step Three: Develop a Plan, Put It Into Action
Make a list of the protective factors you’d like to increase and the risk factors you’d like to decrease. Be specific. Follow through on the steps you’ve committed to taking. Review your plan regularly and make additions and adjustments as needed. See the examples below.
Protective child factor:
Our daughter is a talented dancer who is very confident about her abilities. We will strengthen this factor by becoming more involved with her dance troupe and taking her to see a dance production.
Protective family factor:
Our family is committed to the safe use of technology. The only computer with Internet access is in the living room where we can monitor its use. We will strengthen this factor by:
- Taking a class to make sure we are on top of new technologies;
- Making sure our children know, and understand the need for, the family rules for using technology; and
- Installing filtering and monitoring software on our computer.
Individual risk factor:
Our son has a diagnosis of autism. He interacts with several providers on a one-to-one basis and needs help with personal activities like getting dressed. We will decrease the risk by making sure the service providers have current background checks; making it a habit to drop in unexpectedly; and telling the people caring for our son that we are educated about child sexual abuse.
Family risk factor:
Our family just moved somewhere new. We don’t know our new neighbors and are far from family and friends. We will decrease the risk by getting to know our neighbors and monitoring our children's interactions with adults and older youth closely.