Continuing the Conversation Blog
How to Protect Our Special Needs Children from Sexual Abuse
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
It’s a statistic I hesitate to share. Because I know what it’s like to be a mother of a non-typically developing child. I am one.
Like you, I know the extra weight that comes with the territory. It’s pretty much extra everything. Carving out extra time needed, within an already busy life of parenting, for specialists. Building extra patience as we set goals for our children only to discover they were too high . . . or too low. And there’s grieving the loss of the normal, the typical. The end of dreams you had for your child and the energy to discover new ones is an ongoing process for most of us.
That’s why when I stand before an audience, speaking about the prevention of childhood sexual abuse, I’m reluctant to heap another issue onto your already swirling and exhausted head. But to ignore the statistic would be wrong. And to be realistic, I know you’re already sitting there with thoughts like these coursing through your head. But what about my child? My child is different. How do I protect my kid? And for me, to keep quiet would be to put your child at a greater risk for sexual abuse.
So, let’s roll up our sleeves and tackle this together. We are stronger together, and I know, I know that I’ll be working along side some of the strongest parents I’ve ever met.
The truth is, our children are at greater risk for sexual abuse. Four times greater. And the complexities that surround the risk are as complicated as our children’s diagnoses. It would be impossible for me to name them for they are as varied as our kids’ personalities and needs.
But here’s the good news: Our precious children, who are at the mercy of so much, do not need to be at the mercy of sexual abuse. We are not without hope. We are not without power. Here are five action steps every parent can take to protect our amazing kids.
- Talk about sexual abuse with your child, even if you don’t know if your child will understand. Our daughter surprises us all the time with issues that she grasps that we never expected her to understand. Our kids aren’t done learning any more than we are. They may need more repetition, but that’s okay. We’re used to repeating ourselves until we’re heard. We’ve had to fight harder for our uniquely created kids. Use the story book videos on our website, because children learn best through story. But, if your child can’t sit for a story, watch it yourself and break down the concepts into simple terms. Tell them that no one is allowed to touch them where their swimsuit covers and use the proper names for their body parts. Watch our five-minute video for further explanation.
- Talk about sexual abuse with all those who are caring for your child. I know, it’s not a subject that generally flows out of conversation. But you can create the conversation with confidence by just jumping in. “Yah know, I need to discuss something with you that is tender, but necessary. I realize that my child is at greater risk for sexual abuse. Can you tell me what your agency is doing to make sure my child is safe?” If they respond with background checks, please press further and educate them. Background checks aren’t enough. They only disclose perpetrators who have been caught and convicted. Most perpetrators are never caught. References must be thoughtfully obtained and thoroughly explored.
- Whenever possible, avoid one-on-one care. Sexual abuse generally happens in private. When your child must be alone with another caretaker, speak up. “Hey, we’re doing all we can to protect our child from sexual abuse. These are the prevention action steps we are using, and we need for you to honor them.” Simply letting the care giver know that you are teaching your child about sexual abuse and you are aware of the dangers of sexual abuse may deter a perpetrator. Perpetrators don’t want to get caught.
- Read the signs of sexual abuse and know them well. And if you have any question as to whether you are seeing a sign, go to your pediatrician immediately. Together you can evaluate whether this could be a symptom of abuse or if it’s related to another issue. (See list of signs here.)
- Report any suspicions you have to the authorities. Then, if you don’t receive an immediate plan of action, and sadly I’ve heard far too many reports of this, then keep looking. See your child’s pediatrician and contact counselors and lawyers who are trained in the complexities of sexual abuse. (See our Get Help page for organizations who can help you find knowledgeable professionals here.) Meet your child’s needs first. Their healing, their mental and physical health trump all else. And even though all those who violate children must be stopped and face justice, sometimes systems fail us . . . and our children. Parents like us understand this all too well.
I think at our gut-level, we know our children are at a greater risk for sexual abuse. But sometimes, what lies within our gut can discourage us, frighten us, and silence us. And that’s why we need each other. So, rise up with me, mama and daddy. We have been fighting battles for our children since the day they were born. Together, we can minimize the risk!
Carolyn Byers Ruch is the founder of Rise and Shine Movement and author of the children’s books, Ana’s Song and Bobby Gilliam, Brave and Strong, both tools for the prevention of childhood sexual abuse. She has spent the past ten years championing the issue of childhood sexual abuse and has received training certificates from some of the leading organizations dedicated to protecting children. A former teacher and mother of seven, her life has been enriched through adoption and foster care.
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