Protect Your Child From Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse is a prevalent issue in Malaysia, but many people are still hesitant to discuss openly about it, resulting in many incidents which have gone unreported. However, recent cases like the British serial paedophile Richard Huckle who sexually abused 22 children while he was an English teacher here (June 2016) or the teacher in Terengganu who molested primary school pupils (August 2016) have raised great concern about the rising sexual crimes against children in Malaysia. The government and many organizations are now coming together to find more and better ways to safeguard children from sexual predators. While awareness campaigns, new laws and rules are certainly needed, parents are also responsible in ensuring their children are protected from sexual abuse.
Having the Sex Talk
One of the most important ways to protect your child from sexual crimes is to first educate them about sex. Our older generation may have taught us that sex is a taboo subject and should not be discussed, but this needs to change. Sex education is now more essential than ever as today’s kids are more exposed to sexual content than before. In fact, it should start as early as possible. This said, talking about sex with children needs to be age-appropriate as kids develop their sexual curiosity differently at different stages.
1 to 3 years old
When they 1 to 3 years old, this is a good time to teach them about their different body parts. At this age, children are naturally curious about their bodies and other children's bodies, especially the difference between and a girl's and a boy's genitals.
- Teach them the names of different private parts and how each of them does different things. You can also get a children's book on anatomy to help you explain things better.
- Let them know also what "private" means and how it's important to keep these parts "safe" and covered.
- Teach them that these "special parts" must not been touched or shown to anyone except their parents during bathing. Similarly, they should not look or touch other people's private parts too.
- Also, tell them that it's okay to tell mommy and daddy if someone touches these parts and that they should tell you even if that person told them to keep it a secret.
4 to 6 years old
At age 4 to 6, children begin to develop what child psychologists call healthy sexual curiosity. They will start coming up with questions about where babies come from.
- When they ask these questions, give simple but clear answers. For example, when your child asks where his little baby sister comes from; you can reply by saying: "She comes from my uterus – this place inside me below my belly. Remember when mama's belly was big and huge? Baby sis was growing inside me at that time."
- At this age, it's also a good time to teach them about pregnancy. For instance you can explain how babies come out through a 'special passage' called the vagina.
- Some experts say that you don't need to wait until your child asks you the sex and baby questions. You can always bring it up and start a discussion with your little one. However it's best to postpone talking about conception and intercourse until they are much older.
6 to 8 years old
From 6 to 8 years old onwards, kids may start to ask how babies are made. They are little more mature now to understand conception and intercourse, so you can start on the basics of how a man and woman copulate.
- Explain things in simple terms. For instance, you can tell your child that a baby is created when a sperm from a man and an egg from a woman are joined together.
- If they ask how this happens, you can then talk to them about sexual intercourse. You do not need to complicate things; just keep it simple.
Preventing Sexual Abuse
While educating kids about sex is an important first step, parents would also need to play a more active role in their children’s day-to-day life to ensure that they are safeguarded from sexual predators or abusers.
Set healthy boundaries
- Healthy boundaries are something that a child should learn early on. Let them know if they are uncomfortable about anyone touching them, they have a right to say no. For example, if they do not like to be tickled, teach them to firmly say “no” to the other person.
- Teach your children that their bodies belong to them, and no one has the right to touch them if they don't want to. Remind them that they should respect other people's boundaries the same way.
Create a safe space to speak up
- Many child victims don't dare to tell their parents or caregivers that they have been sexually mistreated because some perpetrators use threats or tricks to keep children quiet. To prevent this, always be available to listen to your child and remind her that it is fine to tell you anything and that you won't be angry with them even if it’s “wrong”.
- Make the time to talk to your children. Always create a safe space for them to come to you with questions and worries.
- Be your children’s go-to person. Let them know that it is okay to share their secrets with you even if they are told not tell you.
Know who your child spends time with
- Show interest in your child's friends and the people they interact with every day. Ask about who teaches them English in school, who their favourite friends are and if there is anyone that they do not like.
- Check in with them regularly to find out if there is anyone who is not treating them the right way.
- Whether you drop your kids off to a daycare centre or to a babysitter, screen these caregivers thoroughly. Similarly, at preschools or enrichment centres, get to know the teaching staffs and their backgrounds.
Media choices and online safety
- From news about sexual assaults to entertainment rated 18-SX, your child is easily exposed to mature and sexual content on TV, radio and the Internet. A good way to shield them from inappropriate information is to accompany them when they watch TV or go online. If sex-related topics or programs come up, use this as a way to teach them about what are appropriate or inappropriate sexual behaviours.
- It's also crucial to take practical Internet safety measures. For example, monitor the websites your child log on to and restrict Internet access to inappropriate websites.
Be aware of warning signs
Generally, it's not easy to tell if a child has been sexually abuse. However, according to www.stopitnow.org, there are typical warning signs in children that show they have been sexually abused. These may include unusual behaviours such as:
- sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal
- leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues
- writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual or frightening images
- talks about a new older friend who play “secret games” with them
- exhibits adult-like sexual behaviours, language and knowledge; for instance has new (and vulgar) words for private body parts
- resists removing clothes when they need to (bath, bed, toileting, diapering)
- asks other children to behave sexually or play sexual games
- mimics adult-like sexual behaviours with toys or stuffed animal
- wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training
If you suspect a child has been sexually abused, you can report to three agencies primarily involved in child protection procedures: the Police Departments, Government Hospitals and the Social Welfare Department. Suspected cases can be reported to these agencies by anyone, regardless of age, gender, religion, or profession. Log on to www.psthechildren.org.my to learn more about the reporting procedures.