Ways to Prevent Sexual Abuse

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Sexual abuse places an enormous strain on society’s institutions, including healthcare, mental health, addiction services, and services for those living in poverty. The effects of sexual abuse can be catastrophic. What can we do to prevent sexual abuse? What is sexual abuse? How do people deal with sexual abuse? This post explains more.

What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse is non-consensual sexual contact between people. It includes rape, sexual assault, sexual coercion, and sex trafficking. For children, it also includes unwarranted touching of the genitals, forcing children to perform sex acts, or involving in or introducing children to pornographic material.

Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of their age or gender, but according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, women and younger people are more likely to be sexually abused. And also troubling, is The National Sexual Violence Resource Center report that the perpetrators of child sexual abuse are more likely to be male and are typically someone known to the child, even potentially being a member of the child’s family.

Consequences of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse results in many consequences. They include:

  • STIs – Sexually Transmitted Infections may be passed from perpetrator to victim. Some STIs, if untreated, can lead to further complications such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or infertility.
  • Physical Injuries – Survivors of sexual abuse may suffer from physical injuries, including trauma to the genitals and defensive wounds.
  • Chronic Diseases – Survivors of sexual abuse may be at a higher risk for developing chronic diseases like heart disease due to the trauma they experience.
  • DepressionDepression is common among survivors of sexual abuse and can affect people for years after the abuse.
  • PSTDPost-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a common mental health condition that survivors experience. It causes severe trauma symptoms, including flashbacks, nightmares, and avoiding situations that remind the person of the abuse.
  • Substance Use Disorders – Survivors may develop substance use disorders to cope with difficult emotions.
  • Risky Sexual Behaviors – Survivors may engage in risky sexual behaviors, such as unprotected sex or sex with many partners, to cope with their trauma.
  • Suicide Risk – Survivors of sexual abuse also can experience thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts.

These consequences are devastating on an individual level, but they can also be damaging and costly on a community level. Survivors need and deserve appropriate resources to assist them in their recovery.

Preventing Sexual Abuse With Children

You can’t fully protect your child from sexual abuse. If that were possible, children wouldn’t be sexually abused. It’s important to remember that child sexual abuse is the fault of the perpetrator and no one else. Also, there are some steps you can take to help prevent child sexual abuse.

  • Educate Children – There are age-appropriate ways to educate children about consensual and non-consensual touch. Children need to know that it’s only OK for doctors and parents (when appropriate, such as diaper changes) to touch them in their genital region. It’s critical to teach children the correct words for their genitals: vulva, penis, and breasts/nipples, as this prevents misunderstanding if children tell adults about potential abuse.
  • Make Yourself Available to Listen – Help your child understand that they can and should talk to you about anything that makes them uncomfortable. Try your best not to scold children for talking about correct genital anatomy, as this could shame them from talking about problems in the future.
  • Trust Your Instincts – Trust your gut if something doesn’t feel right to you about a person involved in your child’s life. It’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your child’s safety.
  • Consider Rules About Sleepovers – Ensure that your child, if they are at the age that’s appropriate for sleepovers, is always in the care of an adult you trust. Get to know your child’s friend’s parents or guardians and make sure you’re comfortable with their living situation and rules.
  • Have a Safe Word – Have a safe word that only you and your child know so your child can use it to alert you that they need help or need to be picked up. Make sure it’s not a word you use frequently or is common to your conversations.
  • Don’t Force Children to Engage – Don’t force children to hug or engage with anyone they don’t want to. This autonomy teaches consent and bodily autonomy from a young age. Ask your child’s permission before you hug or kiss them to model what consent is. Your child should not have to kiss or hug anyone, even family members.

It can be difficult to read these suggestions because thinking about your child in danger is challenging. But, all parents and guardians must take the necessary precautions to prevent child sexual abuse.

Preventing Sexual Abuse With Adults

Like with children, it’s not always easy to spot warning signs of sexual abuse as an adult. Also, like with children, the perpetrator is always responsible for abuse. Here also are some precautions you can take as an adult to avoid abusive behavior or recognize it.

  • Pay Attention to Controlling Behavior – If you notice your partner is trying to control who you see, what you do, what you wear, or other controlling or aggressive behaviors, consider your safety and if you should stay in the relationship.
  • Set Boundaries and Know Your Limits – What are you OK with? Whether you have a partner or are single and dating, know what aspects of relationships you’re comfortable with. This comfort includes when sexual contact is OK, with whom, and under what circumstances.
  • Avoid Unfamiliar Places – Make sure your physical safety is always a priority. Don’t go to new places alone, and make sure you have your cell phone charged when going somewhere new or meeting a new person.
  • Trust Your Instincts – Trust yourself if your gut tells you something isn’t right. Have a safety plan for situations when you may need one, such as dates, meeting new people, or traveling to certain places.
  • If You Feel in Danger, Seek Help – Help could mean the local authorities or a safe person you know has your best interests at heart. Lean on your support system to help keep you safe.
  • Practice Self Defense – Consider taking a self-defense class to be better prepared for dangerous situations.

Remember, you can do everything to prepare for dangerous situations and still find yourself experiencing sexual abuse. It’s never the fault of the victim. Never blame the survivor for sexual abuse.

How to Stop Sexual Abuse in Your Community

As the common phrase goes, it takes a village. And like with any change movement, communities play a role in preventing sexual abuse. As a community member, you can:

  • Promote Social Norms that Protect Against Sexual Abuse – Schools, doctors’ offices, hospitals, and other community agencies should have awareness material regarding sexual abuse. Push for community resources that support survivors, such as victim support services. Vote for elected officials who prioritize decreasing sexual abuse.
  • Teach About Sexual Abuse – Education is the strongest tool in preventing sexual abuse. If children learn about consent and young adults learn proper sexual health education, more people will grow up being able to recognize the signs of sexual abuse and violence. This knowledge leads to a healthier generation.
  • Create Protective Environments – If you know of a place or institution in your area that has actively harmed the survivors of sexual abuse or allows people in power to be perpetrators of violence, speak out. Increasing protective environments means having tough conversations about what is and isn’t acceptable.
  • Support Survivors – Individual survivors don’t need pity. They need tangible support. Consider donating to local organizations that help victims of sexual abuse. Advocate for more affordable mental health services.

How All Counseling Can Help

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual abuse, explore All Counseling’s therapist directory. You can find a therapist in your area, filter by specialty, and explore resources regarding mental health. You don’t have to survive sexual abuse alone. You deserve support.