Children as young as four years old can understand the basic concepts of good touches, bad touches and confusing touches. These young children can also understand the definition of sexual abuse and are not afraid of the words that send a chill up the spines of adults. Use the words “sexual abuse” when talking with your child because if a child is victimized, they need to be able to tell you that they were “sexually abused!”

 Inappropriate Touching:

 Surveys show that as many as 1 in 4 children have suffered some sort of sexual abuse by the time they reach 18. Statistics show that child sexual abuse crosses boundaries of race, class, culture, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, affecting all types of communities. What can you do as a parent to help protect your child?

 Children today are around more adults on a daily basis than ever before. From childcare to sports practices to dance classes, not to mention camps and after-school programs, children are meeting and interacting with many adults regularly.

That’s why it is so important for parents to talk with their children — as early as age 4 — about inappropriate touching. And children even younger can begin to learn about their bodies.


What is “inappropriate touching”?:

The clinical definition of child sexual abuse is inappropriately exposing or subjecting a child to sexual contact, activity or behavior. An easier way to think of it – and to teach children about it – is by contrasting “good touches” and “bad touches.”

  • A good touch can be explained as a way for people to show they care for each other and help each other. Examples you can give include hugging, holding hands, or a parent changing a baby’s diaper.
  • A bad touch can be explained as the kind you don’t like and would want to stop right away, such as hitting, kicking or touching private parts.

Before you talk with your child, it’s important that you understand just what “inappropriate touching” means and are comfortable speaking about it. Quite often, the subject of sexual abuse can make parents immediately think, “It’s too awful to think about,” or “That would never happen in our neighborhood/family/school.”

The truth is, sexual abuse cuts across all cultural, racial and economic lines and in most cases the molester is someone the child knows. EVERY parent should be having this discussion with his or her children. Children are not usually threatened by this information; they embrace it!


How can I approach the subject with my child?:

  1. When you are ready to sit down and talk with your child, take the time to do it right. Talk to your child in a quiet place, away from distractions. Try to maintain physical contact during the discussion, either by holding hands or sitting together on the floor or the couch. This makes them feel safe and reinforces the concept of “good touch” with an adult they can trust. Don’t force an end to the conversation-a child may have ongoing questions and concerns. Keep in mind that you will probably have to have this discussion a number of times as your child gets older. Repeating your discussions every year will reinforce what they have learned and reintroduces points they may have forgotten.
  2. Teach the “Safe Body Rule.” Rather than expect your children to judge a touch only by how it makes them feel (“good” or “bad”), give them a solid rule that they can follow. Using the “Safe Body Rule”, teach them it is NOT okay for anyone to touch their private parts, or what is covered by their swimsuits. It is easier for a child to follow a rule and they will more immediately recognize a “bad touch” if they have this guideline in mind.
  3. Use proper body names. Sexual predators often take advantage of the fact that we don’t speak freely with our children about sex and our bodies. By talking about genitals and age-appropriate sexual matters to children in a respectful manner, we stop teaching by exclusion that all these things are secret and not to be talked about. One of the most important goals of having this conversation with your child is to let them know that they SHOULD speak up if something happens and should not be embarrassed or scared to talk about their own bodies or of your reaction.
  4. Ask them to talk about the subject. Research shows that children are much more likely to learn prevention skills when they actively participate in activities or role-play. Be sure to engage your child during your discussion. Ask them to give an example of a “good touch” (hug from mom) and a “bad touch” (a kick on the playground.) Do a role-play by asking questions such as, “What would you do if.”
  5. Explain your child’s right to say NO. Inappropriate touching-especially by a trusted adult-can be very confusing to a child. They are taught to trust adults, and can feel conflicted, scared and confused when this trust is breached. Because in about 89% of sexual abuse cases the abuser is someone the child knows, you need to tell your child that he or she has the right to say NO to ANY “bad touching” by an adult. Constantly reinforce the idea that their body is their own and they can protect it and take care of it. This concept can come up in a number of different circumstances (when a child has a “boo-boo” or is getting a bath).
  6. Prepare them to react to a “secret.” Explain that if an adult does something your child thinks is wrong and then tells them to keep it a secret, they should tell you immediately. Giving children specific examples like this will help them feel more empowered to act if necessary. Role-play can be a valuable tool in this step as well.


What can I do to protect my child?:

  1. Be aware of WHO is around your children. It is very important to know who is around your children on a daily basis at things like a playdate or a soccer practice, and for special occasions such as neighborhood parties or family gatherings. If a child’s behavior changes after being around specific adults, take note.
  2. Always check references of babysitters, counselors, etc. Many states have public registries that allow parents to screen individuals for prior criminal records and sex offenses. Once you have chosen the caregiver, drop in unexpectedly to see how your children are doing.
  3. Pay attention to patterns you see in adults. Is an adult paying special attention to your child or taking an uncomfortable interest in what your child is doing? Take the time to talk to your children about this person and find out why the person is acting in this way.
  4. Create circles of protection. Involve other parents or family members who are at after-school events or gatherings. Discuss the subject with them, creating circles of safe adults who will also watch out for children. You may also want to Invite your local law enforcement or child abuse prevention organization to a neighborhood discussion group to learn about the issue and to process people’s emotions.



 Signs of Sexual Abuse:

Child sexual abuse is difficult to detect because of the secrecy that surrounds it. However, children may indirectly disclose that they have been sexually abused through behavioral signs and indicators. Indicators may be physical, behavioral, or both. Signs and behaviors which may suggest sexual abuse is occurring include:

  • Waking up during the night sweating, screaming or shaking with nightmares.
  • Showing unusually aggressive behavior toward family members, friends, toys, and/or pets.
  • Complaining of pain while urinating or having a bowel movement, or symptoms of infections such as offensive odors, discharge, or symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Having symptoms indicating evidence of physical traumas to the genital or anal area.
  • Suddenly wetting the bed.
  • Experiencing a loss of appetite or other eating problems, including unexplained gagging.
  • Showing unusual fear of a certain place or location.
  • Sudden frequent unexplained health problems.
  • Engaging in persistent sexual play with friends, toys or pets.
  • Having unexplained periods of panic, which may be flashbacks from the abuse.
  • Regressing to behaviors too young for the stage of development they already achieved.
  • Initiating sexual behaviors.
  • Indicating a sudden reluctance to be alone with a certain person.
  • Engaging in self-mutilations, such as sticking themselves with pins or cutting themselves.
  • Withdrawing from previously enjoyable activities.
  • Asking an unusual amount of questions about human sexuality.


If you suspect that a child has been sexually abused:

  • Show that you understand and take seriously what the child is saying. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have found that children who are listened to and understood do much better than those who are not. The response to the disclosure of sexual abuse is critical to the child’s ability to resolve and heal the trauma of sexual abuse.
  • Assure the child that they did the right thing in telling. A child who is close to the abuser may feel guilty about revealing the secret. The child may feel frightened if the abuser has threatened to harm the child or other family members as punishment for telling the secret.
  • Tell the child that he or she is not to blame for the sexual abuse. Most children in attempting to make sense out of the abuse will believe that somehow they caused it or may even view it as a form of punishment for imagined or real wrongdoings.
  • Finally, offer the child protection, and promise that you will promptly take steps to see that the abuse stops.


National Sex Offender Registry:

State-by-State Statute of limitations for Civil claims for childhood sexual abuse:      

Do you REALLY know who your children are spending time with?

How do you know they are who they say they are? Net Detective allows you to do background searches, pull up court records or even search for old friends. It’s the most reliable online background search I’m aware of and the crime site I write for swears by it, they use it in a lot of cases to confirm facts before articles are submitted.


 There are several measures you can take to help both you and your child prevent it from happening. Make a choice today to sit down with your child and start a discussion. Remain open to their thoughts, questions and concerns, and tell them that they should always speak up, ask questions and keep on talking until someone listens. The key to prevention is knowledge. Talk to your kids today and ensure a safe tomorrow!

Hotline Numbers:

Covenant House Hotline: 800-999-9999

Crisis line for youth, teens, and families. Gives callers locally based referrals throughout the United States. Provides help for youth and parents regarding drugs, abuse, homelessness, runaway children, and message relays. Operates 24 hours, seven days a week.

National Domestic Violence/Child Abuse/ Sexual Abuse: 800-799-SAFE 

24-hour-a-day hotline, Provides crisis intervention and referrals to local services and shelters for victims of partner or spousal abuse. English and Spanish speaking advocates are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Staffed by trained volunteers who are ready to connect people with emergency help in their own communities, including emergency services and shelters. The staff can also provide information and referrals for a variety of non-emergency services, including counseling for adults and children, and assistance in reporting abuse. They have an extensive database of domestic violence treatment providers in all US states and territories. Many staff members speak languages besides English, and they have 24-hour access to translators for approximately 150 languages.

National Youth Crisis Hotline: 800-442-HOPE

Provides counseling and referrals to local drug treatment centers, shelters, and counseling services. Responds to youth dealing with pregnancy, molestation, suicide, and child abuse. Operates 24 hours, seven days a week.

If members know the numbers for other countries feel free to add them in comments.

A video about abuse from a victim:


Sources: Hope for tomorrow, AACAP, U.S Dept. of Health and Human Services, Youtube, Smith-Lawfirm and RAINN.