How Can we Protect our Children from Sexual Abuse?
When I was asked to write this article, I thought to myself “oh my, I could talk about this topic forever!” According to the Kenyan law, a child, or a minor, is an individual below the age of 18. Once the child turns 18, that child is considered to be an adult. This is significant because many times adults feel that a minor is responsible enough to handle themselves, or even consent to certain matters, forgetting (or ignoring) that they are dealing with children, who need to be supervised and guided.
In my experience as a Government Pathologist attached to a busy Police Station, I realized that most child victims end up in trouble as a result of ignorance.
Ignorance on the part of the parents, guardians, aunts, uncles, siblings, and of the child themselves.
Another contributory factor is Trust. Trusting too much, too easily, too soon.
As humans, we are inclined to trust at least those who are around us routinely, such as parents, siblings, teachers, nannies, cousins, uncles, aunties, and colleagues. Sometimes, many times, these are the very people not to trust. This is especially true where children are concerned.
Allow me to share a short story to illustrate a few points:
The other day I examined a 13-year-old young lady who was repeatedly defiled by her father. Just in case you are wondering if this was a Step-dad, no, he wasn’t. She was defiled by her biological father, over a period of about 4 years and reported that whenever her mother left for work and her father was at home, he would defile her. Every time she reported the matter to her mother on several occasions her mother would beat her up at the very mention of the abuse and accuse her of lying.
Eventually, one day, the little girl told her mother one last time, hoping that this time the mother would believe her and put an end to this.
After all, who else was she to turn to? Once again, when she reported the incest, her mother beat her up until the neighbours came knocking. As the girl narrated her story to the neighbours, the parents ran away leaving her behind, and are still at large.
I don’t mean to scare any readers, but the reality is that there are many fathers, brothers, grandfathers, teachers, cousins, and caregivers (male and female) who sexually abuse our children right under our noses.
What measures can we take to protect our children?
As a parent, your number 1 priority is to secure your child’s welfare in every way.
Who does your child spend time with when you are at work? What is their character? Who are your child’s friends? Who are their parents? What values do they instill in their child? What do these parents or other families spend time doing or watching on telly? Do you allow your child to visit with neighbors? Who are the occupants of that home? Have you interacted with them?
What values have YOU instilled in your own child?
Who lives in your own home besides immediate family? Have you spoken to your child about talking to strangers? Have you spoken to your child about his/ her body? Who is your child allowed to hug and kiss besides mum and dad?
Some signs exhibited by a traumatized child include:
- Sudden withdrawal
- Sad low or even flat mood, anxiety
- Nightmares/ night terrors
- Enuresis ( bedwetting) in a child who had previously stopped
- Regressed milestones
- Loss of appetite
- Violent outbursts
- Strange gait/ unable to sit properly
- Urine incontinence
- Stool incontinence
- Discharge and /or itching ( genitals)
- Poor grades in school
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Changes in behavior
- The child may not want you to bathe or touch certain parts of their body ( fractures, genital injuries)
- In babies, drowsy, vomiting, short breaths can signify severe internal injury e.g. Head trauma
One may also notice that the child’s behavior changes suddenly when a certain person is around or walks into the room.
Does your child seem unhappy after spending time with a particular person?
Sometimes toddlers scream and cry when they are left with certain people, even if it’s a Nanny. Be observant and ask yourself if the crying is normal separation anxiety or is it something more?
However, these may not necessarily point at sexual abuse so it is best to consult a doctor if you suspect that you are dealing with abuse.
QUALITY TIME WITH YOUR CHILD
Engage in interactive activities with your child, not watching telly or playing video games!
Bath time: One of the things I try and do frequently is bathe my son. Not only will this allow us to have fun and play, but it will also give me a full visual of his body to analyse any wounds or marks, or lack of them thereof. As you undress your child, you can note any stains on their inner and outer clothing.
As you are washing your child, you can take note of any areas of tenderness (pain), wounds, or even foreign material on the child’s body or the genital region that can signify sexual abuse.
Playing outdoors with your child or simply being with them outside serves two purposes:
- Bonding time
- Opportunity to observe your child interact with other children and neighbours.
Simply talking and asking your child “What did you do today? Were you happy? Did you play?” can offer a lot of information about your child. The more time you spend together, the better you understand each other.
If you notice wounds or marks on your child’s body, ask the guardian, be it a Nanny or school, how the wound got there or what they know about it. ASK YOUR CHILD FIRST WHEN YOU ARE ALONE in a relaxed environment If the child can talk. Act immediately, If a guardian seems indifferent or always says “I don’t know” or “he fell down” and this doesn’t seem in keeping with the wounds or child’s level of activity If in doubt, consult a Counsellor, Doctor, or visit a medical facility for a check-up.
In the event that you notice strange marks on your child’s body or even blood or semen stains, please contact emergency services immediately. DO NOT SHOWER or BATHE the child or CHANGE CLOTHES! Doing so contaminates with evidence, in the event the child was going through sexual abuse.
- For parents with young children, make surprise visits at home regularly and observe. What do you see? Is there any cause for concern or is your child happy? Playing? Sleeping?
- Where possible, invest in a Nanny Cam.
- When Nanny hunting, I personally prefer to conduct an interview with my son present. This way I can see how the potential Nanny will respond to his cries or laughter or behaviour. I find this very useful in selecting a Nanny. Children have a way of being drawn to “nice” people. But the main reason is I get to see those who visibly cannot stand children. Some won’t even flinch when the child cries. Instantly eliminate those.
DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS
- Teach your child early not to talk to, follow, accept anything from strangers, or enter a stranger’s car EVER! The only exception is if YOU as the parent authorize this. My mother taught us that before we ate anything from anyone, except school or at grandma’s that we had to seek her permission first! If we disobeyed, we were disciplined! We thought she was too fussy but now I am so grateful for all that fuss.
- For younger children, always have someone with your child at all times, even if you are sending a driver or taxi to pick your child from school.
- Send a Nanny to go along as well. If being dropped by a school bus, have someone you trust waiting for your child at the drop off point. If they are to walk home, then please organize for someone you trust to be with them.
Children are precious and vulnerable. If anyone of us sees or notices a child is hurt or going through sexual abuse, the last thing we should do is remain quiet. We must break the silence and raise the alarm. This could be your child. Would you want your child hurting in silence?
Contact the police or child services for assistance. More details are on Dr. Shako’s Blog.