Protecting kids from abuse
Editor’s Note: This is the third of a four-part series that will explore child sexual abuse, including information on who perpetrates these crimes, helping children stay safe and obtaining information on local sex offenders.
We try to protect the children in our lives from danger and teach them about safety. Look both ways before you cross the street. Don’t talk to strangers. Wear a seat belt. These are simple rules we learned as children and that we teach our own children from the time they can walk.
Although we do our best to protect children from harm, often we are unaware of the dangers that exist. An astounding one in five girls and one in seven boys is affected by child sexual abuse before they reach 18. Most of these children never get help because the large majority of child sexual abuse incidents go unreported.
Children are taught to obey adults and naturally want to please the adults in their lives. They want to feel loved, accepted and important. If these needs are met by someone who is also sexually abusive, a child can easily misinterpret these mixed messages. The child may appreciate the attention, yet at the same time feel uncomfortable with the touching. Child sexual abuse is rarely a one-time occurrence; children often feel ashamed for letting it happen and fear no one will believe them, so they keep the frightening secret.
How do we preserve the innocence of our children while at the same time teaching them about sexual abuse? From a very young age children should have proper words for their body parts, including their private parts. Teach children that most touches they receive will be good touches (touches that make them feel good) but some adults or older children might try to touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable or confused. Confusing touches might not hurt, but can make them feel uncomfortable (for example, if someone tried to touch their private parts, where their bathing suit covers). Tell your children that people who touch children this way are wrong and reassure your children that you will always believe them.
If a child discloses abuse or if you suspect a child is being abused, stay calm. The child may stop talking about it if you get upset for fear of hurting you or making you angry. Secondly, tell the child he is very brave and you are proud of him for telling. Then seek help for the family and, especially, the child. You can report your suspicions directly to law enforcement or Child Protective Services or you can call the Women’s Center’s 24-hour crisis line at (530) 544-4444 for information, options, and support.
Counselors at the Women’s Center will assist you in getting help for the child as well as accompany the family through any medical and/or legal processes. Individual counseling is available for the victim and family so they can talk about their feelings, fears, and concerns as well as work though the healing process. Victims of child sexual abuse often need to learn that what happened was not their fault.
For more information on talking to children about safety, please contact the Women’s Center between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at (530) 544-2118 or visit the office located at 2941 Lake Tahoe Blvd. The South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center building is financed by a low-cost loan through the Rural Community Assistance Corporation.
– Amy Stacy is an outreach coordinator at the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center.
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