By Joyce Prusak, Executive Director of Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center
The holidays bring exciting moments and wonderful time spent together with family and friends. As we enjoy these beautiful moments together and create everlasting memories, it’s important to ensure the safety of children. The holidays may bring stress and busy schedules, leading to situations and opportunities for abusers. Rates of child sexual abuse often increase around the holidays, according to Darkness to Light. The following tips will help prevent child sexual and physical abuse.
Limit one-on-one situations
Most child sexual abuse incidents (about 80%) happen when the abuser is alone with the child. Additionally, more than 90% of children experiencing sexual abuse are abused by someone they love and trust. Limiting one-on-one situations can protect children. Eliminate situations that create opportunities for offenders. If you need to leave your child alone with an adult, let that person know you may call to check on them or pick the child up a little earlier than the agreed time. It’s also important to limit alone time with other children – about 30% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by more powerful children, according to Darkness to Light.
During the holidays, you and your child will probably spend a lot of time with family members and friends, who may want to hug and kiss your child. Tell you children it’s their body and no one has the right to touch their body or take pictures without permission. Sometimes family members and friends might want to hug, touch and tickle your children. Tell your children they don’t have to hug anyone if they don’t want to. Talk with your children and let them know that it’s okay to say “no.”
Remember, stranger-danger is a myth. Most perpetrators are people the child and the family trusts. Be vigilant. Implement prevention measures, establish boundaries and apply these rules equally. Don’t make exceptions. Sometimes, perpetrators are people who are very respected and likable.
Prevent physical abuse
Sometimes, the holidays may cause anxiety related to meeting too many people or not being able to be with people you usually see for the holidays. Also, financial difficulties may increase stress. For some families, this may result in increased risk of physical abuse. It’s important to stay calm and help others who may be experiencing stress. If you feel overwhelmed, ask for support. Call a friend and share your frustration. If you need support beyond friends, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health counselor or crisis support line. Your mental health and your child’s wellbeing is what matters most and friends and/or professionals will be ready to help you.
If you notice that a friend or a family member is struggling, it’s important to provide support. If you see signs of increased stress or possible abuse in those around you, reach out and tell them you understand how stressful the holidays can be and that you want to help. Concerning signs include short tempers, children that seem jumpy or afraid, or physical signs of abuse, such as bruises.
Report if you suspect
If you suspect a child has been harmed, report by calling 1-877-237-0004. It can be difficult to make that call. Sometimes, it takes bravery, especially when the suspected abuser is a close friend or a family member. But children’s safety and wellbeing comes first. And usually, the way child abuse is stopped is when adults are vigilant and report suspicions of abuse.
For more information about child abuse prevention, follow Coffee County Children’s Advocacy on social media and visit coffeecountycac.org. Happy holidays from the Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center