Talking to Your Child About Sexual Assault

By Alisha Bennett, LMSW

Sexual Assault. Over the last several months we have heard these two words in the news more than we can count. We’ve heard countless stories of women who have spoken up and whose voices are finally being heard.  

Hearing questions like, “why now?” or “why didn’t these women speak up sooner?” made me rethink about how many of us were raised and socialized to normalize this behavior or hide it because we are ashamed. When did I really learn this lesson for myself? It wasn’t until an elective in junior year of college that I really recall having a real conversation about this topic. I was 20 years old, an age when 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have already experienced sexual abuse, mostly by people that they know (https://www.nyfoundling.org/capp/). Additionally, from 2011-2015, the Associated Press found about 17,000 sexual assaults were committed by U.S. students (though the number is likely higher due to underreporting) and about 5% percent of the victims were five and six year olds (http://neatoday.org/2017/12/04/sexual-assault-in-schools/) So as a parent/guardian, when and how do you have this conversation with your children?

When: The right time to talk to your children is right now. If 5% of assaulted children are in kindergarten and 1st grade, it is not too soon to talk about this with your young children. The younger the victim, the greater the vulnerability that they will experience repeated assault throughout their life. 

How: Young children need lessons when they’re young about their bodies. About what is private for them, about what is wrong and never okay, about what to do if something is wrong, and how to speak up. They should know that they can always come to you or to another trusted adult. Help them to identify who other trusted adults are, including one in their school that they can go to. It is important for them to know that they can and should speak up even if they feel scared, frightened, or embarrassed. They need to know that any sexual abuse or assault experience is not and will never be their fault and that they can get help. Conversations like these can, and in my opinion should, be had in elementary school, even at the earliest ages so that they can know what is right and wrong in regards to their bodies. 

Below are some resources for talking to your children about sexual assault: 

Alisha Bennett is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy.  If you are looking for support in talking to your child about sexual assault visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to learn how therapy might be able to help.