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Protecting Your Child From Sex Abuse

Experts explain how to recognize signs that your child may have been a victim of sex abuse.

Building Protective Bonds

"One of the best ways in which a parent can protect their child from sexual abuse is with early intervention. And by that I mean taking steps to prevent abuse before it actually happens," says Amaranth.

To this end, she says, parents must use age-appropriate measures to introduce their children to the concept of sexual abuse and teach them how to respond if the threat occurs.

"By discussing the topic with your children on a regular basis you make it easy for them to come to you in the event that something does happen in their lives. They will feel comfortable telling you about it and they won't be afraid or embarrassed," says Donna Fielder, PhD, assistant professor and social worker at LaSalle University in Pennsylvania.

Also important, she says, is for children to understand what abuse is -- and to know it's never their fault.

"A child needs to fully understand, in an age-appropriate way, that whatever happens, they did nothing to cause it," says Fiedler.

Good Touch, Bad Touch

But how do you talk to your children about such a difficult if not frightening topic? Child-advocacy experts say begin at a very early age, using the concept of "good touch," "bad touch," and "secret touch."

"Explain that there are 'good' touches -- like a hug, or a pat on the back, or a kiss on the cheek; there are 'bad' touches -- like when somebody hits you or pushes you. And there are 'secret' touches -- where somebody wants to touch you and they say you have to keep it a secret," Amaranth tells WebMD.

Then, she says, make sure the child knows that if anybody wants to give them a "secret" touch, they should say "no" -- and tell Mommy or Daddy right away.

Moreover, Fiedler says many parents can also use the bathing suit analogy to further help their children define "secret touch" areas.

"You can tell them that any area where a bathing suit covers is their private place -- and this is the area they don't want other people to touch. As the child gets older, more age-appropriate details can be added," says Fielder.

Moreover, both experts say parents need to have this talk with their children on a very frequent basis.

"Make it part of family conversation. When your child comes home from school ask them to tell you about the 'good' touches they had that day; then ask them about any 'bad' touches. Finally ask if anyone tried to have a secret touch. If your child gets used to hearing these terms they will feel more comfortable sharing information with you on the subject," says Amaranth.

Listen to Your Children

In addition to talking to your kids, child advocacy experts advise parents to listen -- and become tuned in to what is "normal" behavior for their children. The point here: To immediately be able to recognize when something is out of sync -- often an early sign of abuse.

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