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Health & Parenting

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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.

Not Just Strangers continued...

Amaranth says the abuser can just as easily be a neighbor, a close family friend, a baby sitter, a soccer coach, a scout leader, or anyone in a position of trust and authority.

While experts caution parents to be vigilant about all those who seek exclusive contact with their children, they also caution against starting a "witch hunt" for anyone who is nice to their kid.

"The message you don't want to give your child is that the world is a bad or scary place -- or that they should be afraid of everyone who is nice to them," says Amaranth.

So how do you strike a balance between protecting your child and encouraging growth and trust?

It begins, say experts, by building awareness and trust into your own relationship with your children.

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."

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