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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.

If You Suspect Your Child Is Abused: What to Do

There is perhaps no greater pull on our parental heartstrings than that which occurs when our child is in harm's way. Discovering -- or even suspecting -- our child may have been sexually abused can, say experts, throw any parent into an emotional tailspin.

However, it's at this precise moment that child-abuse experts say parents need to remain calm.

"It's important to stay calm and not transmit your own emotional upset to your child. Don't grill a child for every detail, or alarm the child by panicking," says Eblinger.

Instead, take immediate steps to protect your child from any imminent danger by removing all contact with the suspected abuser. And while your first instinct may be to confront the accused yourself, experts say that's not the right approach.

"If you discover your child is being abused, especially if they tell you about it, the first contact you want to make is with the police," says Amaranth. This, she says, is even more important if your child is under the age of 5. Why?

"Children under the age of 5 are not considered credible in the justice system, so even if a child is 4 years old and clearly says someone touched me -- even if they can describe it -- they are not considered legally credible witnesses, so a court case cannot go forward," says Amaranth.

If you contact the police, however, a little bit of detective work on their part can often go a long way in discovering additional evidence that could make apprehending the abuser far more likely.

"The police will also advise you on how to proceed in terms of dealing with the abuser, particularly if they reside in your home, or are a close family member," says Fiedler.

Contacting a child-advocacy center can help; most major medical centers have one. Here you will find experts trained in not only counseling children who have been exposed to abuse, they can also be a treasure trove of information on what parents can expect from their children, as well as the justice system.

"A child-advocacy center is also a good place to turn if you suspect your child is being sexually abused but they have not yet corroborated your suspicions," says Amaranth. When this is the case, trained counselors can talk to your child and help discover if, in fact, abuse is occurring.

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