Child Sexual Abuse

Approximately 20% of adult females and 5-15% of adult males have experienced some form of sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence.[1] Child sexual abuse, defined as sexual activity involving a child in the context of an abusive situation, can affect children of all ages and backgrounds.[2] Although Resilience brings sexual assault prevention programs into schools throughout Chicago, we believe the strongest line of defense against child sexual abuse starts at home.

Parents are the single most important influence on a young person’s sexual decision-making.[3] Through open and honest conversations with children, caregivers have the ability to help prevent harmful sexual experiences.[3] Resilience understands parents often feel they lack confidence, vocabulary and resources to begin these conversations.[4] In response, Resilience created a series of videos to support parents and caregivers in starting these vital conversations.


When should I start talking to my kid about this?

As early as possible! Studies show that children are most vulnerable to sexual abuse between the ages of 7 and 13, which is why discussions about prevention must occur in the very early stages of childhood.[5]

Tip: For younger children, try using vocabulary such as the “uh-oh feeling”. Resilience uses this term to teach younger kids to trust their intuition when they feel a situation, touch or person isn’t safe. Be sure to stress this feeling is valid, whether it happens in real life or from an online experience.

What should I tell my kid to do after they get the “uh-oh feeling”?

It is widely accepted that child sexual abuse is underreported.[8] While there are many reasons for this, one of them is that many children never disclose the abuse.[8] Many children fear not being believed or getting the perpetrator in trouble.

Tip: Help your child find five safe adults in their life and let these adults know they are on your child’s list. These are adults that your child trusts to always listen to and believe them, especially when it comes to their safety. Let your child know that their safety is very serious and takes priority over any other consequences of speaking to an adult after they’ve received the “uh-oh feeling”.

Tip: Teaching children the correct names of their genitalia has many benefits, but can also make it easier for a child to disclose abuse.

Is “good touch, bad touch” still the right way to phrase sexual abuse?

In the past, child sexual abuse prevention programs commonly used this phrasing. However, by using the term “good” and “bad” to differentiate between sexual abuse and non-sexual touches, it reinforces the idea that any sort of sexual touches are “bad” and dangerous. A healthy relationship to sexuality is a protective factor for children.[6]

Tip: Refer to touches as either safe or unsafe, rather than bad or good. Safety, after all, is the bottom line in prevention work.

How important is it to teach my kid about stranger danger?

It is well documented that perpetrators of assaults are most commonly known by the child.[7] In fact, at least 25% of cases are committed by relatives.[2]

Tip: Let your child know they have freedom over who touches their body and how, regardless of how well they know or trust the person. If they do not feel comfortable with a certain touch, which they will know through “the uh-oh feeling”, let them know they always have the right to say no.

What should I teach my kid about secrets?

The goal of an offender is to gain cooperation from a child to decrease resistance and avoid disclosure. Secrets, whether they come from harmless activities or unsafe touches, are a common manipulation tool to keep a child from confiding in others.[9] This process is referred to as the grooming process.

Tip: Teach your child that no touches should ever need to be kept secret. If someone, especially an older child or adult, asks them to keep a touch secret, they should get the “uh-oh feeling” and tell a safe adult. Inform your child that there is no reason to keep touches secret. If someone has asked them to keep a safe touch secret, it should let the child know that something is wrong.

[1] World Health Organization. (2002). World report of violence and health. Geneva, Switzerland: Author.

[2] Deblinger, E., Thakkar-Kolar, R. R., Berry, E. J., & Schroeder, C. M. (2010). Caregivers’ efforts to educate their children about child sexual abuse: A replication study. Child Maltreatment, 15(1), 91-100. doi:10.1177/1077559509337408

[3] Aspy, C. B., Vesely, S. K., Oman, R. F., Rodine, S., Marshall, L., & McLeroy, K. (2007). Parental communication and youth sexual behaviour. Journal of Adolescence, 30(3), 449-466. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2006.04.007

[4] Walsh, K., & Brandon, L. (2012). Their children’s first educators: Parents’ views about child sexual abuse prevention education. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 21(5), 734. doi:10.1007/s10826-011-9526-4

[5] Gibson, L. B. (2015). Chalk talks-erin’s law: Preventing child sexual abuse through education. Journal of Law and Education, 44(2), 263.

[6] Hick, S., Peters, H., Corner, T., & London, T. (2010). Structural social work in action: Examples from practice. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

[7] Finkelhor, D. & Ormrod, R. (2000). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles. Juvenile Justice Bulletin, June 2000, 1-12.

[8] McElvaney, R. (2015). Disclosure of child sexual abuse: Delays, non-disclosure and partial disclosure. what the research tells us and implications for practice: Disclosure patterns in child sexual abuse. Child Abuse Review, 24(3), 159-169. doi:10.1002/car.2280

[9] Kloess, J. A., Beech, A. R., & Harkins, L. (2014). Online child sexual exploitation: Prevalence, process, and offender characteristics. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 15(2), 126-139. doi:10.1177/1524838013511543