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4 things all parents should do to help prevent sexual abuse

February 6, 2018

About the Author

photo of Claire McCarthy, MD

Claire McCarthy, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Claire McCarthy, MD, is a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. In addition to being a senior faculty editor for Harvard Health Publishing, Dr. McCarthy … See Full Bio
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February 15, 2018

never leave your child alone with a strange adult–and that includes your doctor. Sadly, abusers like gymnastics doctors and catholic priests groom their victims long before they lay a hand on them , so it is very difficult for both parent and child to see the warning signals.
Most important is having the kind of relationship with your child so that any subject can be talked about anytime. Your child’s credibility needs to have the same value as that of a “respected” relative or authority figure, so that even outlandish tales should not be dismissed out of hand. Young children do have vivid imaginations, so the parent needs to be able to separate fact from fiction. Giving your child the benefit of the doubt may mean the difference between embarassment and abuse.
We should not have to raise our children in a bubble, but today’s climate requires much more vigilance against harm.

February 12, 2018

I think the most important thing is to make it clear that you love and trust your child. In many cases, children do try to tell their parents, but the parents believe the “respected” adult. Even a very young child can say “He touched me down there,” without ever knowing the terminology. But no child will tell if they suspect their parents won’t believe them or will blame them.

I write from experience, my father having blamed me for my stepfather repeatedly molesting me. I suspected he would, so I didn’t tell for a long time. When I finally did, I learned the most important lesson of my life: to trust my own instincts.

I eventually forgave my stepfather, because as an adult, I realized he had been constantly abused during his own childhood and was seriously damaged. I never forgave my father and didn’t even attend his funeral.

Your children can’t trust you if they suspect you don’t trust them. Kids are smarter than many adults think.

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