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How to talk to your child about sexual assault

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A tough, but critical conversation parents must have with their child.


The recent Harvey Weinstein scandal — and the many others that have followed — opened the gates for millions of women and men to come forward and say they were the victims of sexual assault. It’s not just teenagers and adults that these heinous acts are happening to with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center reporting that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.

Talking to your child from a young age can make sure they know the warning signs of a dangerous situation and that they feel comfortable about communicating any sexual assault incidents or issues. Below are some tips from Ross Cascio, an expert level Krav Maga instructor with over a decade teaching Krav Maga self-defense, fight and fitness classes, on how to approach this difficult and sometimes uncomfortable subject with your child.

Start conversations early. Begin talking to them as young as 2 years old. This may seem very early, but children under age 12 are most at risk at 4 years old. Even if they can’t speak well, children at this age are busy figuring out the world. They certainly understand and remember a lot more than adults usually realize. Share the only instances when their private parts can be seen and touched. An age-appropriate concept for a young child to understand is that nobody, including a parent or caregiver, should see or touch their private parts (what a swimming suit covers up) unless they’re keeping them clean, safe or healthy.

Talk openly about sexuality. It's important that children understand that it's OK to talk about sexuality. These topics do not need to be “secret.” Abusers sometimes tell a child that the abuse should be kept a secret. Let your child know that if someone is touching him or her or talking to him or her in ways that make him or her uncomfortable or scared, that it should not stay a secret.

Babysitters, coaches and teachers can all be perpetrators. Teach children not to assume all adults can be trusted. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 93 percent of children that have been sexually assaulted know their perpetrator. It’s important to discuss with children that just because the person is considered a “trusted” adult they can still manipulate a situation and do things that are not appropriate.

Inform your child about the tricks used by sexual predators. Such as continued accidental touching, or where the predator tricks the child into thinking there is an emergency and the child must go with the predator.

Teach children that they must trust their inner voice. Especially that feeling we all have inside that tells us what feels right and what feels wrong or uncomfortable. Many children who have been sexually abused describe a feeling of discomfort as having a “yucky” feeling inside. You must teach your child to trust or honor their inner voice or that “yucky” feeling.

Teach your child that they have the right to say NO! As the majority of child abuse is based on coercion rather than force, teaching your child to say "NO" strongly and forcefully really can make a big difference in many situations.

Michele Huggins is the editor of Charlotte Parent magazine.

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