What Every Parent Should Know About Child Safety Skills by Faith Winters, LPC, ACS

When it comes to child safety, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. What Every Parent Should Know About Stranger Danger and Child Sexual Abuse. The risks to your child are right here in your community. Child sexual abuse happens in your neighborhood. Learn how to recognize the risks and the warning signs. Learn Parent Safety Skills. Learn what you can do to make your child’s world safer and greatly reduce the risks to your child.  Learn what you can do to keep your child safe.

Teach Your Child Safety Skills. There are vital safety skills that every young child should know.


  1. Know the Dangers. The risks to your child are right here in your community. Child sexual abuse happens in your neighborhood. Learn how to recognize the risks and the warning signs.
  2. Learn Parent Safety Skills. Learn what you can do to make your child’s world safer and greatly reduce the risks to your child.  Learn what you can do to keep your child safe.
  3. Teach Your Child Safety Skills. There are vital safety skills that every young child should know. Teach child safety skills, and steps to safety to your child.


  • Stranger danger accounts for only 20% of child molesters. Approximately 80% of child molesters are known to the victim or victim’s family in some way.
  • Each year about one million children are sexually molested in the United States.
  • In most communities, boys and girls are molested about as frequently. There is an increase of adolescents abusing younger children.
  • Children are not usually physically hurt in a sexual assault, aside from the damage of the sexual act itself.
  • The most common age group of children molested is preschoolers. This is a very vulnerable age group.
  • The most common age at which abuse is reported is 8-12 years old.
  • Young children seldom lie about a sexual assault.
  • Not all children are able to tell parents or other adults about a sexual assault. Parents must be aware of behavioral indicators that could point to sexual abuse. (Kempe)



It won’t happen to my child. My child is safe. No child, no matter how well protected, watched, or schooled about what to do, is immune to attempted sexual assault.(Christian)
It’s someone they don’t know, only  dangerous, weird strangers. About 80% of the time the child knows the perpetrator in some way.
Physical abuse always accompanies sexual abuse. Only about 15% involve physical abuse.  The perpetrator can use bribery, threats, and trust rather than physical force.
It just happened. It was a surprise, one time occurrence. It won’t ever happen again. Sexual abuse is usually not a one-time thing. It develops gradually over a period of time. Unchecked, it may go on for years before it stops.
Children make up stories about sexual abuse. Most young children do not have the frame of reference to make up sexual abuse stories. Young children generally do not lie about such situations.
Some children ask for it. Children don’t consciously (in most situations) gear their behavior to cause adults to sexually abuse them.
Afterward, if no one talks about it, all the effects will go away over time. It is no big deal. Time alone will not heal the wounds of child sexual abuse. Ignoring the event may even cause further harm to the child.
Children get over a sexual assault with relative ease. A child who is sexually assaulted needs immediate and long-term therapy to overcome the trauma. Often the effects of the trauma of childhood sexual abuse continue in to adulthood. Issues like lack of trust, anxiety, low self-esteem, etc don’t resolve alone.
The child, the victim, is the only one affected by the sexual abuse. The entire family may be affected by the violation of trust that harmed any one member of the family. The whole family may benefit from counseling.
Sexual offenders are male and come from lower economic groups or are from minority groups. Sexual offenders are both male and female and are found in every race, religion and social, economic class.



Child sexual abuse occurs when a person uses or attempts to use a child for his or her own sexual gratification. Child sexual abuse includes, but is not limited to: exposing oneself before a child, exposing the genitals of a child, fondling, sexual harassment, forcing, permitting, or encouraging a child to watch pornography or sexual activities (GMR, 2001). Although any of these sexual behaviors can be damaging to children, it is especially traumatic when the abuser is a family member. Sexual abuse is not always a crime of adults towards children. Approximately 25% of child sexual abuse incidents involve serious offenses committed by juveniles. (GMR, 2001)


Some definition of the most common forms of sexual abuse:  (GMR)

  • Fondling- includes touching the sexual parts of the body, such as breasts, genitals and buttocks.
  • Sexual contact- includes rape sodomy, incest, sexual penetration etc.
  • Sexual exploitation- which generally refers to the use of children for pornography and prostitution.
  • Exposure and voyeurism- include some one exposing him/herself to a child or exposing the genitals of a child for the adult’s sexual gratification.
  • Sexual harassment- includes intimidating or pressuring a child for sexual activities. (GMR)

Why do children keep quiet about being sexually abused?

Sexual abusers rely on intimidation to force children to keep quiet. They may be subtle, telling the child they are doing it for the child’s own good. Or they may be more blatant, such as a father warning his daughter if she tells anyone, the family will be broken up and everyone will blame her. Abusers use many threats, telling the child his/her pet will be hurt or even the child himself/herself will be killed if the child tells. Children need adults to provide their basic needs: food, a place to live, clothing, access to family and loved ones. Abusers deliberately emphasize that dependency to make children submit to them.

Five common characteristics among childhood sexual abuse victims: (Not every child will react the same way, but this is a general idea of some of the effects of sexual abuse.) (Summit, in GMR, 2001)

  • Secrecy –the abuser must establish a secret, intimate relationship with the child. To do this, the abuser often threatens the child, his/her possessions, or even the child’s family members. The abuser may tell the child it is the all child’s fault and the child will be in big trouble if they tell.
  • Helplessness- Many adults do not realize how helpless a child is, particularly if the abuser is a family member who provides food, a home and basic family security. Adults may assume a child who does not complain about abuse is consenting to the relationship. However a child can never be held responsible because he/she is in too vulnerable a position to say no.
  • Entrapment and accommodation- Sexual abuse often continues until the child either leaves home or the situation is discovered by someone else. The lives of sexually abused children are filled with fear and degradation, but they have no way to change the situation or even express their feelings. As a result, the child will often blame himself/herself for what is happening to her/him, and feel guilty and depressed.
  • Delayed or unconvincing disclosure- Like other adolescents, an abused child will begin the process of maturing and becoming more independent of her /his family. Many children are not able to admit to being sexually abused until this stage. But by then the behavioral signs may have given the child a reputation as a “bad kid” and adults may refuse to believe the child’s story.
  • Retraction- Once a child reveals she/he has been abused, the abuser’s threat may actually come true: the victim’s family may be angry and disbelieving, the offending family member may be arrested or have to move out of the house. Under these circumstances some children retract their story, “admitting” they made it all up.


Behavioral indicators of child sexual abuse

These behaviors may be indicators that a young child has been inappropriately exposed to sexual activity or victimization. The presence of one or more of the following signs or behavioral indicators does not prove a child has been, or is being sexually abused. However, presence of one of these signs, particularly in combination with other signs, should signal the parent to investigate in order to determine whether something serious is wrong. (Christian) The ability to lure a child into sexual contact is based on the powerful position of the perpetrator, which is in sharp contrast to the child’s age, dependency, or subordinate position. Threats or bribery are often used to get a child to participate. Children are rarely physically hurt during the sexual assault; therefore special attention should be paid to behavioral indicators.

Behavioral indicators, signs of distress in children:

  • Loss of appetite.
  • Extreme behaviors, sleep disturbances, outbursts of aggression, poor concentration, excessive masturbation.
  • Fear of males or females in general, or fear of a specific person or overly friendly with strangers.
  • Statements demonstrating unusual amounts of sexual knowledge.
  • Behaving as a younger child might behave (regression), bedwetting, soiling.
  • Persistent and inappropriate sexual play with peers or toys, sexual drawings.
  • Dramatic change in school performance.
  • Lack of interest in usual activities or unusually withdrawn.
  • Poor peer relationships.
  • Insecurity, fears, nightmares, easily startled.
  • Needing more reassurance than usual from adults (parents, teachers, etc).


Severe behavioral  indicators:

  • ·        Running away.
  • ·        Reports of sexual assault (young children seldom lie about sexual abuse).
  • ·        Preoccupation with thoughts of hurting self or others.
  • ·        Suicidal feelings or thoughts.
  • ·        Clinical depression (extreme, persistent, seemingly unrelated to known events).
  • ·        Difficulty in walking or sitting.
  • ·        Stained or bloody underclothing.
  • ·        Pain or itch in genital area.
  • ·        Bruises, bleeding, infection on external genitalia, vagina or anal areas.
  • ·        Venereal disease, especially in young children.



If you suspect abuse, don't be afraid to get help.

  • When children report they are or have been sexually abused, there is a high probability they are telling the truth. False accusations by children represent less than 5 percent of all reports.

What to do immediately:

  • Go with the child to a private place. Ask the child to tell you what happened in his/her own words. Listen carefully, questioning the child only to clarify details.
  • Assure the child that it was right to tell, that you are very sorry this happened, and that you will protect him/her from now on.
  • Assure the child it is NOT his/her fault.
  • Accept the all the child’s feelings: (i.e. fear, anger, hate, confusion, etc.).
  • Call the police or Child Protective Services immediately.


Helping the child following the abuse:

  • Continue to believe the child and do not blame the child for what has happened.
  • Respond to questions or feelings the child expresses about the molestation with a calm, matter-of-fact attitude, but do not pressure the child to talk about it. Give the child reassurance and support, accept all of his/her feelings.
  • Respect the privacy of the child by not telling a lot of people or letting other people question the child (other than those with a valid medical or legal reason).
  • Instruct the child to tell you immediately if the offender attempts sexual molestation again or bothers him/her in any way.
  • Do follow regular routines at home and school. (Expect the usual activities, rules, participation, chores, etc.)
  • Do tell other children in the home that something has happened to the child but it is being taken care of. Do not give them the details.
  • A parent or other safe adult should consult with a physician regarding the need for a medical examination and treatment.
  • Assure the child that the offender will get help with the problem that they have of wrongfully touching or hurting children.
  • Consider taking the child to therapy with a counselor  experienced in helping children recover from child sexual abuse.
  • With an experienced counselor learn how to handle your own emotional reactions and how to respond to the child in ways that are helpful to the child. It is vital to facilitate healing and not create more harm.



  • Discussion of what feelings are and what to do if you have feeling you don’t like. Focus on sharing these feelings with parents or other trusted adults. Use of the “feelings” materials to help children learn to recognize and understand their feelings.
  • Focus for Parents: Parents can reinforce the initial safety training on feelings by asking their children to tell them what feelings are, what to do with feelings, how would they feel if…, etc. Parents should focus on telling children that feelings are okay to talk about and that they can talk to their parents and other trusted adults about their feelings. Parents can help children to understand what they are feeling and help children to understand that it is okay to feel whatever they feel.  All feelings are okay to feel and understand.


  • Discussion of common community helpers to whom the children can talk if their parents are not available.
  • Discussion and practice of the four basic steps to personal safety:

                              1. Say “NO!”
                              2. Make a Loud Noise
                              3. Run—But Don’t Hide
                              4. Tell Someone You Trust

  • Focus for parents: Parents can reinforce the initial safety training by periodically asking their children who “community helper” are (Police, firefighters, nurses, ministers, teachers doctors, etc.), who they would talk to if the parents were not around, what they would do if….etc. Review the four steps to personal safety with the children repeatedly, while reassuring the children that no matter what, they can talk to their parents.


  • Discussion of various body parts leading to a focus on the “private parts” and what they are called. Emphasis is given to assuring the children that their private parts are not for others to see or touch without a good reason (parents bathing, doctors exam, etc.)
  • Discussion of “good touch” and “bad touch,” how to tell them apart and what to do if they experience “bad touch.”
  • Focus for parents: Parents can reinforce the initial personal safety training by asking the children if the know what their private parts are, where they are found, what they are called, who can see them or touch them, etc. Parents can also ask children about various kinds of touch and whether this is good touch  or bad touch. Parents should reinforce that no matter what someone else does or says and no matter how the children feel, they can talk to their parents if they need help with someone using bad touch on them.

The key to the success of this program is regular reinforcement by parents with their children. This should go on over a few years. The goal is to reduce the risk of “stranger danger” and child sexual abuse.  Your child’s safety is up to you!


Parent book list for building child safety skills.



Bell, S. & Parsons, A. ( 1991). What's Inside My Body? New York: Dorling Kindersley.
Evans, D. & Williams, C. (1992). Me and my body.  New York: Dorling Kindersley, Inc.
Harris, R.H. (1999). It's So Amazing: A book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families.  Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Jones, S. & Jones, B. (1995). God's Design for Sex. (Books 1-4 series for various ages.) Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing Group.
Nanao, J. (1995). Contemplating Your Bellybutton. New York: Kane/Miller Book Publishers.
Royston, A. (1996). Where do babies come from? New York: DK Publishing.
Sandeman, A. (1996). Body Books: Babies. Brookfield, CT: Copper Beech Books.
Spelman, C. (1997). Your body belongs to you.  Morton Grove, IL: Alber Whitman & Company.
Waxman, S. (1989). What is a girl? What is a boy? New York: Thomas Y. Crowell.



Gordon, S. & Gordon, J. (1984). A Better Safe than Sorry Book. Amherst, New York: Premetheus Books.
 McGinty, A.B. (1997). Staying Healthy: Personal Safety.  New York: The Rosen Publishing Group's PowerKids Press.
Raatma, L. (1999). Safety Around Strangers. Mankato, MN: Bridgestone Books.



Freeman, L. (1986). Loving Touches. Seattle, WA: Parenting Press, Inc.
Kleven, S. (1997). The Right Touch. Bellevue, WA: Illumination Arts.
Pluckrose, H. (1995). Exploring Our Senses: Touching. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens Publishing.



Bowman-Kruhm, M. & Wirths, C.G. (1997). A Day in the Life of a Doctor. New York: PowerKids Press.



Amos, J. (1990). Angry. Milwaukee, WI: Raintree Publishers.
Behm, B.J. (1999). Tears of Joy. Thiensville, WI.: Way Word Publishing.
Clifton, L. (1978). EverettAnderson's Nine Month Long. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Klassen, H. (1999). I Don't Want to go to Justin's House Anymore. Washington, D.C.: Child and Family Press.
Leghorn, L. (1995).  Proud of our Feelings. Washington, D.C.: Magination Press.
Mayer, M. (----). I Was So Mad.
Penn, A. (1993). The Kissing Hand. Washington, D.C.: Child & Family Press.
Sanford, D. (1986). Don't Look at Me. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press.
Thomas, P. (2000). Stop Picking on Me. New York: Barron's Educational Series.
Viorst, J. (----). The Tenth Good Thing about Barney.
This information is solely for educational use.
This information has been gathered, compiled and adapted from handouts from numerous different resources including:
·        GMR, 2001 – A Guide for mandatory reporters of child abuse, DHS State of Oregon.
·        Oregon State Law, ORS chapter 163
·        Dr. Randy Christian
·        Dr. Roland Summit, quoted in GMR, 2001.
·        Kempe Children's Center
·        National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse
·        National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
·        And other unidentifiable resources, which I would be glad to add as a resource.

 ©2005 Faith Winters Published in www.faithwinters.com 

Article Type: