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Preventing abuse - how to minimise the risks

A safe relationship between adults and children is one in which secrets are hard to keep - one in which children would feel able to tell someone about abuse, even if they hadn’t been able to say ‘no’.  

People who want to abuse children avoid these situations. So, the more difficult we make it for abusers to come between children or young people and their parents or carers, the better-protected they will be.

1. Know the warning signs that someone may have a sexual interest in children and seek help if worried. Knowing what to look for means we can look out for signs at an early stage. If we think someone has a sexual interest in a child or may be abusing them, seek help. Don’t be part of the secret. (See our article How do abusers do what they do? for more on how to be aware).

2. Talk to children, and listen to what they have to say. Abusers rely on secrecy. They try to silence children and to build trust with adults, counting on us to be silent if we have doubts. Tackle this secrecy by developing an open and trusting relationship with our children. Listen carefully to their fears and concerns. Let them know they should not worry about telling us anything. Talk about relationships and sex at appropriate stages of development and be comfortable using the words they may need.

3. Talking to older children/teenagers. People who sexually exploit older children and teenagers are not always older adults. They may be children or young people themselves and may initially be perceived by their victims as ‘girlfriends’ or ‘boyfriends’. Older children are often uncomfortable sharing details about their relationships with their parents. So, when talking to them, balance their desire for independence and privacy alongside taking an interest in their associates and activities.

4. Demonstrate to children that it is alright to say ‘no’. For example, when they do not want to play, or be tickled, hugged or kissed. Help them understand what is unacceptable behaviour and that they must always tell us if someone is behaving in a way which worries them – even if they were unable to say ‘no’ at the time. If your children are young, the NSPCCs ‘Underwear Rule’ information may be helpful.

5. Set and respect family boundaries. Make sure all members of the family have rights to privacy in dressing, bathing, sleeping and other personal activities. Even young children should be listened to and their preferences respected.

6. Take sensible precautions about whom we choose to take care of our children. Find out as much as we can about babysitters and don’t leave children with anyone we have reservations about. If a child is unhappy about being cared for by a particular adult, talk to the child about the reasons why. If you are leaving your child in a care organisation - a sports club, for example - be reassured that it’s OK to ask about their child protection policies.

If you are concerned about keeping your child safe from sexual abuse, this is your chance to create a safer environment and a support network for everyone in your family. The Stop it Now! Helpline can assist with helping you create a family safety plan - call 0808 1000 900.

If you would like to learn more, you can watch a 30 minute learning programme on the Parents Protect! website.