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Column: Preventing child sex abuse in your family, community

They could also show mood swings, intense anger or sadness, withdrawal from activities the child once enjoyed and self-abusive behaviors.

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(This column originally ran in the Park Rapids Enterprise)

Parents can help prevent sexual abuse by teaching certain skills through different development stages.

Between birth and two years old, teach appropriate body part names.

From 2 to 4 years old, discuss sexual curiosity, be aware of media influences that children are around, teach certain behaviors and which incidents should be reported. Also teach children how to say no to unwanted, hurtful or confusing touches. Teaching children how to use the telephone is helpful and answering children’s questions honestly is important.

Between 4 to 7 years old, help your child identify “helping people” they know and teach them how to ask for help.

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At 7 to 12 years old, parents can discuss body changes and processes and reinforce concepts of responsibility, accountability and values. They could also discuss self-protection and specific behavior to be aware of in adults. Discussing substance abuse and peer pressure is also important.

Finally, for those 12 years and older, discuss healthy sexual expression, review substance abuse and the correlation between sexual activity and abuse, and confidentiality, Encourage open communication between you and your child. As your child grows, listen to them, take the time to observe their behaviors and personality. Doing so can help you know when something is off with your child.

Know the signs

Knowing the signs of child abuse can help stop abuse in its tracks.

Children may experience change in appetite, recurring nightmares or disruptions in sleep, regression in development such as bedwetting, sucking their thumb or excessive crying. Children can also show signs by demonstrating sexual knowledge or behavior that is not appropriate for their age. An example of this would be sexual language or playing with dolls in a sexual way.

Some physical signs of sexual abuse are torn/stained underwear, vaginal or rectal bleeding, abnormal discharge, pain or itching, soiling or wetting long after successful toilet training.

They could also show mood swings, intense anger or sadness, withdrawal from activities the child once enjoyed and self-abusive behaviors.

If you suspect abuse, listen and be a support to your child, but do not try to probe for more information. Report abuse to your local law enforcement or child protection services. As hard as it is to hear that your child has been a victim of child sexual assault, you need to stay calm because how you respond determines how the child may react to the abuse.

Finally, make sure your child knows that they are not the ones who are to be blamed for the abuse happening to them.

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Support Within Reach is a private, non-profit, community service organization serving residents and those impacted by incidents of sexual violence in Aitkin, Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Hubbard and Itasca counties. They offer victim support and advocacy through its 24-hour crisis line (1-800-708-2727) or Park Rapids office (218-237-0300).

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