Technology has revolutionized our connectivity to one another and made the world accessible in unprecedented ways. At the same time, it has had a profound impact on children in terms of sexual abuse and exploitation. Effectively dealing with these types of crimes against children poses significant challenges.
In recent years, our efforts have shifted to reflect the reality of how child pornography is produced. Child sexual abuse begins offline – in homes and even child-serving organizations within our communities – and only thereafter, through a recording of the abuse, ends up on the Internet as child abuse images and videos.
Child sexual abuse is a serious problem within our society and occurs more frequently than people realize. Adults bear the responsibility for safeguarding and protecting children from sexual abuse – as such it is important understand what child sexual abuse is and to recognize behaviour that may signal a child in distress if we are going to address this issue at its core.
Informed by the reports made to Cybertip.ca, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection created a child sexual abuse prevention program, Commit to Kids, specifically tailored to assist child-serving organizations create safer environments for the children in their care. Research shows that the majority of offenders do not have a criminal record. The Commit to Kids program provides organizations with a step-by-step plan using a risk-management approach that goes far beyond criminal record and child abuse registry checks to prevent child sexual abuse.
The sexual abuse of children includes a wide range of behaviours and situations. Offences can vary from non-contact sexual offences (such as exposing a child to sexually explicit acts) to contact offences (such as touching or fondling the genital area). Offences can occur with or without the use of violence, and may also involve the use of technology, for example, the creation of child sexual abuse images through photography.
The sexual victimization of children involves many dynamics. It can include abuse by acquaintances, family members, or strangers. When children are groomed by an acquaintance or family member they are less likely to disclose the abuse. It is important to understand the dynamics of sexual abuse and the role of grooming – how to possibly prevent abuse and how to recognize signs of misconduct in order to intervene as soon as possible.
Establish and reinforce the role of your child within the family. If your child wants to listen to adult conversations about adult decision-making and adult-related topics, gently re-establish boundaries. When boundaries are blurred between the adults and children, children are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Set limits with regard to the multimedia content that your child is exposed to, including television, music, Internet, games, etc. Although your child may have an interest in adult information, set limits about what s/he views for the purpose of reducing exposure to content that s/he is not developmentally ready to process.
Involving your child in adult relationship issues can cause her/him confusion and emotional stress. Keeping these issues separate from your child draws an important line between her/his role and your role – which helps build the child’s sense of security.
Remember that teaching respect does not mean teaching obedience. Foster self-awareness in your child by taking her/his lead when it comes to physical affection. Respect your child’s right to make decisions about touching.
Establish family privacy for using the bathroom, bathing and changing. Designate a personal space in the home for each person’s belongings (a bedroom, closet, drawers or shelves, etc.).