Hesperian Health Guides

Preventing sexual abuse

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HealthWiki > Helping Children Who Are Deaf > Chapter 13: Preventing child sexual abuse > Preventing sexual abuse

How we are treated by others affects our self-esteem. When children are treated as helpless, and hopeless, they see themselves as helpless, and hopeless. So we must teach children to feel good about themselves so they will be confident and better able to protect themselves.

A girl signing to a middle-aged man.
Leave me alone!
To keep children safe, we must give them the knowledge, skills, and confidence to reject sexual misbehavior — even from bigger, stronger, and more powerful people.

Help your child understand and communicate about sexual abuse

Deaf children learn most easily when they see things. Signs, body movements, and expressions on the face, along with picture cards, puppet shows, and role plays, can all help you teach a deaf child how to be safe from sexual abuse. Help her understand that:

  • some kinds of touches are not okay (a handshake is okay, a hug may be okay, but touching genitals is not okay, and putting a penis in a child's mouth is not okay).
  • she should tell you if something she does not like happens to her.
  • she can refuse if someone tries to touch her sexually.
A woman describing a picture to her daughter.
This man is touching the little girl in a bad way. If this ever happens to you, you come tell mama!

Ideas like 'private', 'secret', 'trust', 'safe', and signs for them, are hard to explain to young children, especially if they are deaf. Remember that you will have to explain these ideas over and over.

Use different signs, gestures, pictures, and words until you feel sure your child understands. Act out situations with your child, or use dolls or pictures to try as many ways of showing these ideas as you can.

Some examples of signs that may help you explain sexual abuse

These signs are in American Sign Language. Remember, the signs in your own country's sign language may be different.

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body private touch secret
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help hurt/violate good bad
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vagina penis sex rape

Help children name and describe abusers

Give your children sign names for people in their lives. Practice noticing details about people and places and communicate about them with your child. Teach your child describing words, like tall, short, hairy, fat, thin, and others. When a child can describe a person, she can describe an abuser.

Give everyone a sign name
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One of our little girls, a 6-year-old deaf girl, was raped. The police asked us to question her about who had done this to her. She was not able to give an answer. One reason is that she does not have sign names for everyone around her. We are now encouraging parents to give everyone who comes into their lives a sign name. In this way, anyone who hurt the child could be named and brought to justice.

— Nzeve Deaf Children's Center, Zimbabwe, Africa

Here are more activities to help your child be safer from sexual abuse.

Ways to help your child understand that some parts of the body should be private

Explain to your child that her body belongs to her alone, and that some parts of her body are more private than others. Explain that adults and older children should not touch her genitals or private parts, and that she should not touch an adult's private parts, even if asked to. Use dolls, puppets, or pictures, and show approval or disapproval by your body movement and facial expression.

A mother showing a doll to her young girl.
Your bottom is a private part of the body.

Also, explain that if someone asks your child to watch private things or look at pictures of private things, that is not okay either.

When your child is between 3 and 5 years old, teach about genitals and other private parts of the body, and about the differences between boys' and girls' bodies. These are difficult ideas to teach, so use different methods to try to make sure your child understands. Teaching can happen naturally, for example while your child is getting dressed. You can also use or make a doll to teach about body parts.

How to help your child learn to make noise or yell for help

A woman signing to her son.
If someone hurts you, yell or say 'no'. Let's practice yelling out loud.

Many deaf children do not like to use their voices. This is because
they are laughed at or told they sound funny when they do. Explain
to your child that it is okay to shout if someone is bothering him and
he needs help.

Teach your child that he should shout 'No, no!', or 'Help!', or stamp his feet if an adult or older child tries to hurt him. He can also scream, bite, and struggle. Use dolls or play-acting to show him what you mean.

How to help your child learn to say no

Deaf children often do not understand why they should do or not do certain things, or why things happen to them. They want to please people, and so they learn to obey without question. This can be a problem if someone tells them to do something that is wrong.

Help your child practice saying 'no'. First, try making up situations in which a child may want to say 'no'.

A woman and her daughter speaking to each other.
Norma was going to school. A boy came and pushed her. How did Norma feel?
What could
she do?

Later, talk about saying 'no' and where your child can get help.

A woman speaking to her daughter.
You can say 'no' to someone who wants to touch your body. Yell 'no' over and over and fight back until they stop.
A woman and her small boy signing to each other.
Have you ever wanted to stay away from some children because you were afraid of them?
If you feel that way, come tell me about it.

Ask your child to tell you or another adult right away if someone asks him to do anything he feels uncomfortable doing.

How to help your child understand that he or she does not always have to obey bigger people

Once a child has learned to say 'no', you can make up situations in which the child does not
have to obey adults.

A woman and her daughter speaking to each other.
Suppose an adult tells you to go outside and run after cars and buses in the road. Must you do it?
A woman and her son signing to each other.
Where could you go for help if I am at work? How about your Aunt Rose? Or Lisa's mother? Who else?
To Nana.

How to help your child know where to go for help

Who can your child turn to? All children should have at least 3 people whom they can go to with problems. This could be their mother or father, older sister or brother, aunt, neighbor, or any other person both you and the child trust outside the family, like another child's mother.

Children should know that if one person is not available or will not pay attention, they should go to the next person. Tell those people that you are teaching the child to go to them for help if necessary. Practice with the child how to go to people for different kinds of help.