It used to be that when parents thought about sexual abuse, they thought of little girls, but in recent years, everyone from Oprah Winfrey to the widespread abuse scandals in the Catholic Church have brought the sexual abuse of young boys to the forefront. Celebrities, such as writer and author Tyler Perry, actor Gabriel Byrne who was molested at a seminary school, and Ireland and Cincinnati Bengals’ Laveraneus Coles, have revealed their childhood abuse. The latest celebrity to reveal childhood sexual abuse is Sugar Ray Leonard, who was abused by a prominent Olympic boxing coach at age 15.
Today 1 out of every six American men have been sexually abused as children. Obviously the incidences of abuse go back many, many years but it is only now that men are starting to feel comfortable revealing it. They are doing an incredible thing when they do disclose their secret because they are letting parents know that we need to be just as vigilant in protecting our little boys as we are about protecting our little girls.
In many instances, people in power abuse the boys, whether they are coaches, priests, or older family members. The one thing child predators share is that they often tell the child they cannot tell anyone or their parents will be hurt, they won’t make the team, they will get in trouble, etc. They shame them into keeping the secret and believing they did something wrong, too wrong to let their parents find out. So one important thing parents can do is let their children, boys and girls, know that they can always, always tell them anything.
I have told each one of my children that if they are ever in a situation where anyone is forcing them to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable, they have the right to say no, to run, and tell an adult. I’ve also told them from the time they were old enough to understand, that if anyone tells them they can’t tell my husband or me something or threatens to hurt their siblings or me if they tell, it will be a lie. And that they should let me know immediately. Furthermore, they will never be in trouble and nothing will have ever been their fault in that circumstance.
Nobody likes to think about childhood sex abuse. It is an unimaginable, heinous crime that ruins lives and changes the child forever. But I think it’s absolutely vital to have the discussion with your children, boys and girls.
Have you talked to your child about being in an abusive situation? How did you explain it without scaring them? What do you think is the most important when having this discussion?
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