More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Sexual Abuse: The Hidden Epidemic
By Sherryll Kraizer, Ph.D., Coalition for Children

While abduction by a stranger is one of the most terrifying things for a parent to think about, children are actually far more vulnerable to abuse by people known to the family and community. Child abuse occurs when an adult causes, or threatens to cause, emotional, physical or sexual harm to a child. Child abuse includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

Parents should know that:

  1. 85 to 90% of all abuse occurs at the hands of someone known to the child, someone in a position of trust.
  2. About one in every four children will be sexually abused by the age of eighteen.
  3. Most sexual abuse involves no outwardly visible physical damage to the child.
  4. The damage comes from the physical and emotional violation of the child, and the violation of a trusted relationship. These can be more long-lasting than physical injury.
  5. Most abusers are family, friends, and neighbors, someone the child knows and trusts.
  6. Parents, schools and organizations may use all of the avoidance technology at their disposal against strangers, yet experience tells us that they are almost always surprised to discover perpetrators in their midst.
  7. Parents obviously don't leave their children in the care of people they believe to be perpetrators, but the facts tell us that parents must be prepared for such an event.
A Child's Best Defense
The best way to prevent abuse when the parent or care-taking adult is not present is to provide children with the skills they need to help protect themselves. The essential prevention of child abuse skills can be taught without talking about abuse. Children don't need to be told what abuse is, who the offenders are, how they operate, what they do, or why.

They don't need to be told that the people they love might hurt them. Rather, prevention is learned through positive and concrete messages that give children the skills they need to act effectively on their own behalf when they are in potentially abusive situations. The reality is that there are times when children can and must be responsible for their own well-being, such as when they are alone with a potential abuser.

At such times, they need permission to speak up. They need specific skills and techniques to stop what's being done to them. And, they must know they will be believed and supported by the adults in their lives.

The Best Overall Defense Children Have Against Abuse Is:

  • A sense of their own natural abilities (instincts).
  • The ability to accurately assess and handle a variety of situations.
  • Knowing where and how to get help.
  • Knowing they will be believed.
A Child Needs To Know:

  • Your body belongs to you.
  • You have a right to say who touches you and how.
  • If someone touches you in a way you don't like, in a way that makes you feel funny or uncomfortable inside, or in a way that you think is wrong or your parents would think is wrong, it's okay to say "no."
  • If the person doesn't stop, say, "I'm going to tell" and then tell, no matter what.
  • If you're asked to keep a secret, say, "No, I'm going to tell."
  • If you have a problem, keep talking about it until someone helps you.
Children learn that they can have more control over what happens to their bodies when we teach them, and when we show them through our own behavior, that their bodies do, indeed, belong to them. Children as young as two and three already know what touch they like and what touch they don't like. Touching they don't like makes them feel uneasy and may seem wrong to them.

The Safe Child Program gives children permission to speak up. It teaches them how to speak up effectively and in a way that is appropriate. Prevention of child abuse techniques must be learned not just as ideas, but as real skills. Proven classroom programs for children and follow-through by parents are the best way to learn these skills. This means practice.

Part of effective prevention education includes role-play, giving children an opportunity to see how it feels to say "no" in a difficult situation. Just as children don't learn to ride a bicycle by talking or reading about bicycling, children don't learn to prevent child abuse without opportunities to work with the techniques, to practice and feel comfortable with the skills. Role-play, practicing and parental reinforcement are the keys to teaching children to protect themselves when adults are not there to protect them.

How to Respond if a Child Tells You About Abuse
The trauma of a child reporting abuse is very real. If this happens, the first concern is to remain calm and supportive of the child. Give the child an opportunity to tell you in his or her own way what happened. Don't over-react or criticize the child in any way.

The Child Needs To Be Told:

  • That you believe him/her and you're glad s/he told you.
  • That s/he didn't do anything wrong.
  • That you will do your best to see that s/he is not hurt again and you will make every effort to get help.
  • Do not promise the child that you will do anything specific. You may not be able to keep that promise.
  • Children who report sexual or physical abuse need to be examined by a doctor. Make the child a part of the process. If possible find a physician the child knows or one who is particularly experienced in abuse cases.
REMEMBER: Almost without exception children do not lie about abuse, except to deny that it happened.

REMEMBER ALSO: The trauma of abuse is long-term and not always apparent. When a child reports being abused, the process of recovery begins.

Reporting Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect
The decision to report suspected abuse is almost always difficult. Remember that 85-90% of all sexual abuse and virtually all physical and emotional abuse involve someone known to the child. This means that the offender is usually known to the community.

Interpersonal relationships and community considerations frequently bring hesitation to report. At these times, it is important to remember that the TOTAL responsibility for the offense lies with the offender.

Reporting PROTECTS the child and may protect other children from becoming or continuing to be victims of abuse. A person who reports suspected abuse is not responsible for ruining the offender's life. The person who has the courage and takes the responsibility to report is saving a child as well as future victims.

ANYONE may report a suspected case of child abuse or child maltreatment. It is important to know that the law does not require certainty before reporting and that you have no responsibility to investigate or to try to gather more information yourself. Any suspected case should be reported.

Reporting suspected abuse or maltreatment does not make a person legally liable, however there may be penalties for failure to report. The law protects any person, official, or institution that makes a report in good faith (meaning an honest belief that a child is being abused) by providing immunity from any liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise result from such actions.

While reporting child abuse can be difficult, all of us have an obligation to act on behalf of all children. If we do not act, who will?

The National toll-free number to report suspected abuse is 1-800-4ACHILD at

THE COALITION FOR CHILDREN is a not-for-profit organization, founded in 1983, which is committed to creating and providing positive and effective prevention programs for children and families.

The Coalition is not a group; rather it acts as a catalyst, bringing together individuals and organizations for specific projects and community action. To learn more, please visit


this is the only line i have fault with in this article...
The reality is that there are times when children can and must be responsible for their own well-being, such as when they are alone with a potential abuser
to me it's saying that if abuse does happen after all the above mentioned teaching\explaining ect... it was the child's fault for not stopping it. children are never at fault if abused. Full stop!! whether they have been taught these skills or not.

otherwise the article is great!

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
That's not how I read it, fog.

The reality is that there are times when children can and must be responsible for their own well-being, such as when they are alone with a potential abuser.

I read that as saying that there are times when the only people around will be the child and the abuser - and at those times we need to enable the child to protect herself/himself and get out of the situation. That is ultimately what street-proofing is all about.


at those times we need to enable the child to protect herself/himself and get out of the situation.
I agree with enabling children to protect themselves.. i have no arguement with that,,
my arguement is the with words "must be responsible" as it is written in that line.
Maybe if it said,, something to the effect of :- with these tools\knowledge (of what they might be able to do, (depending on the situation they are in)) etc.. a child maybe able to protect themselves and maybe able get out of a potential abusive situation.

maybe i'm just too picky. sorry.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
I think "must be responsible" is simply reflecting the reality that at such a time there is no one else who COULD be responsible for protecting that child... NOT that the child is responsible for being a victim.


Resident Canuck
I was reading this thread and ventured further into the forum and found this thread.

I wanted to share an experience that might be helpful to others.

It could possably be triggering.

My parents were friends with another family. They also had two children, a son and daughter. Our families would go on vacations often together for many years.

My mom taught me about my body and simular to how the above artical stated, never got into great details. She told me things appropiate for my age

This was a couple my parents knew even before us children were born.

We went on vacation camping, like we had done twice a year for many years before. One evening my "uncle" as I called him said he wanted to go for a walk. I opted to go with him, I would have been about five years old.

We wound up by the lake and traveled to an area that I had not been to before. Where we were it was dark and secluded. I remember he asked me if I knew the difference between a girl and a boy then proceded to ask if I had ever seen a boy.

I remember saying "This is private, I am not supose to talk about this to anyone but my mom" Then I asked to go back to the camp site.

Maybe mothers intuition kicked in, because by the time we had got to the entrance to the lake area, my mom was there.

She remembered this situation as well, when I had the memory come back to me. I couldn't remember the walk back to the enterance. I could only remember seeing my mom.

Mom said she felt panic set in and asked my dad to come help her find me. Dad said "Oh she is fine she is with {name}" My mom got my brother and left to find me anyway.

I asked mom recently when this came back to me and I realized what I couldn't remember, it scared me. She said she checked me over when I was back at the camp site. From that day on, she watched me like a hawk when we visited.

Years later, we heard he was stalking girls in the town. The couple eventually moved far away, but their teen aged kids did not go with them.


Hello, This article meant a lot to me. As a child of 6, I entered an institution and every holiday they found suitable parents for us to go on holidays with. In the 60's that criteria was "catholic"for this institution. Not the sort of background checks etc that occurs now, but you know what, no one really knows what goes on behind closed doors.

It turned out the wife worked at nights and as a child the man came into my room and "interferred with me" I knew that when I was at home, that this was not what my dad would do. I said I would tell and I did tell the wife. I was shipped back to the institution mighty quick and the Nuns just shut me down. This one event has had such an impact on my life and relationships. For self protection I did not remember all that had happened to me until I was 31.

But as a child for me it was like I was no one cared enough to listen. I was telling the truth, I was not a liar.



I am so sorry that happened to you busybee. That must have been so hard for you.

I recall very little of what happened to me, but I know generally what went on and for how long. In my family the answer when they found out was "boys will be boys, what are you gonna do" and then they pretended that is wasn't going on. The same sort of stuff happened to my when she was growing up. So, if I am ever lucky enough to have a child I think I will be doing my darnedest to protect and "streetproof" them.


Hello Murray.
Well I have 4 children and I believe that they got to adult hood without any negative sexual experience. We vetted their friends, and met the parents. We were careful of whom they went to visit and I was equally suspicious of friends and family. I believe that the children will let you know how they feel about a person if you provide them with the opportunity to express themselves. If they don't like "someone kissing them, or showed any discomfort" I would back them up. None of my kids were expected to call friends Aunty or Uncle, if they were not related they were called by the name the adult requested. Be it Mr or Mrs or their first name. This to me was important because when we put uncle or aunty in front of a person's name it provides a false sense of trust or security. Very confusing for children to know the difference. I thank you for responding to my post and wish you well for your future with children. Busybee.
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