Child sexual abuse and the church: Prevention resources

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Previous articles considered the extent of child sexual abuse, how sexual abuse impacts children and then adults, the responsibility of the church to provide protection to children, and standards for reporting and care of victims. This article will look at resources available to parents to assist them in protecting children from sexual abuse.

Resources for talking to children about sex

One of the most basic things parents can do to prevent sexual abuse is to talk to children about sex. Because discussing sex often provokes a great deal of anxiety, one good approach is to have guidance through the process. If parents begin when a child is young, discussion of sexuality can be woven into life, as opposed to a one-time, awkward conversation that traumatizes both parent and child.

Secretiveness, naïveté and shame can be fertile grounds for a perpetrator to take advantage of a child. When parents are active and intentional about teaching children in an age-appropriate manner about their bodies and sex, parents greatly increase the likelihood that children will develop a healthy understanding of sex. Furthermore, if parents teach children about healthy sexuality—even if a child never experiences abuse—the child is on a much better trajectory toward healthy marriage and adult life.

Two excellent comprehensive sex education resources for parents are book series from a solid, evangelical perspective. Both series include a guide for parents and associated age-appropriate books for children.

In addition, Focus on the Family provides a resource list and hundreds of articles written on a wide array of topics regarding sex education in the family.

Learning about Sex Series (Concordia Publishing House)

First produced in the early 1980s, this series has been one of the best resources for parents, childhood educators and those who work with children and remains highly relevant and beneficial. Six age-appropriate books for boys and six books for girls each target a 2- to 3-year age window, beginning at age 3 and going through older adolescence. The parent guide, How to Talk Confidently to your Child about Sex, is the capstone piece of the series.

God’s Design for Sex Series (NavPress)

God’s Design for Sex is written by Stan Jones, respected psychology professor at Wheaton College, and his wife, Brenna. The parent guide, How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex, offers an overview of the seriesThere are four books for children beginning at age 3 and going through age 14. This series is very readable, practical and useful for guiding parents through how to teach children about sex in a healthy manner.

Protecting children from sexual abuse

In addition to a broad, comprehensive family plan to teach healthy sexuality, a specific portion of this plan should entail talking to a child about safety and danger and to preparing the child—again, in age-appropriate ways—to recognize and respond to unsafe situations.

Family safety plan

A family safety plan is a specific and intentional approach to mitigating the possibility that children are abused. Some elements of this plan might include:

  • Develop a code word—Parents and children can work together to come up with a code word only the family knows. This word can be used by a child to communicate with parents something is wrong (i.e. when the child calls home from a friend’s house) or when parents must send someone in their place to pick up the child.
  • Teach children about good touch and bad touch—A very simple, concrete way to do this, even with very young children, is to tell them no one can touch them where their bathing suit covers. If anyone other than a parent or doctor does touch them, they are to tell their parents. Even a doctor should have a parent’s permission.
  • Be intentional about childcare—When considering childcare for children, whether it is more formal (full-time daycare) or temporary (a babysitter for the evening), parents should do their due diligence in screening those who will care for their children. Checking references when possible, researching any kind of review or references for a childcare provider, and trusting one’s instincts are important.
  • No secrets/not in trouble if they tell—Convey to children that it is not OK for another child or adult to ask them to keep a secret and that they will not be in trouble if they tell their parents when someone asks them to keep a secret. As mentioned earlier, abuse thrives in secrecy.
  • Actively monitor technology for children as they get older—As children begin using any kind of digital device, parents must be alert, attentive and active in monitoring time spent on devices. Because the challenges of technology and the associated dangers to children change so rapidly, parents of school-age children, preteens, and teens must be engaged constantly.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of items and activities in a family safety plan but identifies a few of the approaches parents may take in working to keep children safe.

Other family safety resources

Books

  • God Made all of Me by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb
  • I Said No!: A Kid-to-Kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private by Zack and Kimberly King
  • Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids by Kristen Jenson and Gail Poyner
  • My Body! What I say Goes! by Jayneen Sanders.

Online resources

A final word about churches helping families

As families undertake the daunting task of raising children, churches can be incredible sources of support and encouragement and can partner with families in the process of helping children grow toward adulthood.

Seminars on healthy sexuality, talking to your children about sex and “stranger danger” not only can benefit families who attend church regularly, but also can serve the larger community in a way relevant for all families.

Children’s ministers, youth ministers and anyone involved in any aspect of family ministry can serve as resources to families who often do not have any idea where to begin in dealing with issues of sexuality and sexual abuse.

For too long, the church’s silence on matters of sexuality has resulted in a disconnect between the spiritual and sexual. Silence and inaction are breeding grounds for abuse. Instead, churches can be leaders in preventing sexual abuse and providing care when it happens.

Scott Floyd, Ph.D., LPC-S, LMFT, is a senior fellow and director of Counseling Programs at B.H. Carroll Theological Institute.

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