Children who have been sexually abused and placed in foster care or are adopted need rules to help provide structure, comfort and security. Experts in the field of adoption and child sexual abuse believe the guidelines listed below will help the child build trust with their new family.1
- Privacy: Everyone has a right to privacy. Children should be taught to knock when a door is closed and adults need to role model the same behavior.
- Bedrooms and Bathrooms: These two locations are often prime stimuli for children who have been sexually abused, since abuse commonly occurs in these rooms. By the time children enter the first grade, caution should be used about children of the opposite sex sharing bedrooms or bath times. It is not advisable to bring a child who has been sexually abused into your bed. Cuddling may be over-stimulating and misinterpreted. A safer place to cuddle may be on the living room couch.
- Touching: No one should touch another person without permission. A person’s private parts (the area covered by a bathing suit) should not be touched except during a medical examination or, in the case of young children, if they need help with bathing or toileting.
- Clothing: It is a good idea for family members to be conscious of what they wear outside the bedroom. Seeing others in their underclothes or pajamas may be over-stimulating to a child who has been sexually abused.
- Saying “No”: Children need to learn that it is their right to assertively say “no” when someone touches them in a way they do not like. Help them to practice this.
- Sex Education: All children, including the child who has been sexually abused, need basic information about how they develop sexually. They also will benefit from an atmosphere in which it is okay to talk about sex. Appropriate words for body parts, such as penis, vagina, breasts and buttocks, will give the child the words to describe what happened to him/her. Suggestive or obscene language is sometimes a trigger for old feelings for a child who was sexually abused, and should not be allowed.
- No “Secrets”: Make it clear that no secret games, particularly with adults, are allowed. Tell children if an adult suggests such a game, they should tell you immediately.
- Being Alone With One Other Person: If your child is behaving seductively, aggressively or in a sexually acting out manner, these are high-risk situations. During those times, it is advisable not to put yourself in the vulnerable position of being accused of abuse. It addition, other children may be in jeopardy of being abused. Therefore, whenever possible during these high-risk situations, try not to be alone with your child or allow him/her to be alone with only one other child.
- Wrestling and Tickling: As common and normal as these childhood behaviors are, they are often tinged with sexual overtones. They can put the weaker child in an overpowered and uncomfortable or humiliating position. Keep tickling and wrestling to a minimum.
- Behaviors and Feelings: Help children differentiate between feelings and behaviors. It is normal to have all kinds of feelings, including sexual feelings. However, everyone does not always act on all the feelings, including sexual feelings he/she has. Everyone has choices about which feelings he/she acts on, and everyone (except very young children ) must take responsibility for his/her own behavior.
1 National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, Washington, D.C.