Child Safety at the Doctor’s Office

216 women and girls gave victim impact statements at sentencing hearings for their sexual abuser Larry Nassar. Nearly all the brave survivors who stood at the courtroom podiums were once patients of the now disgraced Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics physician. For decades he was regarded as a sports medicine genius and the key to many young athletes’ recovery. We are now facing a sickening irony. He’d been assaulting young girls under the guise of medical treatment and healing. This scandal has prompted many parents and caregivers to ask “How do I ensure my child’s safety at the hands of a medical professional?”

Fortunately, simple steps can be taken to reduce the risk of a child experiencing sexual abuse in a medical setting.

Teach children about their bodies from birth.

Children with accurate information about healthy sexual development are better protected from sexual abuse. Teaching children about their bodies can start with using proper terms for all body parts, including genitals. Anatomical information is especially helpful in a medical setting and helps lay the foundation for a lifetime of open communication between you and your child about all kinds of things. The conversation should evolve with age to cover topics like safe touch, secrets, boundaries, and consent.

Talking openly and honestly sends the message that their bodies are special and their own – nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. It’s empowering knowledge and gives children the correct language for understanding their bodies, asking questions, and telling about any behavior that could lead to sexual abuse.

Physicians should explain what they are doing and ask permission – especially in regards to private body parts.

All doctors should explain why an exam or procedure is necessary, describe what they are going to do, and make sure the child agrees before proceeding. Most physicians are thorough when it comes to putting young patients’ minds at ease. If they are not taking this critical step speak up and require it. Parents should ask questions at appointments, especially if they do not understand or feel uncomfortable with the child’s treatment. You have every right to be informed.

Children should know they are in charge of their body – even at the doctor’s office.

If a child doesn’t want to undergo an exam or procedure after the physician has explained it, there is almost always an alternative or it can likely be postponed to a later date when the child may feel differently. Expect doctors to respect the child’s choice and offer options.

You should reinforce the fact that people are in charge of their own bodies no matter the setting. You can demonstrate this with everyday actions. Activities like wrestling with siblings, hugging, or tickling can serve as teachable moments. For example, if your child does not want to be tickled, when they say “stop” or “no,” ensure that it does indeed stop.

Your child should know they can tell you anything – and you should really listen.

Your child understanding that they can tell you anything without fear of judgment is fundamental to a healthy parent-child relationship. It strengthens your bond and increases their safety. This includes reiterating that if anyone breaks their body safety rules or makes them uncomfortable they can tell you – it doesn’t matter if the person is trusted, respected, or loved.

If your child expresses discomfort or seems upset after a medical appointment, don’t brush it off. An adult’s reaction to potential sexual abuse can have an enormous impact on whether a child will disclose.

If the child isn’t forthcoming, give them time and revisit the issue of their discomfort later. Remind them often that they can tell you anything, including information that they think might make you upset. If you have reason to suspect sexual abuse occurred, call the child welfare hotline (in Illinois, call DCFS at 800-25-ABUSE).

Most of these preventative steps apply to all areas of life, in and out of the exam room. Plus, they present great opportunities for improving communication with your child and increasing their general safety. To learn more about how to prevent sexual harm, including more simple steps, check out ChicagoCAC’s workbook “Keeping My Family Safe”. Our Education, Outreach and Prevention team is available to provide training to medical professionals, youth-serving organizations, recreation providers, school staff, parents groups, and more on preventing, recognizing, and responding to sexual abuse. To learn more visit our Training Page.

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Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center and our partners are the front-line responders in Chicago to reports of child sexual abuse and exploitation, as well as reports of serious maltreatment and witness to violence. Our partnerships include board-certified child abuse pediatricians who treat children at our on-site clinic in collaboration with Cook County Health and Hospitals System.


Image created by Pressfoto – Freepik.com

 

 

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Recommended Books about Child Sexual Abuse

Books for children about prevention

  • Some Parts are Not for Sharing – Julie K. Federico (ages 6 months+)
  • Your Body Belongs to You – Cornelia Spelman (ages 3-6)
  • The Trouble with Secrets – Karen Johnsen (ages 3-8)
  • My Body Belongs to Me – Jill Starishevsky (ages 3-8)
  • A Secret Safe to Tell – Naomi Hunter (ages 3-8)
  • Those are MY Private Parts – Diane Hansen (3-8)
  • Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept – Jayneen Sanders (ages 3-8)
  • I Said No: A Kid-to-kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private  – Kimberly King (ages 3-8)
  • Body Safety – Jayneen Sanders (ages 3-12)
  • The Swimsuit Lesson – Jon Holsten (ages 6-12)
  • Fred the Fox Shouts “No!” – Tatiana Y. Kisil Matthews (ages 3-8)
  • A Little Book About Safety – S. Kurtzman-Counter & A. Schiller (ages 3-11)
  • Miles is the Boos of His Body! – S. Kurtzman-Counter & A. Schiller (ages 3-11)
  • My Body: What I say goes! – Jayneen Sanders (ages 3- 11)
  • My Body Belongs to Me from My Head to My Toes – Dagmar Geisler (ages 3- 11)
  • Algunas Partes No Son Para Compartir  – Julie K. Federico (ages 6 months+)
  • Mi Cuerpo es Mio: Un Libro para Enseñar a los Niños Pequeños cómo Resistir el Contacto Incómodo – Britain (ages 3-8)
  • ¡Mi cuerpo es mío! – Dagmar Geisler  (ages 3-12)
  • El Problemo con los Secretos – Karen Johnson (ages 3-8)
  • An Exceptional Children’s Guide to Touch – Hunter Manasco (ages 3-8; children with disabilities)

Books about sexual development and safety

  • The Parent’s Guide to Talking about Sex – Janet Rosenzweig
  • Birds + Bees + Your Kids – Amy Lang
  • Off Limits: A parent’s guide to keeping kids safe from sexual abuse – S. Wuertele & F. Berkower
  • Teaching Children with Down Syndrome about Their Bodies, Boundaries and Sexuality – Couwenhoven
  • Understanding Your Child’s Sexual Behavior – Toni Cavanaugh Johnson
  • Childhood Sexuality: A guide for parents – Gail Ryan and Joanne Blum
  • From Diapers to Dating: A parent’s guide to raising sexually healthy children – Haffner
  • What’s the Big Secret? Talking about sex with boys and girls – Laurie Brown (ages 3-8)
  • Changing Bodies, Changing Lives – Ruth Bell (ages 12-17)
  • It’s Perfectly Normal – Robbie Harris (ages 9-14)
  • It’s So Amazing – Robbie Harris (ages 3-8)

Books for children on healing and recovery

  • Something Happened and I’m Scared to Tell – Patricia Kehoe, Ph.D. (ages 3-7)
  • Something Is Wrong at My House – Diane Davis (ages 3-12)
  • I Can’t Talk About It – Doris Sanford (ages 4-8)
  • A Very Touching Book for Little People and for Big People – J. Hindman & T. Novak (ages 6-12)
  • Sarah’s Waterfall: A healing story about sexual abuseEllery Akers (ages 7-12)
  • Healing Days – Susan Farber Straus (ages 7-14)

Books for children about prevention Some Parts are Not for Sharing – Julie K. Federico (ages 6 months+) Your Body Belongs to You – Cornelia Spelman (ages 3-6) The Trouble with Secrets – Karen Johnsen (ages 3-8) My Body Belongs to… Read More

Recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month

What will you do to honor April as Child Abuse Prevention Month? Plan ahead with a few ideas in our March e-newsletter, including our BEYOND WORDS event and upcoming trainings.

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Child Abuse Prevention Month 2017 Trainings

Have you registered for our Child Abuse Prevention Month trainings? We’re hosting four trainings – including two brand new trainings –to equip professionals, parents and other caregivers to prevent child sexual abuse, recognize warning signs and help children who need it. View complete details here. 

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April 2017 Trainings

In recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month, ChicagoCAC hosts numerous trainings throughout the month of April to equip professionals and caregivers to prevent child sexual abuse. View all of our upcoming trainings now.

Request a Training for April

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and this year ChicagoCAC aims to reach more adults than ever before with the skills and information to protect children from sexual abuse. We need your help! Can you request one of our free or low-cost trainings for your colleagues or community group this April?

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New Staff Training for Chicago Park District

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