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How To Protect Your Children From Sexual Abuse
Recently, stories of child abuse and rape leading to death have been rampant in our community. Sixty seven per cent of all victims of sexual assault reported to the police were children under the age of 18. Some 34 per cent are under the age of 12 and one out of every seven victims is under the age of six. Child sexual abuse is something we all have to be concerned about. So how can we recognise signs that our child may have been a victim of sex abuse?
We can prevent it by cautioning our children from taking ‘things’ from strangers and to be extra careful while in strange environment. It is also about being watchful in our homes. As a matter of fact, assaults by strangers account for just 13 per cent of molestations in children under the age of six and just 15 per cent in children aged six to 11.
One of the major patterns to stem this is winning the trust of our children. Ironically, children are abused by adults that our children know and trust. And such abuse often occurs right under our nose in our homes.
Some of the criminals, crooks and delinquents are not only ‘dirty old men’ but strangers lurking in backstreets. More often, they are known and trusted by us and our children and oftentimes, they are members of our family. They can even be the neighbour that the children stay with while we step out. They may even be close family friends, house helps, male or female.
There is therefore a need for parents to be vigilant. We should strike a balance between protecting our children and encouraging growth and trust.
Early intervention and taking steps to prevent abuse before it actually happens should be our watchword. One of the best ways is consistently discussing the topic with our children. By this, it is easy for these children to take steps to prevent abuse before it actually happens. Also important is for children to understand what sexual abuse is and not.
I have discovered that many children at whatever age understand easily when parents use the concept of “good touch,” “bad touch,” and “secret touch.” There are ‘good’ touches – like a hug, or a pat on the back or a kiss on the forehead from uncles or daddy’s friends or mummy’s friends. And there are ‘bad’ touches – like when somebody hits you or pushes you. And there are ‘secret’ touches. Then, make sure the child knows that if anybody wants to give them a “secret” touch, they should say “no” and tell mummy or daddy right away. Parents can explain the most secret places in the body to these children.
You can tell them that any area where one has to cover every time is their private parts and this is the area they should not allow other people to touch. Parents can even use the ‘bathing suit comparison’ to further help their children define “secret touch” areas. As the child gets older, more age-appropriate details can be added and parents need to have this talk with their children frequently. Make it part of family conversation. When your child comes home from school, ask them to tell you about the ‘good’ touches they had that day; then ask them about any ‘bad’ touches. Finally ask if anyone tried to have a secret touch. If your child gets used to hearing these terms, they will feel more comfortable sharing information with you on any subject.
In addition, please kindly get used to your children’s behavioural pattern; know what is his or her “normal” behaviour as this will help you to immediately recognise when anything is happening or something has gone wrong. Basically, if a child’s behaviour changes significantly in a way that does not fit with normal development, aside checking out whether the child is sick, the most important thing to consider is sexual abuse or other traumatic experiences. Please do not beat them up and conclude they are mischievous, wayward, wicked, bad or disobedient. These children are individuals with feelings; listen to their feelings. If you notice the child becomes uncomfortable every time he has to spend time with Uncle so so and so or refuses to go to grandma’s house or insists you have to take him to school instead of the house girl, please listen to the heart of the child. He or she may be trying to pass a message across.
At the same time, parents should not jump to conclusion prematurely by a single observation. What you really need to do is look toward a pattern of events and situations that seem to tell a story. While young kids will often just blurt out scenarios, older children are often very protective of their abuser and may be less forthcoming. So, sometimes they may be reluctant, particularly because they are mostly fully aware of the impact, humiliation, gossips and shame involved.
Parents have to be familiar with some of the common signs of abuse. These are actually warning signs of trouble such as a sudden desire to touch their bodies or the bodies of other children or even adults, to want their parents to touch them. This is often done in an attempt to “normalise” the behaviour they have experienced with their abusers. Sometimes it can be a sign that such a child has been exposed to pornography. It might sometimes be a sudden or rapid onset of fears, the fear of being around a certain person, or fears about attending a regular activity they normally looked forward to before. A strong preference not to be around, go with, or be left in the care of a particular person should concern their parents. Some other times, it might just be a sudden change in personality and this can be very obvious. The most common signs of abuse are physical; so be on the lookout for an unusual discharge from the vagina, penis, rectal or genitals, bleeding, anal tears or dilation, bruises, scars, or bite marks in the genital area.
By: Funmi Akingbade