[1] Townsend, C., & Rheingold, A.A., (2013). Estimating a child sexual abuse prevalence rate for practitioners: studies. Charleston, S.C., Darkness to Light. Retrieved from www.D2L.org.


Talking to Your Children About It

1- 800-442-hope

24 Hours a day /

7 days a week 


1- 800-799-SAFE

24 hours a day /

7 days a week

National Domestic Violence/Child Abuse/ Sexual Abuse

national sex offender registry


About one in ten children will be the victim of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. You can help prevent this happening to your child. Teach Your Children That Their Body Belongs to THEM!

Children as young as four years old can understand the basic concepts of safe touches, unsafe touches and confusing touches. These young children can also understand the definition of sexual abuse and are not afraid of the words that send a chill up the spines of adults. Use the words “sexual abuse” when talking with your child because if a child is victimized, they need to be able to tell you that they were “sexually abused!”


Research shows that 1 in 10 children wil experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday.[1] Statistics show that child sexual abuse crosses boundaries of race, class, culture, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, affecting all types of communities. What can you do as a parent to help protect your child?

Children today are around more adults on a daily basis than ever before. From childcare to sports practices to dance classes, not to mention camps and after-school programs, children are meeting and interacting with many adults regularly.

That’s why it is so important for parents to talk with their children — as early as age 4 — about inappropriate touching. And children even younger can begin to learn about their bodies.


The clinical definition of child sexual abuse is inappropriately exposing or subjecting a child to sexual contact, activity or behavior. An easier way to think of it – and to teach children about it – is by contrasting “safe" and "unsafe" touches.

​Before you talk with your child, it’s important that you understand just what “inappropriate touching” means and are comfortable speaking about it. Quite often, the subject of sexual abuse can make parents immediately think, “It’s too awful to think about,” or “That would never happen in our neighborhood/family/school.”

The truth is, sexual abuse cuts across all cultural, racial and economic lines and in most cases the molester is someone the child knows. EVERY parent should be having this discussion with his or her children. Children are not usually threatened by this information; they embrace it!


A safe touch can be explained as touches that keep children safe and are good for them, and that make children feel cared for and important. Safe touches can include:

  • A handshake, a hug from someone you know, pats on the back, and an arm around the shoulder. 
  • Safe touches can also include touches that might hurt, such as removing a splinter. Explain to children that when you remove a splinter, you’re doing so to keep them healthy, which makes it a safe touch.

An unsafe touch can be explained as the kind you don’t like and would want to stop right away. Remind your child that they don't have to keep a secret when someone gives them an unsafe touch and to not feel that you are bad. Whoever gives them an unsafe touch is the one who is bad, not them. Remind them that their body belongs to THEM. Nobody should touch them if they don't want to be touched. Examples you can give include:

  • It is an unsafe touch if it hurts you.
  • It is an unsafe touch if someone touches you on your body where you don't want to be touched.
  • It is an unsafe touch if a person touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. 
  • It is an unsafe touch if that touch makes you feel scared and nervous. 
  • It is an unsafe touch if a person forces you to touch him or her.
  • It is an unsafe touch if a person asks you not to tell anyone.
  •  It is an unsafe touch if a person threatens to hurt you if you tell

An unsafe touch can be explained to children as touches that hurt children's bodies or feelings (for example, hitting, pushing, pinching, and kicking). Teach children that these kinds of touches are not okay.


Once children can name their private body parts and know about different kinds of touches, you can teach them that there is another kind of unsafe touch that is also not okay. This kind of touch is when someone older or bigger touches their private body parts. How you explain this will depend on the age of your child.

For a young child you might say, "Another kind of unsafe touch is when a bigger person touches you on your private body parts and it is not to keep you clean or healthy. So we have a family safety rule that it is never okay for a bigger person to touch your private body parts except to keep you clean and healthy."

Parents should understand that the "clean" part of this rule applies to young children at an age when an adult might help them with diaper changing, going to the toilet, or bathing. The "healthy" part of this rule refers to doctor visits; for example, when the doctor gives a child a shot. An adult family member should always be present at doctor appointments. At some point during the teenage years it will become appropriate for your children to handle their own doctor appointments.

For an older child you might say, "Another kind of unsafe touch is when someone touches you on your private body parts and it is not to keep you healthy. So our family safety rule about touching is that no one should touch your private body parts except to keep you healthy."


  • It is not okay to touch someone else's private body parts.

  • It is not okay for someone to touch his or her own private body parts in front of you.

  • It is not okay for someone to ask you to touch his or her private body parts.

  • It is not okay for someone to ask you to take your clothes off or to take photos or videos of you with your clothes off.

  • It is not okay for someone to show you photos or videos of people without their clothes on.

What do you do when someone touches you inappropriately?

  • Say no! Tell the person that you don't like it and you don't want to be touched.
  • Get away fast! Run away from the person whose touch you don't like. Never stay alone with that person ever again.
  • Call for help. You can scream. 
  • Believe in yourself. You did nothing wrong.

If someone touches you inappropriately, tell someone you trust what has happened. Don't let threats scare you into running away or keeping quiet.

When a person touches you and asks you to keep it a secret between the two of you, ask yourself, "Do I
feel comfortable about keeping this secret? Does the secret bother me?"

Don't keep secrets that make you feel uncomfortable. Go to a person you trust-a parent, a relative, a teacher, or your doctor. If the person you go to doesn't believe you, go to someone else you trust until someone believes you and helps you.

Do everything you can to stay away from the threatening and intimidating person. Don't stay alone with a person who touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable or makes you feel unsafe.


1. When you are ready to sit down and talk with your child, take the time to do it right. Talk to your child in a quiet place, away from distractions. Try to maintain physical contact during the discussion, either by holding hands or sitting together on the floor or the couch. This makes them feel safe and reinforces the concept of “safe touch” with an adult they can trust. Don’t force an end to the conversation-a child may have ongoing questions and concerns. Keep in mind that you will probably have to have this discussion a number of times as your child gets older. Repeating your discussions every year will reinforce what they have learned and reintroduces points they may have forgotten.

2. Teach the “Safe Body Rule.” Rather than expect your children to judge a touch only by how it makes them feel (“safe” or “unsafe”), give them a solid rule that they can follow. Using the “Safe Body Rule”, teach them it is NOT okay for anyone to touch their private parts, or what is covered by their swimsuits. It is easier for a child to follow a rule and they will more immediately recognize an “unsafe touch” if they have this guideline in mind.

3. Use proper body names. Sexual predators often take advantage of the fact that we don’t speak freely with our children about sex and our bodies. By talking about genitals and age-appropriate sexual matters to children in a respectful manner, we stop teaching by exclusion that all these things are secret and not to be talked about. One of the most important goals of having this conversation with your child is to let them know that they SHOULD speak up if something happens and should not be embarrassed or scared to talk about their own bodies or of your reaction. 

4. Ask them to talk about the subject. Research shows that children are much more likely to learn prevention skills when they actively participate in activities or role-play. Be sure to engage your child during your discussion. Ask them to give an example of a “safe touch” (hug from mom) and an “unsafe touch” (a kick on the playground.) Do a role-play by asking questions such as, “What would you do if.”

5. Explain your child’s right to say NO. Inappropriate touching-especially by a trusted adult-can be very confusing to a child. They are taught to trust adults, and can feel conflicted, scared and confused when this trust is breached. Because in about 89% of sexual abuse cases the abuser is someone the child knows, you need to tell your child that he or she has the right to say NO to ANY “unsafe touching” by an adult. Constantly reinforce the idea that their body is their own and they can protect it and take care of it. This concept can come up in a number of different circumstances (when a child has a “boo-boo” or is getting a bath).

6. Prepare them to react to a “secret”. Explain that if an adult does something your child thinks is wrong and then tells them to keep it a secret, they should tell you immediately. Giving children specific examples like   this will help them feel more empowered to act if necessary. Role-play can be a valuable tool in this step as well.


1. Be aware of WHO is around your children. It is very important to know who is around your children on a daily basis at things like a playdate or a soccer practice, and for special occasions such as neighborhood parties or family gatherings. If a child’s behavior changes after being around specific adults, take note.

2. Always check references of babysitters, counselors, etc. Many states have public registries that allow parents to screen individuals for prior criminal records and sex offenses. Once you have chosen the caregiver, drop in unexpectedly to see how your children are doing.

3. Pay attention to patterns you see in adults. Is an adult paying special attention to your child or taking an uncomfortable interest in what your child is doing? Take the time to talk to your children about this person and find out why the person is acting in this way.

4. Create circles of protection. Involve other parents or family members who are at after-school events or gatherings. Discuss the subject with them, creating circles of safe adults who will also watch out for children. You may also want to Invite your local law enforcement or child abuse prevention organization to a neighborhood discussion group to learn about the issue and to process people’s emotions


​if you suspect that a child has been sexually abused 

  • Show that you understand and take seriously what the child is saying. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have found that children who are listened to and understood do much better than those who are not. The response to the disclosure of sexual abuse is critical to the child’s ability to resolve and heal the trauma of sexual abuse.
  • Assure the child that they did the right thing in telling. A child who is close to the abuser may feel guilty about revealing the secret. The child may feel frightened if the abuser has threatened to harm the child or other family members as punishment for telling the secret.
  • Tell the child that he or she is not to blame for the sexual abuse. Most children in attempting to make sense out of the abuse will believe that somehow they caused it or may even view it as a form of punishment for imagined or real wrongdoings.
  • Finally, offer the child protection, and promise that you will promptly take steps to see that the abuse stops.

There are several measures you can take to help both you and your child prevent it from happening. Make a choice today to sit down with your child and start a discussion. Remain open to their thoughts, questions and concerns, and tell them that they should always speak up, ask questions and keep on talking until someone listens. The key to prevention is knowledge. TALK TO YOU KIDS TODAY AND ENSURE THEIR SAFETY TOMORROW!


National Sex Offender Registry: http://www.nsopw.gov/Core/Conditions.aspx 

Covenant House Hotline: 800-999-9999

Crisis line for youth, teens, and families. Gives callers locally based referrals throughout the United States. Provides help for youth and parents regarding drugs, abuse, homelessness, runaway children, and message relays. Operates 24 hours, seven days a week.

National Domestic Violence/Child Abuse/ Sexual Abuse: 800-799-SAFE 

24-hour-a-day hotline, Provides crisis intervention and referrals to local services and shelters for victims of partner or spousal abuse. English and Spanish speaking advocates are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Staffed by trained volunteers who are ready to connect people with emergency help in their own communities, including emergency services and shelters. The staff can also provide information and referrals for a variety of non-emergency services, including counseling for adults and children, and assistance in reporting abuse. They have an extensive database of domestic violence treatment providers in all US states and territories. Many staff members speak languages besides English, and they have 24-hour access to translators for approximately 150 languages.

National Youth Crisis Hotline: 800-442-HOPE

Provides counseling and referrals to local drug treatment centers, shelters, and counseling services. Responds to youth dealing with pregnancy, molestation, suicide, and child abuse. Operates 24 hours, seven days a week.