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Educating Adults in the Congregation

There are a number of ways that everyone in the community can become involved in sexual abuse prevention. This can include educating people about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, programs for parents on educating their children about healthy sexuality including sexual abuse prevention, and making sure that staff, lay leaders, and volunteers know how to handle a suspected case of child abuse or child sexual abuse. The congregation's policies on these issues should be included in new member packets and reviewed periodically with the congregation.

Primary prevention is key. Possibilities include:

  • Sermon on child sexual abuse
  • Order of service insert on policy
  • Healing service for survivors
  • Minister's letter to members
  • Newsletter articles
  • Adult RE class
  • Our Whole Lives
  • Open Congregation Meeting
  • Annual training for RE Teachers, Board of Trustees, and staff
  • Special speakers
  • Relationships with local organizations and experts to consult with should the need arise

Programs for parents on talking with their children about sexuality, including how to keep their children safe from abuse, can be offered by the congregation, and are especially important if they are not offered elsewhere in the general community. Parents need support in providing their children with healthy messages about sexuality that are age appropriate. They also need to be able to recognize the signs of possible child sexual abuse. Parents need to know that (1) while sex play between children of similar ages is often healthy curiosity, sex play between children more than three years apart in age is most often problematic, (2) it is expected for children to play doctor or “you show me yours, I'll show you mine”, but that any type of penetration, whether with fingers, objects, or penises, is not typical but a sign to be concerned, and (3) it is important to screen childcare workers and babysitters for histories of sex offenses and to ask that day care and nursery school caregivers, coaches, scout leaders, after school workers, etc. be screened by the sponsoring agency.

Possible Signs of Childhood Sexual Abuse

(Adapted from Debra W. Haffner, From Diapers to Dating: A Parent's Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children, Newmarket Press, 2004, used with permission.)

  • A child with an unusual discharge from the penis or vagina
  • A child who compulsively masturbates in public, after being told repeatedly that this is private behavior
  • A child who tries to get other children or adults to touch his or her genitals
  • A child who is more interested in sex play than playing with friends, going to school or other activities
  • A child who manually stimulates or has oral or genital contact with pets
  • A child who repeatedly draws pictures with the genitals as a primary focus
  • A child who engages in sex play with a child more than 3 years apart in age
  • A child who engages in penetrative behaviors during sex play

All of these behaviors could also arise from other causes. If you see these behaviors, stay calm but do make an appointment as soon as possible with your child's pediatrician or a mental health professional that specializes in child sexual abuse and assessment.