[Trigger Warning in this Post]
[In this blog I talk about child sexual abuse and what draws the abuser in, so please be advised before reading it]
How Covid-19 May Increase the Incidents of Child Sexual Abuse and 4 Ways You Can Protect Your Child
The Corona Virus or Covid-19 has up ended all of our lives. Many of us are out of our routines and are doing things differently than we have maybe ever done before. For many, the ability to separate work from home has diminished as we are working from home. Some of us have children at home while we try to work which also makes things a whole lot more tricky. No matter where you are right now, you’re experiencing the effects of Covid-19.
With Covid-19 and shelters being implemented so that people cannot leave their homes and schools being closed this means that abusers have more access to children that they want to victimize. Not only are children spending more time at home but so are parents who might be the very ones abusing their children. With universities closing down and moving online those adult children who might abuse children are moving back home with younger siblings and now they have access. For other family constellations maybe a cousin or friend has lost their jobs or their homes and they are now living with you. But they are a sexual predator and now they have easy access to your child.
Covid-19 and It’s Lasting Impacts
The impacts of Covid-19 are far reaching right now and who knows about the future. Every day we receive new and sometimes competing information. We want to know what is going on so we can feel in control and so we can adjust. But what we are living in, is a lot of the unknown. All of this unknown has made us all a little more on edge. As our stress response systems kick into high gear ready to protect us from the threats of these times our ability to think and plan for the future as well as regulate our emotions is becoming more of a challenge. The result is an increase in domestic abuse incidents. But what about abuse towards children, specifically child sexual abuse.
We know that when parents have high amounts of stress and difficulty with managing their emotions there is a correlation with this and acts of physical abuse towards their children. When the stress becomes unmanageable (out of ones window of tolerance) our ability to use our cortex to effectively do its job diminishes as we spend a lot more time in lower parts of our brain (the limbic system and brainstem). Effectively we are highly emotional (limbic) and reflexive ( brainstem) in our actions.
This behavior can be seen in those who sexually abuse children as well, with the added and difficult to comprehend piece of sexual arousal. Acts of sexual violence are about a play between power, fear, and desire which lead to sexual arousal. I know its gross! But this is what is happening inside the mind of a perpetrator. Many know that it is wrong and yet they do it any way. Some are able to stop and never act on their impulses but when times are hard this ability to not response to these impulses diminishes. Furthermore, for many people in general sex can be a temporary release from the built up tension and acts as a temporary stress reliever. For abusers they often use sex (abuse) of children in the same way.
Child Sexual Abuse Is a Major Problem
Child sexual abuse is a very real problem all over the world, with most stats stating that 1-3 girls and 1-5 boys will be sexually abused at some point during their childhood. This is a staggering number and doesn’t even account for those who never report, so it could be far more.
Abusers often pick children who are vulnerable and those they have easy access to. This most often means people who reside within the family home such as parents but also other adults, teens and older siblings. Family members in general are more likely to abuse within their family. This also includes extended family such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Finally we begin to look outside the home with family friends (again adults, teens, or older children) as well as coaches, religious figures (priests, ministers, rabbi’s, etc), teachers, and mentors. I also want to add, especially with Covid-19 and shelter in places that predators are even more vigilant about finding children online using grooming behaviors. I’ll be writing a separate blog about that but I still wanted to list them as they are a big problem in the world of child sexual abuse.
Moreover, like I said at the start of this blog, with increased stress comes intense feelings and more challenges with managing impulses. An abuser may have urges but if they are not around children it’s easer to resist the urge. With minimal amounts of stress or stress that’s manageable they can curb their desire or at least their desire to act on said desire. For others the fear and helplessness around Covid-19 and with it, for many, financial problems, turns to anger. With this anger many abusers often act out their anger through sexual violence toward others, particularly children. I don’t want to frighten you but I also want you to be vigilant and to notice what it is that predators are looking for and just why child sexual abuse incidents may rise.
4 Ways You Can Protect Your Child Sexual Abuse During Covid-19 and Beyond
With Covid-19 impacting all of our lives in so many different ways I wanted to speak out about my concerns about an increase in child sexual abuse incidents. It’s important that we as adults who want to ensure the safety of children are aware of why abusers prey on children and how they go about choosing their targets.
So now that we know a little about why there might be an increase in child sexual abuse incidents let us talk about how we can protect our children.
1. Be vigilant. Please be thoughtful about who you allow your child to be around. Not everyone has the right to your child and in these times I want you to be even more vigilant. I understand that maybe you have compassion for that cousin who lost their job but is this someone who is safe to be around your child? Ask yourself that question, “is this person safe for my child to be around?”
2. Be a safe person for your child. This means being the person that your child feels like they can go to even when things are hard. You can facilitate this by modeling how you mange your own stress, listening to your child when they do open up and talk about things, and validating their feelings.
3. Communicate. Have regular non intrusive conversations with your child where there is a free flowing exchange of thoughts and feelings. This way if you suspect something is going on and you ask your child the conversation will feel normal and not intrusive, thus making it more likely that your child will disclose. Especially if you are established by your child as a safe person.
4. Teach your child about consent and trusting their own instincts. Teaching consent can be done in every day interactions. Something as simple as “can I give you a hug you seem sad” or “is it ok if I come in your room” (if the door is shut) are ways that you show your child that you respect their bodies and their space. You can then reinforce this by having more direct conversations about how no one has the right to their body without permission and how if someone does something to their body that does feel right they are protecting themselves by telling the person “no” and coming to you or another trusted adult for help. I want to add that you want to also share that they (the child) did not do anything wrong if someone has touched them but it was the person who did the touching (or showing of pictures) that was wrong.
In helping them understand their instincts you can talk about listening to their bodies and how certain sensations usually alert us that something is wrong. Heart beating fast, a pit in our stomach, etc. Use your own experiences to help with this and in your day to day interactions just weave in listening to your body into normal conversation. “Your rubbing your stomach are you ok? Does it hurt? I noticed that when we were watching a movie and that scary thing happened you grabbed your stomach what were you feeling in your stomach.” You want to get curious when talking about about body sensations not accusatory or threatening.
Conclusion: Child sexual abuse has always been a major issue but with the pandemic occurring I worry that incidents will be on the rise. Although, we as adults are going through a lot during these times we must still be vigilant about protecting children. This means that we have to be careful who we allow to be in our children’s lives, whether in person or online. Sexual abuse doesn’t just include physical acts but also non physical acts. Children can still be impacted into adulthood by interactions they’ve had by adults who sought sexual gratification through force and intimidation. So please continue to stay vigilant and protect your child.
If you are concerned that your child his being sexually abused please contact child protective services in your area and eliminate access to your child by the abuser.