Teaching Children in Schools About Sexual Abuse May Help Them Report Abuse

Police & teachers need to talk about sexual abuse to your kids

Photo by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

Child protection is everyone’s business

Children can’t be expected to protect themselves from child abusers.

They need responsible adults to help them identify appropriate and inappropriate touching, the correct names for body parts including their private/sexual body parts and who to turn to if they need to talk to someone.

According to Science Daily, “Children who are taught to identify what sexual abuse is at school are more likely than others to tell an adult if they had, or were experiencing sexual abuse.” This is according to the results of a Cochrane review published in the Cochrane Library in 2015.

Schools can use a variety of methods to teach children about sexual abuse, including, the teaching of safety rules, body ownership, and helping them identify who is safe to tell.

A variety of methods can be employed to teach children, including films, plays, songs, puppets, books, and games.

For parents who may be concerned about making their children frightened there is no evidence to show that children experience any increased worry as a result of sexual abuse prevention education.

The South Australian State Government on an education website advised parents and teachers if they are implementing a program to:

Teach children

  • that their whole body is private. It is not OK for others to touch their private parts (those covered by their underwear), or for them to touch others’ private parts.
  • how to say ‘No’ or ‘Stop’ in a loud voice to any touching they do not like or want, and to tell you or someone they trust straight away. Unwanted touching should never be kept a secret.
  • the correct names for parts of their body, including sexual parts, so they are better able to talk about them.
  • that adults are not always right. Teach them to trust their feelings and not to keep secrets.
Teach children about risky situations rather than dangerous people. An abuser might not seem scary or could be someone they know.

Create safety networks

  • Help the child to make a list of safe adults.
  • Make sure they have 3–5 people on the list that they can contact if they need to.
  • Be led by who the child says is safe.
  • Make sure the child knows how to contact the people on the list.
  • Clarify that the people identified are happy to be on the child’s safety list.

Remember that in over 90% of cases of abuse, the child will KNOW the abuser. It will not be a stranger.

Be aware of this in relation to the language you use when talking to children about inappropriate touching, as terms like ‘stranger danger’ can make children believe it is only people they do not know that are the danger.

Instead, you may say something like, “Sometimes our relatives, or our parent’s friends, don’t understand the rules and touch kids in ways they’re not supposed to.”

It is very important for children to be aware that even adults or older children they know and like may not follow the rules and try to touch them in areas of their body that are private or ask to see areas of their body that are private.

Encourage the children that if this happened, and they were being touched in a way that made them feel uncomfortable or on the part of their body they knew was private then they must tell one of their safe adults straight away so this person can be stopped and learn not to break the rules.

Tip Sheet To Use When Talking to Kids

*** Do not talk about good touch and bad touch. If a child is touched sexually, it can be confusing to them as it may feel nice or good for their body to be touched in this way.

Instead, talk about touching that may make them feel ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘unsafe,’ or if they are encouraged to touch another person.

The reason I am so passionate about schools talking to children about safe and unsafe touching (either by teachers or police) is because of my own experience as a child in this regard.

The time I walked into a Police Station to report my abuser

The day I walked into the local police station to report my abuser to the kind policeman who had come to our school and spoken to us all, I was told the policeman was on his day off.

The policeman at the counter did not ask me why I had asked to speak to him by name, and I walked out and never went back.

The abuse went on for another six years until I was 17 years old.

I was 11 years old.

I distinctly remember sitting in the classroom and listening to the police officer talking.

At this time I had no idea that what was happening to me was sexual abuse.

The policeman described how someone who is not your parent might start by hugging and kissing you, kissing you on the mouth, touching your legs before maybe trying to touch private areas of your body.

This was over forty years ago, so police were more reticent at naming body parts by their correct terminology, but the policeman who spoke that day was warm, large and kindly. He looked safe. He talked confidently.

He implored all of us, “ If this is happening to you, please tell one of your parents, or a teacher, or come and talk to me at the police station.

He said he could get the person doing it to stop.

I do not remember all his exact words, but I remember the tone of his voice, how earnest and sincere he was, and how he implored and appealed to please come and get help as we did not have to put up with it carrying on and continuing.

I specifically remember him making the point that the adult did not have to be hurting you, they could be an adult you loved or trusted, but that did not make their behavior appropriate if they were touching you in this way.

It hit home.

I had not known other people ‘knew’ about people who did this to kids and that is why we were being warned. I thought because I loved the man who was doing things to me that it was okay, but this kind policeman was telling me it was ‘not okay,’ and he needed help to stop him doing this to kids.

I remember sitting there thinking, that John (not his real name) would never do what he did to me to other kids as he loved me, but I still was drawn to go and talk to this kindly man. I didn’t want John to get into trouble, but I wanted to keep seeing him without the ‘other stuff’ happening.

The policeman left immediately after his talk as he had to be somewhere else but the following day after school I diverted on my way home and walked into the police station and asked for the officer by name at the counter.

I remember how fast my heart was beating.

I remember how shocked I was when I was told that the policeman was not there, as I had not anticipated that.

I did not know what words I was going to use to describe what was happening to me. All l I knew is that I was going to tell him he had been to my class the previous day and what he talked about was happening to me, and I wanted to get help for John so he could stop doing it and not get into any trouble as I loved him.

But the man at the counter did not ask what I wanted. I immediately felt flustered, nervous and unsure when told that the officer I was asking for was not there and so I quickly left.

I walked home, and as the abuse had only just started a few months previous, it went on and intensified for another six years before I broke off seeing him just before I was 17 years old.

Who knows what might have happened in my life if the policeman HAD been at the station that day?

I came to love my abuser so much in the following years up to my late teens, that to this day the guilt and shame around what occurred are still very difficult for me to deal with.

I encourage you to allow education in relation to what is appropriate and inappropriate touching to occur in school

If your school district has an opportunity for the police or a teacher to talk about how to identify what is appropriate touching from an adult to a child, then I would implore you to allow it to happen.

Schools in New Zealand and Australia regularly have talks scheduled right from the earliest years of school and slanted towards the age and understanding of the child.

As the majority of children are abused by someone they know and love, or are at least familiar with it is misleading to focus on ‘stranger danger’ as the primary emphasis. Less than 8% of children are sexually abused by someone unknown to them.

Nearly 30% of abused children are abused by older children. This is different from age-appropriate sexual play and exploration between children of a similar age. This is children who are four or more years older coercing or engaging in some form of sexual conduct with a child much younger than them.

Teaching children, that it is okay to put up their hand and say, ‘Stop, I do not like that‘ and informing them that it is okay to say no to an adult if what that adult is doing to them makes them feel uncomfortable is the first step.

LIttle kids practicing putting out their hand in a ‘stop’ motion and saying in a loud voice, “Stop it, I do not like it” is happening in schools throughout Australia. It is hard to get research or data that shows whether role play like this is effectively transferred over into real life situations with children in actually preventing child abuse from occurring. However, the research does support the fact that children who are taught to be aware at school what is appropriate or inappropriate touch are more likely to tell someone if this has occurred to them.

Harold the Giraffe is familiar to all children in Australia, as he is the mascot and face of the ‘Life Education’ van that teaches about the harm of cigarettes, drinking and drugs, and sexual abuse.

Prevention and education are vital in preventing and helping children identify child abuse.

Education around sexual abuse has to involve CLEAR communication.

Empowering children is never harmful and can only help to stop child abuse and prevent children from growing up into adults who can take years to overcome the effects of what has happened to them.


Deborah Christensen is a writer, artist, published author and a disability support worker. She currently lives in Queensland, Australia and also has citizenship in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. She lives with her husband, and a rescue dog called ‘Lily’ and has six adult children (and one amazing grandchild) who live away from home. She’s on Twitter @Deborah37035395 and Pinterest and is the author of the best selling award winning memoir Inside/Outside: One Woman’s Recovery From Abuse and a Religious Cult.