Committee for Children Blog

Reporting Child Sexual Abuse is Key in Protecting Kids

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All states have a law that requires us to report when there is reasonable suspicion that child sexual abuse occurred, yet child sexual abuse is underreported by both children and adults, including teachers. There are many reasons for this. Children are often afraid or ashamed to tell. Adults may not know about all the signs of abuse, may lack knowledge about reporting, or may worry about making inaccurate reports.

Sharing information about child sexual abuse, including how to recognize it and how to respond to and report it, is an important way to keep children safe. Support others in identifying abuse and responding in a supportive way by teaching and telling them about the Three Rs for responding to abuse.

Three Rs for Adults: Actions Adults Can Take to Recognize, Report, and Respond to Child Sexual Abuse

Recognize: Learn to recognize the common signs of child sexual abuse. Look and listen for clues that something is wrong, such as difficulty with sitting or walking, fear of being touched, or fear of being alone with a specific person.

Many things happen that adults do not see, so talk with other adults about what they have noticed. Also, be aware of and look out for offender behaviors.

Respond: Learn to be supportive when you respond to disclosures of abuse. Listen calmly and repeat what a child tells you when they are reporting abuse, say that you believe them, and that is not their fault. Ask questions to gather more information.

Report: Report child abuse or neglect. Every school should have reporting procedures; follow them. Get professional help. Contact your local sexual assault organization. Use the child protection resources available to you. Read about the who, why and what of reporting.

Three Rs of Safety for Children

Recognize: Teach kids to recognize what is and is not safe, and what breaks the safety rules about touching. Talk about situations that break these rules. Practice by giving scenarios and then asking whether a safety rule is broken in each of those situations.

Report: Teach children to report unsafe situations to a trusted adult as soon as possible. There are many things adults do not see, so encourage children to always tell someone if a person or situation breaks a safety rule. Practice with children to identify who they can tell, and then rehearse the process of telling.

Refuse: Practice, practice, practice saying “no” to any unwanted touch or situation that makes children feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Share different ways of refusing assertively such as, “I don’t want to,” “That’s breaking a safety rule,” or “Stop it now.”

The Three Rs for adults and children are an integral part of the Second Step Child Protection Unit, which includes child protection information for adults and families and child safety curricula for children. This Refusing Bullying lesson and this Three Ways to Stay Safe song are just two examples of the many ways the Child Protection Unit teaches children to be ready to respond to abuse or attempted abuse.

Offenders may continue to sexually abuse if it is not reported, but by teaching and using the Three Rs you can help to stop child sexual abuse by making a difference for one child, or many.

Make your next step to help kids be safe by having the conversation every parent should have. Visit our Child Sexual Abuse Prevention page for tips, tools, and rules.