It is a subject that's difficult for most people to discuss, but it's a serious and unfortunately, a known problem. The American Academy of Pediatrics, which consists of the country's children's doctors, has now issued a set of tips for parents on preventing and identifying child sexual abuse.
Dr. Margaret McHugh, a pediatrician at Bellvue and NYU School of Medicine, has been dealing the issue with for decades.
At the Frances Loeb Child Protection Center, children's toys and skilled experts help treat and intervene for children who have experienced sex abuse.
Working in this field for decades, Dr. Mchugh is a firm believer in prevention.
"Once people realize that you have to talk about it, we're gonna prevent it," she said.
What parents need to know, says Dr. McHugh and the academy, is that most offenders are not strangers to the child or to the family. That is foremost to understand.
So by age 2 and half or 3, when parents begin to teach the child about safety, they must also teach protection.
"Teaching a child safety should be the same whether it's crossing the street or being safe. Your body is yours. People do not touch it and if they do, come tell me. If someone touches you, come tell me," McHugh explained.
Parents must do it calmly, says Dr. McHugh.
But if a child begins to show signs of inappropriate behaviors, inappropriate gestures or touching, or if he or she says something has happened, you must not ignore it.
"Call you physician. Call your provider, whoever that is. If it's not a pediatrician, maybe your own doctor or maybe a school nurse. Somebody that you feel comfortable going to saying I'm really scared something has happened to my child," McHugh said.
As they say, it takes village to protect children.
Winona's House recently opened in downtown Newark to provide support and family therapy to children who've suffered sexual or physical abuse.
While children can heal from abuse, it's as important to know they can be kept safe from it.
Dr. McHugh says she wishes she could reassure parents 100 percent that their children will never be sexually abused, but the sad reality is she can't.
Many schools and parents use a program called "no, go, tell" - say no, go from the scene, tell somebody. It's a simple program that can help children protect themselves, whether from abuse or even bullying.
FROM THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS:
Tips that can minimize your child's risk of molestation:
1. In early childhood, parents can teach their children the name of the genitals, just as they teach their child names of other body parts. This teaches that the genitals, while private, are not so private that you can't talk about them.
2. Parents can teach young children about the privacy of body parts, and that no one has the right to touch their bodies if they don't want that to happen. Children should also learn to respect the right to privacy of other people.
3. Teach children early and often that there are no secrets between children and their parents, and that they should feel comfortable talking with their parent about anything -- good or bad, fun or sad, easy or difficult.
4. Be aware of adults who offer children special gifts or toys, or adults who want to take your child on a "special outing" or to special events.
5. Enroll your child in daycare and other programs that have a parent "open door" policy. Monitor and participate in activities whenever possible.
6. As children age, create an environment at home in which sexual topics can be discussed comfortably. Use news items and publicized reports of child sexual abuse to start discussions of safety, and reiterate that children should always tell a parent about anyone who is taking advantage of them sexually.
7. If your child discloses any history of sexual abuse, listen carefully, and take his or her disclosure seriously. Too often, children are not believed, particularly if they implicate a family member as the perpetrator. Contact your pediatrician, the local child protection service agency, or the police. If you don't intervene, the abuse might continue, and the child may come to believe that home is not safe and that you are not available to help.
8. Support your child and let him or her know that he or she is not responsible for the abuse.
9. Bring your child to a physician for a medical examination, to ensure that the child's physical health has not been affected by the abuse.
10. Most children and their families will also need professional counseling to help them through this ordeal, and your pediatrician can refer you to community resources for psychological help.
11. If you have concerns that your child may be a victim of sexual abuse, you should talk with your pediatrician. Your physician can discuss your concerns, examine your child, and make necessary referrals and reports.
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