According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 60,000 children were sexually abused in the United States in 2014. Globally, 18% of women and 8% of men report being victims of childhood sexual abuse. Despite these astronomical numbers, child sexual abuse is rarely discussed and solutions do not adequately address the public health crisis affecting such a large number of children.
We know that children who are sexually abused are at a greater risk for later mental health and anxiety syndromes, including depression and suicidal thoughts. The societal and economic consequences of not addressing the problem, or investing in prevention of, sexual abuse of children are grave. In 1999, my mother decided to use her voice to speak about children’s rights and founded the World Childhood Foundation, which has since funded more than 1,000 projects in 20 countries. I have always admired my mother’s courage and aim to continue her work in combatting child sexual abuse. Now as a mother of two, I am even more determined to help create a world free from sexual abuse for all children in our lifetime.
But it is not our children’s obligation to keep themselves safe. We, as adults, have an obligation to ensure that our children are surrounded by child protectors.
Child sexual abuse thrives in silence. The first step in combatting sexual abuse is removing the stigma from discussing the abuse, which requires learning the facts, talking about it with our children and investing in prevention.
Learn the facts. We live in a digital world and it is crucial that technology is integrated in our fight. The new mobile app “Stewards of Children Prevention Toolkit” provides tools and educational resources for adults to prevent, recognize and respond to child sexual abuse.
Talk about it. Create a safe environment to talk to your child about sexual abuse, including body safety, anatomical language and personal boundaries.
Recognize the signs. The most common signs of sexual abuse are emotional and behavioral changes, such as “too perfect” behavior, withdrawal, fear, depression, unexplained anger and rebellion. Indirect physical signs can include anxiety, chronic stomach pain and headaches.
React responsibly. If a child shares that they have been abused, stay calm, praise the child’s courage and listen.
As a new school year begins, let us commit together to keep our #EyesWideOpen and ensure that we keep the children in our lives safe from all forms of violence.
Her Royal Highness Princess Madeleine of Sweden works with the World Childhood Foundation and is the creator of the #EyesWideOpen initiative, to mobilize people to take action against childhood sexual assault.