Child sexual abuse. It’s not a nice topic. It’s probably your worst nightmare and not something that you want to think too long or hard about.
Hong Kong NGO, TALK Hong Kong estimates that a shocking 12% of Hong Kong’s population will experience child sexual assault before their 18th birthday. What’s more, 96% of those cases will go unreported. When you translate these figures to your child’s school it might seem unthinkable, uncomfortable and terrifying. And it should be.
For some, these numbers will be incredibly upsetting, but not surprising. After all, there are similar things going on all over the world. Perhaps you’ve got your own experience, or know something that has happened to a friend or someone you know. If we’ve learned anything from the “Me Too” movement, it’s that when one person speaks out, they help give strength to others who have suffered, gain allies to support victims and education to those who have been unaware.
It’s not up to children to protect themselves. So what can you do to protect your kids and the children in your life?
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Warning Signs Of Child Sexual Assault And Abuse
According to the NHS, children won’t often talk about abuse because they might think it’s their fault, have been convinced by the abuser that they won’t be believed, told that it is a “special secret”, or are bribed or threatened.
The NHS and RAINN (a US-based NGO) both offer lists of warning signs to look out for which include:
- Changes in behaviour — this could range from outbursts of aggression to withdrawal. They could be clingy, have trouble sleeping, have nightmares or start wetting the bed.
- Avoiding a particular person, especially if they have to be alone with them.
- Using sexually explicit language or behaviour.
- Physical injuries around the genitals
- Difficulty with concentration and learning
- Dropping hints that something is happening without actually saying what.
This list is not exhaustive, and just because you notice one thing doesn’t necessarily mean a child is being abused. However, if you notice several of these or a continuing pattern of this kind of behaviour it would be worth seeking further advice and support. If you are worried about the consequences of being wrong, it’s also well worth considering what happens if you are right.
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5 Tips For Preventing Child Sexual Abuse
1. Educate yourself
TALK Hong Kong recommends the Darkness to Light: Stewards of Children training program which takes around two hours and can be done online. You should also ask your child’s school (or any organisation that has contact with your child) what safeguarding policies are in place to safeguard its students and make sure to familiarise yourself with it.
2. Look out for grooming behaviour
As much as it is helpful to recognise and get support for a child being abused, it is even more crucial to stop that behaviour before it starts. Darkness To Light lists the stages of grooming as targeting the child, gaining the child and caregiver’s trust, filling a need, isolating the child, sexualising the relationship and maintaining control. It is well worth reading through this webpage to understand what each of these stages looks like.
3. Be involved in your child’s life
RAINN suggests that being actively involved in your child’s life not only makes spotting the warning signs easier but also means that they might be more comfortable coming to you if something doesn’t feel right. It suggests showing an interest in their day-to-day lives including who they are hanging out with and what kind of games they’re playing.
4. Educate your children
Just to reiterate — it is not up to children to protect themselves, that is what adults are for. However, giving your children the language and knowledge about their bodies can help them to recognise and respect boundaries as well as identify when something happening to them is not acceptable. RAINN offers the following advice.
- Teach them the appropriate names for their body parts.
- Help them understand that some parts of the body are private.
- Teach them about and model and respect their consent. This could start with not forcing them to hug or kiss friends or family members, but could also be extended to asking them before you wash them in the bath or help them with the toilet.
5. Be their safe space
Talk with your children about secrets and let them know that they can always talk to you, and SHOULD come to you if anyone asks them to keep secrets. Reassure them that they won’t get in trouble, won’t be punished or shamed for anything they tell you. Make time for them and when they come to you, give them your undivided attention and take their concerns seriously.
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Where You Can Get Help Or Support In Hong Kong
Against Child Abuse (ACA) — Crisis intervention
Crisis Intervention for parents, children and professionals conducted with support from Save The Children.
Hotline: 2755 1122
The hotline is staffed from 9am to 9pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays.
Against Child Abuse (ACA), www.aca.org.hk
End Child Sexual Abuse Foundation (ECSAF) — “Hugline” counselling and sex education
The crisis hotline is staffed by social workers who can refer to relevant services and experienced psychologists. Many of the online resources are in Chinese, but support is available in English.
Hotline: 2889 9933
The hotline is staffed from 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday.
End Child Sexual Abuse Foundation (ECSAF), www.ecsaf.org.hk
RainLily — Sexual Violence Crisis Centre
RainLily provides FREE immediate crisis support for victims aged 14 and over (including their family or primary supporter), counselling, legal information and judicial procedures support. As well as calling the hotline you can reach out via WhatsApp, Instagram DM, e-mail or by filling in the online form.
Hotline: 2375 5322
The hotline is staffed from 9am to 10pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays
CEASE Crisis Centre — 24-hour free support
CASE Crisis Centre runs a 24-hour hotline to provide social worker support and counselling to victims of sexual violence and their families. It can also provide short-term accommodation and referrals to additional support services. The website is in Chinese, but view the pamphlet in English here.
CEASE Crisis Centre, www.ceasecrisis.tungwahcsd.org
Social Welfare Department — Support for victims of child abuse, spouse/ cohabitant battering and sexual violence
The Hong Kong government agency provides protective services, medical and psychological services as well as support for victims. View the hotline directory here.
Social Welfare Department, www.swd.gov.hk
TALK Hong Kong — Support groups for survivors of child sexual abuse
TALK Hong Kong is a volunteer, peer-led group of child sexual abuse survivors based in Hong Kong. It runs regular meetings for survivors (participants must be aged over 18 years).
TALK Hong Kong, www.talkhongkong.org
Harmony House — Support for women and children
The first shelter for women and children suffering from domestic abuse.
Women’s Hotline: 2522 0434
Men’s Hotline: 2295 1386
Children’s Hotline: 2751 8822
Harmony House, www.harmonyhousehk.org
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Taura Edgar from TALK Hong Kong for her guidance on this article.
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