Published on 16 June 2021
in collaboration with Dr. Laurence Dulière (pediatrician) and Sabine Walbert (clinical psychologist)
Getting to know your body and to respect that of others, to talk to him about the notion of consent, to open a dialogue by listening to him with kindness … Here are some tips for making your child aware of sexual violence.
According to one IPSOS study carried out in 2019, 160 000 children, including 119 girls and 35 average aged boys 06 years, are victims of sexual violence every year in France. “ It is a real public health problem” deplore Doctor Laurence Dulière, pediatrician and Sabine Walbert, clinical psychologist. Both work in the general and specialized pediatrics department of the CHU de Reims within the Specialized Reception Unit for Maltreated Children (CASEM) with the mission of: welcoming child victims and their families to confirm or refute a diagnosis of abuse and refer to the appropriate services. “Annually, 400 To 480 children are received by appointment or urgently ”, report -they.
The two specialists first define what is meant by sexual violence. “ This is the involvement of children and adolescents in a sexual activity that they cannot understand according to their development ” they indicate. “This can be done with or without physical violence, with or without contact. This definition encompasses all forms of sexual violence, namely rape or attempted rape, touching, advances of a sexual nature, exhibition … ”
The reality of sexual violence committed on children It is clear that sexual violence is not always what we imagine. “We most often think of a stranger in the street who rapes a little girl” The two specialists dismantle this misconception. “The reality is different. Most of the time this is not an unknown . In 80 To 90% of cases, l ‘child knows his attacker since it is part of his family environment or close entourage ”. Moreover “attacks rarely take place in the street but twice out of three at the child’s home ”, specify Dr. Dulière and Sabine Walbert.
Moreover, sexual violence is not reduced only to rape . “These only represent 14 To 20% of sexual violence among children. Caresses or touches are more frequent, of the order of 64%. Physical violence is rarely used by the perpetrator since, being one of the relatives, he often has a relationship of authority over the child. In fact, he rather uses threats or emotional manipulation such as blackmail, promises, gifts ”.
Last point: if 80% of the children concerned are girls, boys are also victims who are more silent . “As for the perpetrators of the attacks, 64% are male but it is likely that the number of female perpetrators is higher ” .
Exposure to pornography via screens For the past fifteen years, Dr. Dulière and Sabine Walbert have been “struck” by the increase in this form of sexual violence : “ it is an attack, certainly without contact, but which has particularly serious consequences. The children that we meet testify to the intrusion of an image, of a sex scene which causes “shock” and upsets their development, going so far as to generate sexual disorders connoted of aggressiveness “, they deplore. “Children are exposed to it at an ever younger age. One in 3 children has seen an X-rated movie by the age of 10 years, they are at least one in 2 by the age of 14 years. The first accidental exposure sometimes takes place from the age of 8 to 9 years ”. The risk: reproducing what has been viewed , especially for those who have not had the opportunity to talk about it. “The perpetrators of sexual assault are minors once in 4”
Should you make your child aware of the risk of sexual violence? The two specialists are formal: awareness of sexual violence must be an integral part of children’s education to fight against this scourge. It must also be early for two reasons: “by warning children, we teach them to protect themselves and to know ask for help ” and “by broaching the subject with them beforehand, we allow them to talk about it more easily if they are confronted with it and we allow them to receive support from adults earlier” .
The children concerned can shut themselves up in silence sometimes for years before talking to a loved one. “They are afraid of parental reaction, afraid of not being believed, of being punished, of being confronted to the aggressor, to disappoint… They may also have been the object of threats or be in the grip of a feeling of shame, especially since they often feel responsible for what they have suffered ”.
In other words, talking about it gives children the weapons they need to avoid silence and thus lessen the long-term psychological repercussions . “The purpose of awareness raising is of course not to frighten them but on the contrary to reassure them by promising them that their parents will be there to protect them if someone crosses their privacy lines ”.
Talk about the risk of sexual violence Naming the parts of the body, the first step in raising awareness For the clinical psychologist and the pediatrician, it is necessary to get out of the idea that there is an age strictly speaking. “Awareness begins with the naming of the different parts of the body, for example when washing: the head , neck, shoulders, navel… ”.
“This appointment goes hand in hand with knowing the difference between boys and girls” , they recommend. “ A part is not identical, designated as’ private part ‘because it is’ hidden under the panties, the briefs, the swimsuit ‘and the we can’t show it to everyone ‘… Except when he needs help washing and drying himself, or when he has pain. ” “In this regard, there is a range of expressions specific to each family ‘zizi, zézette, lune , mounette, pussy, vagina or penis… ‘”
Allow your child to be able to say no As soon as possible, it is essential to promote as soon as possible progressive empowerment concerning hygiene care and clothing. “At the same time, it is important to teach them social codes such as closing a door, knocking before enter … But also to identify the private spaces that are the bathroom, the toilets, his room and that of others. The whole will allow to develop the question around the respect everyone’s privacy ”, add the pediatrician and the psychologist.
The child must be able to express, in his relationship to the body, what he can and cannot accept, his limits and what bothers him . It is up to adults to allow him to be respected in his needs for hugs, kisses, tickling … But also in that of being alone. This helps him to refuse certain requests or gestures that make him uncomfortable , such as for example : the neighbor who strokes it on the head, the brother or sister who enters the bathroom or the toilet.
“We must add that even if it is of a close person, whom he loves, whether this one asks him to keep the secret, talks about gambling or threatens him, he must absolutely defend himself and talk about it ”. Remind him in this regard that the law protects him and that he must absolutely dare to say no.
Talking about notions of sexuality progressively In order not to distress the child, it is advisable to sensitize him as naturally as possible during his development . “Her curiosity about sexuality is normal and it changes with age. The questions he asks should not be evaded ”. First, the child acquires the notion of sexual differentiation, then as he grows up, especially on the occasion of a birth in his entourage, he becomes interested in the conception of children. Later still, he wonders: “what is making love?”.
“At all ages, take into account their requests for knowledge without anticipating them and after having checked what he knows on the subject: “And you? How do you think we make babies? “Invite him to come back to the adult if he has any other questions” . Messages should be avoided indicating to the child that he is not allowed to talk about sexuality. “He would risk searching for himself in the playground or on the internet”.
Learn consent “It is essential to explain this notion to children” , remind the pediatrician and the psychologist. “The consent , It is agree to do something freely, without being coerced or forced , which goes hand in hand with the notion of reciprocity ”.
Thus, it is also important to teach him to respect the non-consent of others, that is to say that he cannot force another child who expresses his disagreement or manifests it by his body language.
In adolescence, the preoccupation with relationship to sexuality becomes more significant. We can talk with him about the feeling of love . “It is at this age that the notion of sexual consent , itself in connection with that of the pleasure given and received. However, the adolescent must understand that, if this notion is essential, we can sometimes be in difficulty because the weight of the group can be a brake on the expression of a refusal and can lead a young person to feel obliged to act as others ; drinking alcohol can affect your ability to refuse or control yourself; finally fear can inhibit it because it can have been threatened or coerced ”.
Support in the use of the internet When later the child grows up and has access to screens , it is advised to establish and then facilitate dialogue with him so that he is careful.
The specialists cite as an example: “certain contents are reserved for adults because they can shock you, scare you. Not telling the truth about your age can cause you to be confronted with it. You have to protect yourself from it. Don’t hesitate to tell me if this happens to you ”.
At college age, we can discuss with him the risky situations concerning the use of social networks . This is the case with the photos that we receive and those that we publish.
Find the right moment to broach the subject For Doctor Dulière and psychologist Sabine Walbert, the most favorable conditions to tackle the subject are as follows: “with him alone and in peace, from, for example, a TV show or a book he has chosen. If he needs ‘additional information, he will ask the questions that will allow him to go further “.
Use books and other educational tools The two clinicians strongly recommend the use of tools to teach children to react and protect themselves from a possible sexual assault . “There are a number of books or video clips intended for them, devoted to emotional and sexual education. They provide appropriate and benevolent responses to the concerns of the child, at the different stages of his development ”.
These are supports that allow, in a climate of confidence, to familiarize them with important concepts in matters of sexuality, in particular the learning of modesty, intimacy as well as consent.
There are also tools dedicated to parents. “We ourselves, within CASEM, have designed a comic strip which is intended for them. help identify the clinical and psychological signs usually described in sexual assault, with the aim of making a diagnosis as early as possible “.
The title of the work is A particularly bulky octopus , published in French and in English.
First of all, we welcome the word of the child , adopting a warm and open attitude.
Secondly, it is necessary to get in touch directly with the professionals who can shed light on the situation . It is possible to contact:
The toll-free number “hello childhood maltreated”, the 90; Institutions ensuring child protection: Social Services Department Specialized reception units of Pediatric services The family protection brigades (previously called the juvenile brigades) “You have to talk about it to do absolutely to know what happened, the notion of secrecy here is to be banned. Quite the opposite should be sought ”.
Identify signs evoking sexual violence “Even if no symptom in itself is specific to a sexual assault”, specify the doctor Laurence Dulière and the psychologist Sabine Walbert, “it is advisable to wonder in front of any sudden modification of the behavior” . They quote in particular:
Mood swings ; Fold in on itself; Shift in school results; Sleeping troubles ; Appetite disorders; Repeated unexplained abdominal pain; Secondary enuresis; Problematic sexual behavior; etc … Anyway, they are the expression of psychological suffering that it is appropriate to put into words through an exchange of this type: “I can see that something has gone wrong since then some time… You’ve changed a lot, you’re not the same anymore. You can tell me what’s bothering you without having to fear being judged, you can trust me. ”
By asking open-ended questions, children are allowed to respond in their own words. Of course, you should not hesitate to seek help from professionals.