Talking with Children About Sexual Abuse

Tips for Parents and Caregivers

By Cherie Benjoseph, LCSW and Renée Layman, LMHC

Sexual abuse can be a sensitive and difficult topic for us as caregivers to talk with our children about. For adults it can bring up our greatest fears, and in many cases trigger our own memories. But we do not have to feel powerless, we can take many steps that will help strengthen us as adults, not just our children, to lessen the risk of our children being victimized by Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). Starting these steps early (although it is never too late to start!) and using developmentally appropriate language and strategies can empower and protect families.

In this blog, we'll provide some starting points on your journey to making your family KidSafe smart. We will explore appropriate ways for speaking to children about sexual abuse, focusing on key principles and strategies supported by experts in child psychology and sexual abuse prevention.

  1. Trusted Adults Need to Get Educated First: What is it exactly that I am trying to prevent? What are the chances this could happen to my child? I am a survivor, is this impacting how I parent?
  2. Start Early and Keep it Age Appropriate: Research shows that initiating discussions about personal safety from an early age can help children develop a positive understanding of body safety and boundaries. The words we choose are important. When we are speaking to children we do not use the words child sexual abuse at all. In fact, we teach all of body autonomy, consent and personal safety from a place of fun, not fear. It's essential to tailor conversations to the child's age and cognitive abilities, using language and concepts they can comprehend. For younger children, discussions may focus on basic body safety rules, while older children can engage in more detailed conversations about consent and healthy relationships.
  3. Personal safety is Part of Everyday Parenting: Just like you teach car safety, kitchen safety, pool safety, personal safety comes up in our natural parenting. Regularly reinforce important messages about body safety, boundaries, and the importance of speaking up if something feels wrong. Much of the learning opportunities occur between siblings and other family members. This is an excellent opportunity for children to practice using their voice to say “no”, or “I want to stop”, to a touch (tickling, a hug, roughhousing). Children who learn to speak up, and have the support of their grown-ups when they do, feel valued. This is how we build skills of resilience.
  4. Promote Healthy Sexuality: In addition to discussing boundaries and safety, it's important to promote healthy attitudes towards sexuality. Teach children to respect their bodies and the bodies of others, emphasizing the value of consent, empathy, and communication in relationships. By fostering a positive and open attitude towards sexuality, children are better equipped to recognize and reject harmful behavior. Many adults were raised to feel shame about our bodies, how it functions and that it is not okay to ask questions. We need to change this attitude as we raise children today. No shame.
  5. Teach Correct Names for Body Parts: This is a simple yet very powerful step to take to strengthen the safety of your child. Using anatomically correct names for body parts helps reduce confusion and empowers children to communicate clearly about their bodies. Predators are looking for kids who do not have an open and trusting relationship with their caregivers. Children who are comfortable with using the proper names for their body parts, and can comfortably go to their parent and say, I have a rash on my vulva, in the same tone as they would say I have a rash on my arm, are empowered. They are being raised with respect for their bodies, which leads to a strong sense of body autonomy. This knowledge also reinforces that certain body parts are private and should not be touched by others. If a child says, “Don’t touch my chest.” (or any other private part), it puts the offender on alert that this is an educated child and is not going to be an easy target.
  6. Establish Touching Boundaries and Privacy Rules: Help children understand that they have the right to set boundaries around physical touch and personal space. Encourage them to assertively say "no" to unwanted touch and respect others' boundaries as well. Establish clear privacy rules in the home and reinforce the importance of respecting privacy both at home and in public settings. Have fun practicing these skills in your home. Each families rules and understanding of when to establish privacy for children will be different. Listen to your children, they will often indicate when they are ready for more privacy. Respecting their boundaries is key.
  7. Address Perpetrator Tactics: Educate children about common tactics used by perpetrators to keep them silent, such as secrets, tricks, and threats. Encourage children to trust their instincts and speak up if someone makes them feel uncomfortable, especially if they've been told to keep it a secret.
  8. Educate Beyond "Stranger Danger": Teaching a child stranger danger does not teach them any safety skills. The reality is they need to learn about people’s behavior. Sometimes we refer to these people as tricky people. These are difficult concepts for children to understand. The bottom line is that we must create an environment that your children can talk to you about anything that makes them confused, worried, or afraid. And we need to be ready to listen and take appropriate steps. Research shows that approximately 90% of sexual abuse cases involve perpetrators known to the child, such as family members, friends, or caregivers. Emphasize the importance of speaking up to a trusted adult about anything that is bothering them, no matter who it is that is making them uncomfortable.
  9. Address Vulnerable Situations: Discuss potential vulnerable situations with children, including online interactions, social media, and peer pressure scenarios. Teach children how to recognize and respond to unsafe situations both online and offline, emphasizing the importance of seeking help from a trusted adult if they feel at risk. Play the What if? Game. (Does your school have the Stay KidSafe program?).
  10. Give Permission to Tell: Above all, empower children to speak up and seek help if they experience or witness someone hurting someone or inappropriate behavior. Let them know that they will not get in trouble for disclosing information and that they have the right to protect their bodies and seek support from trusted adults.

Having open and honest conversations about sexual abuse is essential for empowering children to recognize and respond to unsafe situations. By starting early, using developmentally appropriate language, and reinforcing key messages, parents and caregivers can help children develop the knowledge and skills they need to stay safe and advocate for themselves.

It's crucial to create a supportive environment where children feel comfortable asking questions, expressing concerns, and seeking help when needed. With education, communication, and support, we can work towards preventing sexual abuse and promoting the well-being of all children.



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Speak Up and Demand Schools Play a Role in Sexual Abuse Prevention

By Renée Layman, LMHC, President and CEO

Sexual Abuse: A Public Health Crisis

The statistics are alarming. Every nine minutes, a child is a victim of sexual abuse and assault ( It is astounding that our home state of Florida ranks third in the nation in calls to the National Human Trafficking hotline. 70 to 90 percent of commercially exploited youth have a history of child sexual abuse.

We hear about it far too often–family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, pastors, priests, political, and business leaders are charged with sexual assault. Awareness of these offenders and those victims being grotesquely violated and trafficked is not enough: the abuse needs to be stopped before it happens and our schools must play a role in this prevention.

One in four girls and one in thirteen boys will report they were sexually abused by the age of 18. Sexual abuse and human trafficking can have long-lasting physical and emotional effects, including: depression, eating disorders, self-blame, self-destructive behaviors, intergenerational cyclical abuse, learning disabilities, and drug abuse.

The Numbers

A Public Health Crisis Demands a Public Health Approach

As devastating as this public health crisis is, sexual abuse and these long-term effects can be prevented through education. 28 states, including Florida, and D.C. have passed legislation mandating instruction within schools on child sexual abuse awareness and prevention, as of January 2023. Unfortunately, 14 states have no laws in place. Every educator and every student across the United States should be equipped with the knowledge needed to prevent child sexual abuse. It is necessary to implement a public health approach to make a seismic difference in stopping abuse and human trafficking in its tracks.

Such an approach includes creating a system of awareness, education, prevention, support, and treatment in communities. Like the public health approach model used for wearing seat belts to prevent injury and death, we must change the societal behavior and norms around sexual abuse in order to alter society for the better. The long-term health and safety benefits of increasing trauma-aware adults has a direct correlation to decreasing all types of child abuse–sexual along with physical, emotional, and neglect. In turn, this can lead to higher educational achievement, less involvement with the criminal justice system, and better physical health and social outcomes overall.

Educational institutions play a critical role in reaching our students and teachers and beyond to our parents, families, and communities. We must use our schools as the grounds for preventing sexual abuse and breeding positive childhood experiences and positive community experiences.

Intervention and prevention must start in early childhood and continue through elementary, middle, and high school. The comprehensive public health approach to addressing child sexual abuse within schools includes: trauma-informed training and education for our teachers, parents and adult caregivers; quality health education for our students and teachers, inclusive of sexual abuse awareness and prevention; connecting students to mental healthcare professionals for treatment, either within or outside the school walls; increasing the capacity for students to access mental health services; and creating environments where students feel connected and supported.

As the CEO of Center for Child Counseling, a nonprofit that supports schools, teachers, students, and caregivers, we embrace this public health model and want to ensure every student across the United States is protected and safe from abuse. We recently launched–a platform for educators and other child-facing professionals to easily access online training programs and workshops to learn how to keep children safe through effective strategies that prevent abuse, build safety and communication skills, promote positive relationships and resilience, and identify risk early.

Rely on a research-based program like Stay KidSafe!™, which is approved by the School District of Palm Beach County, or look to your local community to determine if there are groups you can partner with, to teach your students safety tools and skills to empower them to make safe and smart choices in all areas so they can grow up to be healthy, powerful adults.

The overall health, wellness, and protection of children in today’s challenging times should not be left to families to struggle in isolation. Feeling safe and protected is vital to a child’s development.

Whether you’re a fellow community leader, educator, parent, or adult interacting with children in any capacity, join me in changing the trajectory of this public health crisis. Find out what the schools in your community are doing to support the health and protection of their students. Encourage your teachers and school leaders to seek the proper training and provide the necessary resources to promote healthier families, schools, and communities where every child is safe from abuse.

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Keeping Kids Safe at Camp


Camp Safety Tips

By Cherie Benjoseph, MSW, LCSW, Child Safety Expert, Director of National Outreach

If you could go back to any age what would it be? The first thing that comes to my mind is my amazing summers at sleep-away camp, starting at age 8 (yep, you read that right). Many who know me might be surprised that I am a huge supporter of sending kids to overnight camp. But yes, I am – provided that camp is properly vetted for safety. That’s where you come in.

The KidSafe philosophy is to empower children and families with skills for a lifetime, so that kids can spread their wings and fly and parents can feel confident their kids can manage whatever comes their way. This includes not missing out on the benefits of attending camp (day or overnight).

So, are you contemplating the big step of sending your child off to camp for a week, a month, even two months? Will you send them to a camp you went to as a child? To a camp you found online? To one a friend or neighbor raved about? So many questions. How to get the answers you need?

As you make these decisions, we ask that you take a step back and consider how best to choose a camp for your child. We ask that you look beyond the glossy website photos and consider whether a camp makes safety their number one priority. And not just water and recreation safety.

Often when researching a camp, we focus only on a child’s special interests, say sports, or theater, or horses, or IT, or culinary arts. Or perhaps the camp is located in a preferred part of the country or has a specific religious affiliation that feels right to you. All of these items are important – but don’t forget to ask the tough questions about safety. Questions similar to those you would ask when vetting a potential new hire. Don’t assume that the camp you are considering is doing the same level of screening you would expect or want.

As you research camps, consider the following:

Meet the camp director. Your child will be in that person’s care. Do this in person or by video. Ask direct questions, such as:

  1. How and from where is your staff recruited? What is your screening process? (Does the camp check employment histories? Seek references? Retain employees from one season to the next vs constant staff turnover? Conduct in-person or video interviews with individuals seeking employment)?
  2. Confirm that the camp does a national criminal fingerprint background check. (If a camp only provides a background check without detailed screening, that signals lack of due diligence in their hiring practice).
  3. Is each staff member screened through the National Sex Offender Registry? (This includes all counselors, admin, dining, maintenance, and anyone else on camp premises).
  4. Ask if the camp has a Child Protection Policy. This is a policy that all staff sign which includes codes of conduct, clear policy on sexual misconduct, and procedures to be followed in response to reports of abuse. It is always a good idea to request a copy of a camp’s Child Protection Policy.
  5. Ask what type of training the staff receive regarding:
    • Sexual abuse intervention, prevention, and reporting
    • Bullying intervention and response
    • Child abuse, both physical and emotional
  6. What type of supervision do you provide to the staff who are minding your campers?
  7. If camper or staff member wishes to report a concern, what are your procedures for facilitating such reports and for appropriate follow-up?
  8. Are you licensed by the state? If so, may I obtain a copy of your license?
  9. Are you accredited by the American Camp Association? If so, may I obtain a copy of ACA certification?

Having this kind of conversation with a camp director will help you determine whether a camp not only offers awesome activities and food but is also built on a solid foundation of professionalism and thoughtful camp philosophy.

Center for Child Counseling specializes in training adults working with children at camp. If you have a specific camp in mind, ask if it is CampSafe® Trained. If you would like to share information about CampSafe® training with a particular camp, you can do so by providing that camp with this link:

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Child Trafficking is Happening in Your Community

By Cherie Benjoseph, MSW, LCSW, Child Safety Expert, Director of National Outreach

People often dismiss human trafficking as either something that occurs in other countries or as too big an issue to battle. Or they tell themselves, “This couldn’t happen in my community, and especially not in my family.” Sadly, they are wrong. Each of us needs to recognize that children of all ages, wherever they live, are vulnerable to trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, especially children who already have a history of child sexual abuse and other trauma.

Listed below are the primary risk factors that make some children more vulnerable to trafficking:

  • lack of personal safety
  • isolation
  • emotional distress
  • homelessness
  • poverty
  • family dysfunction
  • substance abuse
  • mental illness
  • learning disabilities
  • developmental delays
  • childhood sexual abuse
  • promotion of sexual exploitation by family members or peers
  • lack of social supports

How to protect our kids? Simply put, we can protect our children by becoming more knowledgeable about child sex trafficking and child sexual abuse.

What’s the difference between the two?

  • Traffickers groom children both online and in person, just like child sex offenders who target children for abuse. The difference is that a child sex offender molests the child themselves, for their own gratification, while the child trafficker sets the child up to be sexually assaulted by others, for monetary gain.
  • Horrific to comprehend – but child sex offenders abuse children as young as newborns and on up from there. It is also horrific (and important) to recognize that children can be sex trafficked by their own families, from inside their own homes, while appearing like a typical family. For children recruited by sex traffickers from outside the family the average age of entry into trafficking is 12 to 14.
  • The grooming process employed by a child sex trafficker and the grooming process used by a child sex offender have many similarities. Each works to build a “trusting” relationship with the child. When offenders and traffickers target very young children they often build a similar relationship with the child’s family. The grooming relationship might appear like a friendship, mentorship, or, for teens, it might look like a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. (Remember that 90% of the time, a child is harmed by someone they and/or their family know and trust.) For children who are trafficked, the traffickers themselves and other people who recruit for them are hiding in plain sight, and could even be another student in your child’s school.

Watch for the following signs that a child might be being groomed for sex trafficking (or for a child already being trafficked):

  • New possessions, of unexplained origin. Clothing, excess money, technology.
  • New friends. As our kids get older, we often take a step back from day to day involvement with those they hang with. This puts our children at increased risk (and vulnerability) of connecting to the wrong group of friends. If you notice new friends, ask questions. Meet them. Be vigilant.
  • New behaviors. More often late for curfew?, Missing school? These are red flags that something has changed for our children.
  • New moods and demeanor. Children and teens who are trafficked (and those being sexually abused) often show changes in mood and demeanor. Has your child become angry, withdrawn, anxious, depressed? Has he lost interest in school, activities, or family? Has her eating habits, sleep habits or hygiene habits changed in anyway? These can be signs that a child is struggling with something (including being the object of abuse and/or trafficking) and may need parental and professional intervention.
  • Unusual items. If you find your child has items such as hotel room keys, fake IDs, new tattoos, etc., those may be red flags, signs that she or he is being groomed or trafficked.

Child sex trafficking is horrific to consider, which can cause parents to shy away from looking for signs or talking with children when signs are evident. Don’t make that mistake.

If you suspect a child is being trafficked: call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 to report a tip or to get help.

If you suspect a child is being sexually abused: call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453.

For more info on sex trafficking visit and the

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How do we talk about touch with our kids?

By Cherie Benjoseph, MSW, LCSW, Child Safety Expert, Director of National Outreach

It is much easier to talk about all sorts of touch with our kids if we have a name for it. Let’s start with Safe Touch.

Mom! Bryan hit me! Dad! Abby pushed Baby Joey down! Is an example of everyday touching. Cuddling on the couch with your child while reading a story or holding hands while going for a walk are also great examples of touching.

We don’t realize how often we touch each other throughout the day.

Some touches make us feel comfortable and safe while others do not. In our society we do not talk much about touching in general. We either say “Don’t touch your Brother” or “Use nice hands.” (From my daughter’s preschool days.) Let’s dive a little deeper as human touch is an important part of wellness and healthy development.

Many people assume because I teach sexual abuse prevention that to keep kids safe we shouldn’t be touching kids. That could not be further from the truth. Children need to be physically nurtured and held from the day they are born. This type of healthy, safe touch provides children with a strong sense of self, belonging, being valued and safe. Children, for example, who are raised in an understaffed orphanage and do not get picked up and held often have a number of long-term issues, particularly failure to thrive and attachment issues. My point is that positive touch is important. Healthy modeling of Safe Touch helps a child understand what an appropriate touch should feel like.

A  SAFE TOUCH feels: comfortable, loving, relaxed, protective, happy, warm, cozy.

Safe touch examples: A group of kids playing tag, a person while conversing with a friend reaching out and touching their arm for a moment, holding hands in the movie theater, kissing your child goodnight, cuddling on the couch, buckling a child into seat, doing someone’s hair.

Explain to your child that the difference between a safe and an unsafe touch is the way it makes you feel.

An UNSAFE TOUCH makes you feel: uncomfortable, confused, scared, embarrassed, weird, hurt, betrayed, angry.

Unsafe touches happen every day. Examples: Siblings shoving each other, a grown-up grabbing an arm of a child in frustration, a child being physically harmed by another student at school (bullying), someone touching a child’s private parts, or forcing a child to touch their private parts.

If you ask a child for examples of an unsafe touch the list will sound like: getting hit, pinched, pushed, shoved, kicked, hair pulled, by either a peer or adult.

If you have more than one child in your home, there is bound to be various ‘unsafe touches’ throughout a day. Much of this interaction, is how children learn to navigate in our society. With parents’ guidance, setting of healthy boundaries, some rough housing is good to let the kids problem solve on their own. What we suggest is to define those limits. Start labeling touch at a young age as Safe Touch or Unsafe Touch by how a touch makes them feel. Ask: “Emma, when you fell down, and Sammi came over and put her arm on your back and checked on you – was that a Safe Touch or an Unsafe Touch for you?” Ask: “How did it make you feel?” Teaching children to recognize their emotions is an important life skill. If they can recognize the positive it will impact how they treat others. If they can recognize the negative it becomes a protective factor – all part of teaching your child personal safety. We often say this is a skill for a life time –this builds resilience.

We teach safe touch and unsafe touch for many reasons – but for our purposes in this blog let’s focus on body boundaries. If a child has learned that they have private parts and that no one should be touching their private parts, and they get a confusing touch and they are not sure if it was a Safe Touch or an Unsafe touch, they can recognize the feeling and know, because they have been taught, that this is the type of touch that they should Report to a person in their Circle of Safe Adults to talk about it. It is so important at this point that the adult be an approachable caregiver. (Parent, relative, teacher, etc). Preparing yourself in advance for how you might respond to a child disclosing is a key factor in preventing and putting a stop to child sexual abuse.


1. Discuss with children how various touches make them feel. Explain to them that if they receive a touch, even from someone they know and love, and it makes them feel confused, they should report it to another adult.

2. Ask your child if the following examples would be a Safe Touch or an Unsafe Touch:

  • Holding hands with a close friend
  • High fiving their coach
  • Being kissed good night by an aunt
  • Getting shoved by a schoolmate
  • Add a few more of your own examples

3. Play a game called “Safe and unsafe touches I had today”.
Ask your child to think of some examples to share with you. Examples:

  • I hugged nana when I got off the bus.
  • My friend pushed me on the playground.

These conversations will provide you with an opening for a more in-depth discussion about what may have happened during your child’s day and how particular touches made them feel.

Children who have learned that their bodies belong to them and that there are boundaries regarding their private parts understand when a line has been crossed.

Emphasize to your child that no one should be touching or looking at their private parts and they should not be touching or looking at anyone else’s private parts because everyone’s body is special and belongs to them.

Click here to learn more about our KidSafe Program, which is focused on preventing child sexual abuse, trafficking, and exploitation.


90% of the time a child is harmed by someone they know and trust. This makes it even more difficult for a child to tell – they often feel betrayed, confused, and are afraid to report. Empower children from a young age about the difference between Safe and Unsafe Touch, and when they should come to you with questions – even if they are scared.

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How do I start talking with my kids about their body boundaries and consent?

By Cherie Benjoseph, MSW, LCSW, Child Safety Expert, Director of National Outreach

Don’t Force Your Child to Hug or Kiss People

Let your child know that they have the right to decide when and whom they want to hug. This is a healthy body boundary.

Give them permission to politely say no if they don’t want to hug or kiss someone. Their decision should be accepted and respected.

This is a great opportunity to teach your child about body boundaries and consent. Forcing your child to hug or kiss someone sends the message that the wants and needs of others are more important than respecting their own feelings or body boundaries.

Of course, in the right situations, hugging and kissing are natural, loving ways for people to show affection to one another. What is “normal” in this regard differs from culture to culture and family to family, but it is never normal or right to force your child to hug or kiss someone.

If your child wants to hug close family friends or relatives, that is great, provided it is in a safe place and under your watch. Once your child knows the difference between safe and unsafe touches, their desire to hug and kiss certain people is probably a good indicator that they feel safe and happy with that person.

Many people are afraid that their child might seem rude or “standoffish” if they refuse to hug or kiss someone, especially when the person is a close family friend or relative. But that concern is not nearly as important as the powerful message you are sending to your child that their body is special and belongs to them.

Many families share that this is an issue with a particular relative. If you know this in advance, we suggest that you speak with the relative directly and let them know you are teaching your child about their personal safety. And one of the things you are teaching is that they do not have to hug and kiss anyone, even people they know and love, unless they want to. Often it is hard for relatives to not take offense or to feel that you as a parent are being insensitive or teaching your child to be disrespectful. Empowering your child at a young age with the concept that their body belongs to them is a valuable lifelong lesson.

Learning consent, and ‘practicing’ saying No, no Thank you, when you are young empowers children to be more in control of their bodies when they grow into their tweens and teens. These are lessons for a life time.

You can teach your child some easy alternatives to hugging or kissing that do not invade their body boundaries:

  • a happy wave
  • a cool hand shake
  • a fun fist bump
  • an awesome high five

Always allow your child to engage with people on their own terms.

Click here to learn more about our KidSafe Program, which is focused on preventing child sexual abuse, trafficking, and exploitation.


Tell your child that it is okay if they don’t want to hug or kiss someone. Help them learn a polite way to decline. This empowers your child and may help you feel more at ease when the situation arises. You might teach your child to say: “No, thanks. How about a high-five?” or “I don’t feel like hugging today. Maybe later.

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