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There are steps that every parent can take to keep her child safe, according to Seth L. Goldstein, an attorney and executive director of the Child Abuse Forensic Institute, in Napa, California. Goldstein, who is also the author of The Sexual Exploitation of Children: A Practical Guide to Assessment, Investigation, and Intervention, which is used by district attorneys' offices around the country, offers these strategies:
Listen to your child. Child abusers often use a legitimate activity to trick the child into performing a sex act. For example, your 9-year-old might talk about playing monster with an adult, which consists of intense physical wrestling.
Be aware that sex abusers carefully choose their victims. They often look for a needy child or a troublemaker who is easily discredited if he or she says anything.
At the doctor's office, insist that another adult (you or a nurse) remain with your child in the exam room at all times.
Encourage your child to inform you of any person or any situation that makes her feel uncomfortable.
What to do if you suspect your child has been abused: Take him or her to a therapist trained and experienced in dealing with sexual-abuse victims. (See below for groups that can help you find therapists in your area.)
If the abuse is within your family, call child-protective services (listed in the government pages of your local telephone book). Otherwise, contact the local police or sheriff's office and ask for the officer who deals with child abuse.
Be careful not to influence your child's account of the abuse; this can serve to discredit his or her story.
Avoid confronting the abuser directly. Tipping your hand makes it harder for law-enforcement officials when they investigate.--Mark Stuart GillFor More Information:
For additional resources or a referral to a therapist trained to work with sex-abuse victims, contact:
The National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 330 C Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20447; 800-394-3366
Prevent Child Abuse America, 200 S. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1700, Chicago, IL 60604; 800-244-5373
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Charles B. Wang International Children's Building, 699 Prince Street, Alexandria, VA 22314-3175; 800-843-5678
To find out if a doctor has ever been disciplined by a state medical board, contact the Federation of State Medical Boards at Docinfo.org. This organization gives consumers access to a database of more than 800,000 licensed physicians in the U.S. Cost: $9.95 per physician search.