Preschool (4-6 years), Primary (7-9 years), Tween (10-12 years)
Sexual grooming can happen to both boys and girls, online or offline. Most perpetuators are known to the victims, so children might be reluctant to “tell on” someone they are familiar with, especially if it is a person they like or respect.
This is why it is important to teach them that not everyone they meet or know is a safe person, and it is best to always come to mum or dad whenever they feel confused or have questions.
We also need to teach them that the covered areas of their bodies are private and should not be shared with anyone, even in the form of a photo or video. Teach them that they have the power to speak up when they feel uncomfortable with any form of physical/virtual contact.
Statistics on sexual abuse show that shock and surprise often keep victims quiet. To avoid this, role-play possible scenarios, for example, “Let’s say someone chats with you while playing a game, and he asks you to send him a picture of yourself naked, what do you do?”
You can also equip them with easy-to-remember handles to use, for example using SWAT as a mnemonic device:
1. Shut Down
2. Walk Away
3. Talk to A Safe Adult
Groomers often use social media, gaming platforms, and other online chat rooms to target young people. Sexual grooming can begin in very subtle ways or disguised as a game. The perpetuator might ask the victim to keep what happened as a secret, because it is part of the game or even use threats to scare the child.
Groomers may start by simply talking to the child, but they will quickly try to build a closer relationship. They may offer compliments, gifts, or other favours. They may also listen to the child’s problems and offer support.
To pre-empt this, talk to your child about these common tactics and teach them to raise the red flag if they notice any of these things. On your part, be on the lookout for anyone who is giving special attention to your child.
It is important that you and your child build an open and trusting relationship, grounded in your unconditional love and in your ability to handle whatever is shared with you, for example, by not panicking or becoming upset with them.
Reinforce that they have done the right thing whenever they come to you with questions or doubts. Your child needs the assurance that you will not fault them or dismiss what they share, but that they can depend on you to support them emotionally and help resolve the situation.
Teen (13-15 years), Late teens (16-18 years)
Continue to make yourself a safe place for your children to come to even as they grow into the teenage years.
Even older teens can go into a state of shock when sexual abuse happens. They may passively go along with what’s going on because they do not know what to do, or because of the internal confusion they’re facing.
If you suspect your teen is going through something because they are suddenly withdrawn, depressed, or fearful of certain places or people, reach out to find out how your child is doing. Let your teen share at their own pace. It may take more than one conversation to get the full story.
At this stage, some teens may have started romantic relationships, so it is a good time to talk about boundaries within relationships and respectful and consensual physical touch.
Help your teen see that sexual abuse is any unwanted sexual touch or sharing of explicit/naked photographs. Possessing and/or distributing sexual images is considered a crime in Singapore.
Any sexual activity that happens when one party is unable to give consent—for example, being incapacitated, asleep or drunk—is also sexual abuse.
Talk about various grooming methods like buying things and paying for your teen over a period of time so that eventually, your teen feels like he or she “owes” the person and has to repay them.
Coercion can take many forms. It can range from “If you do not do this, I will…” statements to “But everyone is doing this”, or “I really like it if you do this. Can you do it for me?”
Empower your children to develop and believe in the power of their own voice. Emphasise that they can say “Stop” or “No” at any time and that it is okay to realise they have gone too far or made a mistake and still demand the person to step.
Help them avoid the trap of thinking that they are in the wrong for being in a situation and thus, have no right to stop. “You can always stop” can be a very powerful belief to instil in them.
Do approach these conversations holistically, for instance, as you explain upskirt photos and why they are wrong, teach your daughters to be observant when wearing skirts, and your sons to avert their eyes when noticing something inappropriate.
Part of our children’s growth into adulthood also include experiencing sexual desires. Acknowledge that this is a normal and healthy part of growing up!
Sexual grooming/abuse is a huge topic and one we hope our children will never experience. To safeguard our children, regularly have sex education talks at home and remember to be a calm and loving presence in their lives.