Childhood Sweden: New campaign draws attention to how we can prevent sexual abuse of children

One in five children in Sweden is the victim of sexual abuse — but this could be prevented. On November 18, the European Day on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, Childhood Sweden launched a new campaign aimed at breaking the silence surrounding the abuse of children.

In recent weeks, #metoo has turned the spotlight on one of the most fundamental issues — everyone’s right to their own body, regardless of whether they are a woman, a man or a child. There is a great need to talk, and many stories bear witness to sexual harassment and abuse that began in childhood. They explain how difficult it is as a child to actually understand that what was happening was not okay, and how they were left with a feeling of unease and insecurity that was difficult to put into words, but that has in many cases pursued them into adulthood.

 One in five children abused

“One in five children in Sweden is the victim of sexual abuse at some stage of their childhood*. Although many individuals are affected, we speak very little about it and particularly not from the perspective of the child. We therefore want the discussion about abuse and integrity to begin already in childhood, together with the children. Much abuse could then be prevented before it happens and children who are already victims would be provided with the tools to understand and explain what occurred,” says Paula Guillet de Monthoux, Secretary General of the World Childhood Foundation.

Childhood wants this campaign to draw attention to the perspective of the child in #metoo, and to the fact that the abuse can be prevented — by breaking the silence that surrounds it. “Our elected representatives, authorities, schools and the civilian society is, of course, in part responsible for it happening, but you and I play no less important a role. We adults must talk about sexual abuse against children and, above all, have the courage to talk with children,” says Paula Guillet de Monthoux.


How can I talk to my child about abuse?

Talking to children about sexual abuse can feel difficult and awkward, particularly if the children are young and you are not completely sure what to do or say. Childhood has therefore gathered together simple and tangible guidance and advice on childhood.se that is built around the key words listen, speak and give. The following is a summary:

LISTEN: Many people who are the victim of sexual abuse as a child only speak about their experiences once they have grown into adults — studies show that only one in ten children exposed to sexual abuse tells someone what has happened**. To help children talk about sexual abuse early on, it is important that adults pay attention to the signs — children often show a number of signs before they dare to talk to someone. Listening also means getting used to respecting children’s boundaries and building their trust and confidence. Consider the child perspective, even if this may be difficult in relation to other adults — this could be explaining to auntie that the child does not want to give her a hug. Listening also means knowing how to treat the child when abuse has taken place and he or she wants to talk.

SPEAK:  Talking about abuse with a child is difficult for many people. But the more we do this, the less taboo the topic becomes and the easier it becomes for children to say if they are themselves the victim of abuse. On childhood.se, there are suggestions (in Swedish) for books and TV programs that can be used when talking with children and information about what you should do if you suspect that a child in your vicinity is being mistreated.

GIVE: We know that caring and loving adults closest to the child offers the best protection against abuse. A loving parent that the child can trust can make all the difference when abuse has taken place. Many children who are victims, but still fared well, have this in common: that someone could offer them security and support — and this person does not always need to be a parent, but can equally well be a grandmother, teacher, neighbor or trainer.


Text: Åsa Andreasson Åkerström


*/** The Children’s Welfare Foundation Sweden: Det gäller ett av fem – fakta om barn, sexuella övergrepp och sexuell exploatering i Sverige (2015) [It concerns one in five – Facts about children, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation in Sweden]