An informed, united, caring community can end child abuse. This topic should never be the end of a conversation, but the beginning of one. The more we can learn how to respond to and recognize child abuse, the safer our homes and communities will be for our children.


Defining Child Abuse and Neglect

Sexual Abuse: Any act of a sexual nature upon or with a child. Sexual abuse occurs when an adult uses a child for sexual purposes or involves a child in sexual acts. It also includes when a child who is older or more powerful uses another child for sexual gratification or excitement. Exposing a child to sexual situations or material is sexually abusive, whether or not touching is involved.


Physical Abuse: Physical abuse of a child is when a parent or caregiver causes any non-accidental physical injury to a child. It may be the result of a deliberate attempt to hurt the child, but not always. It can also result from severe punishment, such as using a belt on a child, or physical punishment that is inappropriate to a child’s age or physical condition.


Neglect: Child neglect is when a parent or caregiver does not give the care, supervision, affection and support needed for a child’s health, safety and well-being. This includes not providing adequate food, clothing, or proper hygiene.



The Five Step to Protecting Children is an introductory guide created by Darkness to Light. It provides a comprehensive overview on protecting our children and our community in five simple steps.


1. Know the facts


Knowing the facts of child sexual abuse can help you better protect your children and all the children in your life.

  • Experts estimate that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
  • About 35% of victims are 11 years old or younger.
  • Nearly 40% are abused by older or larger children.


We’ve got to get away from the mindset that the biggest danger for our children are strangers. Stranger danger is a myth. Current research states, that family and friends are the greatest risk to our children.


  • 30% of children are abused by family members.
  • As many as 60% are abused by people the family trusts.


It has a lasting impact on the lives of everyone.

  • 70-80% of sexual abuse survivors report excessive drug and alcohol use.
  • Both males and females who have been sexually abused are more likely to engage in prostitution.
  • The CDC estimates that child abuse costs us billions annually.


2. Minimize opportunity


Knowing the importance of reducing one-on-one situations between adults and children, as well and children and other youth, will help to reduce the risk of sexual abuse.


  • Think carefully about the safety of any isolated, one-on-one settings. Choose group situations when possible.
  • Think carefully about the safety of situations in which older youth have access to younger children. Make sure that multiple adults are present who can supervise.
  • The internet is another one-on-one situation that is often forgotten. Monitor children’s Internet use. Offenders use the Internet to lure children into physical contact.
  • Ask adults about the specifics of planned activities before the child leaves your care. Notice their ability to be specific.
  • Talk with the child following the activities that were away from your supervision. Notice the child’s mood and whether he or she can tell you with confidence how the time was spent.
  • For more information on how to minimize opportunity, visit The Mama Bear Effect: Minimizing Opportunity.


3. Talk about it


Talking to children in an age appropriate manner about their bodies, sex, and boundaries provides children with an understanding of what healthy relationships should look like. It is also important to teach children to respect their bodies, but also to respect other people’s bodies. When we teach our children to create boundaries and to respect themselves, they become less vulnerable to people who try to violate their boundaries, and will be more likely to tell you if abuse occurs.


Talking to Kids About Sexual Abuse

  • Teach children that it is “against the rules” for adults to act in a sexual way with them, and use examples.
  • Teach children the correct names of their private parts to avoid confusion and to reduce any negative connotation associated with those parts.
  • Teach them what parts of their bodies others should not touch and that they should not touch these parts on other people.
  • Be sure to mention that the abuser might be an adult friend, family member, or older youth.
  • Teach children not to give out personal information while using the Internet, including email addresses, home addresses, and phone numbers.
  • Start early and talk often. Use everyday opportunities to talk about sexual abuse.
  • Be proactive. If a child seems uncomfortable, or resistant to being with a particular adult, ask why.
  • To learn more on how to talk to kids about sexual abuse visit The Mama Bear Effect: Rock the Talk


4. Recognize the signs


Kids often do not show physical signs of sexual abuse. Instead there are many emotional and psychological symptoms that could be effecting children due to the trauma they have suffered. Knowing the signs of abuse could help prevent children from suffering more harm.


  • Physical signs of sexual abuse are not common, although redness, rashes/swelling in the genital area, urinary tract infections, or other such symptoms should be carefully investigated. Also, physical issues associated with anxiety, such as chronic stomach pain or headaches, may occur.
  • Emotional or behavioral signals are more common. These can run from “too perfect” behavior, to withdrawal and depression, to unexplained anger and rebellion.
  • Sexual behavior and language that are not age-appropriate can be a red flag.
  • Be aware that in some children there are no signs whatsoever.


Physical abuse will often have more signs than sexual abuse. Children enjoying running around and playing. This naturally invites accidental injuries. Learning how to distinguish abuse from accidental injury will help protect your children.


  • Certain locations on the body are more likely to sustain accidental injuries. These areas include the knees, elbows, shins, the forehead; all are parts of the body which can be injured during an accidental fall or bump.
  • Protected or non-protuberant parts of the body, such as the back, thighs, genital area, buttocks, back of the legs, or face, are not as likely to be injured during accidents.
  • Non-accidental injuries will take the shape of similar, everyday objects such as, sticks, a board, or belt loops.
  • Accidental marks usually have no defined shaped or pattern.
  • Ask the child how the injury occurred. If it was an accidental injury, there should be a reasonable explanation that is consistent with the severity, type, and location of the injury. If the injury and explanation do not seem related, there is cause for concern.


Click here to learn more about age appropriate sexual behavior in children from


5. React responsibly


Disclosure, discovery, and suspicion of sexual abuse are all opportunities to intervene and help protect a child.



  • If a child discloses abuse to you, it means they chose you and you are a trusted adult. This is an important moment for the child because this is the time they learn whether or not others will stand up for them.
  • Don’t overreact- Stay calm and be in control of your emotions. If you react, the child will feel shame and guilt. They will also shut down and begin to withdraw or change their story.
  • Use open ended questions- “tell me more” or “then what happened”
  • Tell the child you believe them and you are going to help them by doing all you can.
  • Make a report to Child Protective Services (CPS) and/or law enforcement.



  • Discovery means that you have witnessed a sexually abusive act by and adult or youth with a child, or you have knowledge from some other means that abuse has taken place.
  • Report your discovery immediately to Child Protective Services (CPS) and/or law enforcement.
  • If you have discovered child pornography, you have discovered sexual abuse. Child pornography is illegal and should be reported.


Suspicion of sexual abuse

  • Suspicion of sexual abuse means you’ve seen signs in a child, or you’ve witnessed boundary violations by adults or other youth towards a child.
  • Describe the behavior- “It’s against policy for you to be in the classroom alone with a student.”
  • Set a limit- “You need to take your conversation to the student lounge.”
  • Move on- “I’m on my way there, now, so I’ll walk with you.”
  • Offenders are rarely caught in the act of abusing a child, but they’re often seen breaking rules and pressing boundaries.
  • If boundary violations continue to happen, then you have reasonable suspicion, and you can make a report to Child Protective Services (CPS) and/or law enforcement.


For more information on the 5 Steps to Protecting Children visit


Darkness to Light

"I would recommend it to anybody for their organization. It was very enlightening. The presenter did a wonderful job presenting on a difficult topic."

-Jeff Mathei - Leslie Schools Superintendent


Small Talk is proud to offer Darkness to Light Training to our community. Darkness to Light is an evidence based, nationally renowned child sexual abuse program aimed at educating adults on how to address and respond to sexual abuse of children in a responsible and appropriate way. We have trained 224 adults since we started the program in the summer of 2016 and would love to provide this training to you! If you or your organization is interested in receiving this training, please contact our Prevention Specialist, Aubree Vance at [email protected] or call 517-253-0726.


Check out some additional resources for tips on how to protect your children.

Child Welfare Information Gateway

The Mama Bear Effect: Putting Child Safety First

The Mama Bear Effect: How to Rock the Talk on Body Safety

Stop It Now!

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study

More on the ACE Study

Speak Up to Stop Child Abuse in Michigan (via WLNS)

Team Zero





 Small Talk is a proud recipient of Darkness To Light's Partner in Prevention designation!



Our Mission

To provide a comfortable, child-friendly atmosphere where children receive coordinated services during the child abuse investigative process.

our vision

A state of the art center leading the community in addressing child abuse and empowering children to have the courage to heal.