A mother's belief and support
of her child
is a proven protective factor for children who have been sexually abused
. With increased maternal support:
- The child experiences fewer symptoms following disclosure.
- The child experiences less depression following disclosure.
- The child experiences fewer long-term consequences of sexual abuse.
- The child demonstrates more competence in social skills.
- The child feels less isolated and experiences less withdrawal and less self-condemnation.
Protective factors are those variables in a child's life, either internal or external, that serve to reduce the risk of sexual abuse or, if it occurs, serve to minimize the negative consequences. These factors serve to make the world a safe place for the child. Some protective factors reside within the child:
- Positive self-esteem
- Effective coping mechanisms
- Good health
- Social skills
- Positive peer relationships
- Able to ask for help
- Independence appropriate to age
- Ability to regulate emotion
The family function and dynamic offers protective factors:
- Secure attachment to caregiver
- Structured household with rules and expectations
- Parents monitor and supervise child
- Extended family members involved with children
- Positive relationship between child's parents
- Parental skill level in emotion regulation and stress management
- Prosocial behavior of parent (no criminality, drug use)
- Parent's level of education
- Parents listen to the child
Some protective factors are characteristics of the external social system or community:
- Higher socioeconomic status
- Parents employed
- Safe housing
- Family involvement in spiritual community
- Safe educational options
- Role models and individual community members that mentor child
- Health care coverage
No one variable or mix of variables protects a child from sexual abuse. However, when several protective factors are in place in a child's life, a perpetrator is less likely to target that child as a victim. He will choose an easier target with less likelihood of detection. Some of the above variables are static with no probable change predicted. Social system and community factors tend to be stable. However, intervention and change can occur in several areas of both child and family characteristics.