Rules and Guidelines

Following disclosure of sexual abuse, a family Safety Plan will outline expectations of family members both in the home and the community. Children feel safer when rules and boundaries are in place. Set aside a time that your family can work together to develop a Safety Plan that includes rules and guidelines. When expectations are clear, accountability and monitoring are less difficult. Rick Morris in Protecting and Parenting Sexually Abused Children (2006) discusses safety plans and family rules. The following suggestions are adapted from his work. Make sure that your Safety Plan includes rules and guidelines for the following areas and then add to the list as you see appropriate.
  • General House Rules. All families are different, and your family will work to establish general rules for all family members. Make sure that you include rules regarding:
    • Clothing. All family members should be appropriately dressed when in common areas of the home, including living room and kitchen. Underwear or pajamas must be worn under robes if in common area.
    • Tickling or wrestling. No tickling or wrestling is allowed as sexual abuse sometimes occurs under the guise of these activities. Children are often fearful and intimidated as they are held down and have no control
    • Respect for all family members. This is a clear expectation with 0- tolerance for threats or intimidation.
    • Kindness. Incorporate a rule of kindness for all family members. The Golden Rule - Do to others what you want done to you - is a useful way to word this concept. 
    • Pornography. No pornography of any type is allowed in the home.  
  • Bedroom Rules.                                                      
    • Bedroom sharing. A sibling abuser does not share a bedroom with another child.
    • If a sibling abuser resides in the home, the door is alarmed at night.
    • Individual beds. Everyone has their own bed and sleeps in it. 
    • Younger children's bedrooms. These are situated close to mother or parents' room.
    • Knocking. Each family member must knock before entering a room.
    • Night lights. These are recommended for all children to increase the sense of safety.
    • Closed doors. When family members change clothes, doors must be closed. When children are playing in their bedroom, doors must be kept open. 
  • Bathroom Rules.
    • One person at a time. No one is to be in the bathroom when another person is using that area.
    • Bath and shower. Family members do not bathe or shower together.
    • Toileting. Family members are not present when someone is using the toilet.
  • Entertainment Rules. Establish rules for use of computers, internet, television, telephone, movies, and electronic games.
    • Computers. Make sure that computer use is monitored and activities are supervised. 
    • Internet. Provide children with instructions regarding safety on the internet. If My Space or other shared spaces are allowed for older children, make sure that they know not to give out private information. Ask children to immediately report to you any request for personal information. Make sure to limit site access to approved areas and restrict children from all questionable sites. 
    • Television. Much sexually provocative programming is available during hours that children may view television. It is helpful to discuss programming and have a family "approved programs" list so that children have clear boundaries around television use. Be sure to watch programs yourself that children request so that you can accurately monitor whether material is appropriate or sexual content is present.
    • Telephones. Cell phones include internet and text messaging. Monitoring your child's activities has become increasingly difficult. Establish rules and guidelines appropriate to your child's age and activities and monitor use.
    • Movies. Many families have cable television which offers adult entertainment (sexual content) and movies. Children also attend movies with friends and other and families. Be sure to set guidelines regarding movie viewing. Some movies contain content about sexual abuse and incest. If adolescents view one of these movies, make sure that you watch it with her so that you can discuss disturbing scenes or content, and your child/adolescent can discuss reaction to the movie. 
    • Electronic games. Establish rules around use of electronic games. Be sure to supervise and monitor. Some include excessive violence or sexual content and should be restricted.
  • Physical Contact Rules.
    • No wrestling.
    • No tickling.
    • No playing doctor.
    • No hugging unless permission requested first.
    • No kissing unless child initiates. Do not ask a child to kiss anyone
    • No touching EVER in private areas. (Make sure your children are adequately informed about front and back private parts and why these are private.
  • Parent's Bedroom Rules. The mother's or parents' room is off-limits to children. Unless invited into the room, the child is not to be there.
  • Secrets. One of the most important changes in a family is to eliminate all secret-keeping. Secrecy is a stage of sexual abuse and a part of the process.
  • Childcare and staying alone at home.
    • The perpetrator never babysits children.
    • The perpetrator is never left alone with younger children or developmentally delayed family members.
    • The perpetrator never changes a diaper or clothing of a child.
    • The perpetrator is not present and does not assist when a small child is being bathed.

Type a formal agreement that includes all rules and guidelines. Have each family member sign the agreement. Each should have his own signed copy of the agreement. This formalizes the process and emphasizes its importance.

The family may want to discuss consequences for violation of the agreement at the same time that it is being created. You will need a plan for consequences when rules are disregarded. Always remind the child violating a rule or guideline that they agreed to the Safety Plan. Reinforce the necessity of the rule. Redirect the child to another activity if this is the first violation. Increasing awareness may be the first step. If a child is in the bathroom when another child is present, the child may not have maintained awareness of the rule and merely need a reminder. Mothers must be vigilant with children who deliberately violate rules.   

See Emergency Plan
See Rules for Home and Family Visits
See Alert List for Children
See Internet Guidelines for Children


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