April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Child sexual abuse is an uncomfortable but necessary topic that I think deserves revisiting. As such, I am re-posting my essay from a year ago in lieu of an April guest post.
Providing our children with the tools to prevent abuse is a critical step in preventing it from happening. Fortunately, many schools take time to address the difference between good touches and bad touches. For those that do not, there is a movement in place to enact a law that requires it.
School programs are great but conversations need to start at home.
Child sexual abuse is pervasive in our society; it knows no race, religion, gender, or economic status. It has impacted generations of children; stripped them of their innocence and burdened them with trauma that can last a lifetime.
Last year, I wrote a blog post describing the day I first told my mother I was a survivor of child sexual abuse. I stayed silent until I was 30 years old. After countless conversations with fellow survivors and curious parents since that post, I felt it was high time I weigh in on this uncomfortable but necessary topic.
According to an article in Baby & Blog, “6 Ways to Protect your Child from Sexual Abuse”, “It is estimated that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. To put this in perspective, that means “in a classroom of 25 High School Seniors, 3 of the girls and 2 of the boys will have likely been sexually abused.”
Child sexual abuse is about power. Child molesters feel powerful when they exploit and take advantage of children. If we tip the scale and take away their power, then perhaps we can stop the abuse.
How do we do that? Empower the children. Empower ourselves.
Empower the Children
“The fight against child molesters begins by teaching the children.” – Norman E. Friedman
When Norman Friedman, a veteran mental health professional, educator, and author of Inoculating Your Children against Sexual Abuse; what every parent should know! made this statement during a lecture I thought,
That makes sense.
Based on Mr. Friedman’s years of experience working with the predator population, he concluded that one cannot cure a child molester. Therefore, the most effective thing we can do is empower children about their bodies and rights, and create an environment where they feel confident communicating with a trusted adult.
No Touch Zone.
First, teach them that everyone has a No Touch Zone. This zone is not limited to the child’s private parts. Friedman’s book outlines his definition and offers a noninvasive, appropriate, step by step approach to help trusted adults teach children about body parts, body rights, and what to say if a person attempts to court, solicit, or make them feel uncomfortable.
“We don’t have secrets in our house; we have surprises,”
is a phrase we adopted in our home thanks to Friedman.
Secret is a word we innocently use with children. However, a predator’s efforts to create an inappropriate relationship with a child often includes secret keeping. Friedman suggests that if we stop using the term, a child will recognize when it’s out of place and subsequently say something to that person as well as his trusted adult.
A No Secrets policy in a family encourages open communication. Once a child feels confident that he can speak freely, we need to make sure we are listening.
It is important we make it a priority to send verbal and nonverbal cues that convey to our children we are available; always, whenever, and no matter what. Listening and responding respectfully to both the good and bad things that are on their mind builds trust, offers reassurance that we care, and confirms that what they say is meaningful.
Young people exposed to life is tough and keep it in the family attitudes and who hear messages that it is their job to be responsible for adult feelings and needs add up to one thing in a child’s mind;
why bother talking, no one is listening.
Listening to our children is critical, but believing is lasting.
When a child confides that someone approached him in an uncomfortable way, it might be easier to swallow the shock and impossibility of it all by downplaying the incident, particularly if it’s someone familiar.
But we need to take their words seriously.
Regardless of how the information made us feel or who the party was; that child felt violated on some level and had the courage to speak up. That means we need to find a way to help him feel safe again as well as confront the party in question.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an adult recount their abuse experience and share how he had the courage to tell a trusted loved one only to be brushed off, ignored, told he was wrong or the cause of it.
Can you imagine being that little boy who was brave enough to say something, not believed, and then continually abused?
It’s not enough to empower our children. We trusted adults have to get in on the act.
Go with your gut.
A friend felt conflicted about telling her neighbor to take a hike when he wanted to play basketball with her eight year old son. She felt bad for the lonely, old man even though her gut told her his request was odd. Confronting him would be impolite, so she protected her son by making excuses when the child continued to ask if he could play with the man.
She ultimately took action.
To her son she said, “In many ways, he’s like a stranger to us. We know him but we really don’t.”
And to the man, “Come on. You know grownups don’t play with kids.”
After that, he left my friend’s son alone.
Advocate at all costs.
If you know someone in your family has a history of abusing others and you suspect that the person is being inappropriate with a child even if it isn’t your child, call him out on it. If that’s too scary, anonymously call Child Protective Services.
It is not enough for us to avoid an abuser in the family because it is likely he is out in the world hurting someone else’s children. So for the sake of that little boy and girl, their innocence, emotional health, and future please be strong;
take a stand.
We can’t wait for predators to rehabilitate or the laws to punish them accordingly. And since the majority of molesters are not strangers, they will continue to live in our communities, interact with children, and be part of our families.
I’m sorry if this frightens you, but it is true.
So empower your children. If a predator tries to court a child equip with the right tools, he’ll realize that he doesn’t stand a chance and will back off.
And empower yourself. Let those who are inappropriate with children know that we trusted adults are paying attention.
Scale tipped. Power stripped.