HELP PREVENT CHILD SEXUAL ASSAULT THROUGH EDUCATION AND AWARENESS
We Need to Educate Children About Abuse, But It Is UNFAIR to EXPECT Them to PREVENT Abuse
Traditional sexual abuse programs refer to themselves as prevention programs, and by doing so, set the expectation that children can and should stop sexual abuse. That is an unfair expectation. To truly prevent something is to stop it before it happens. The only people who can prevent abuse are the perpetrators. So, prevention programs should be targeted at perpetrators, adults and teens and even society as a whole-but not children. Prevention is not the job of children. Society doesn’t expect children to prevent, or even stop, physical abuse. Programs to prevent physical abuse are targeted at adults. So, why do we expect children to prevent, or even stop, sexual abuse? That is an unreasonable expectation.
While it is unfair to EXPECT children to prevent or stop physical or sexual abuse, it is also unfair to fail to provide them with information, skills and an environment of openness that may help them to avoid, stop or tell about abusive experiences. It is important that the education we provide to children be presented in a way that is helpful to all children and does not inadvertently increase the feelings of guilt and shame experienced by children who have already suffered from abuse or who experiences abuse after the education is provided.
Child sexual assault is one of the horrific silent epidemic that is hurting children all over the world. It will affect one in 3 girls and one in 7 boys by the time they are 18 years old. Yet it is something that no one wants to talk about. There seems to be a disconnect in believing humans capable of such behavior and insisting it exists. The concept is hard to grasp but is very much a reality. So, as parents how do we protect our children from such things occurring? Education and prevention are key and as adults we are the one responsible for prevention. To do this, we need to arm our children with as much information as possible and we also need to believe our children should they report abuse to us.
First I believe, one of the most important ways that we, as a society, can help prevent further abuse is in our attitudes about it.
Second, we need to educate ourselves and our children. As a parent, you’re responsible for giving your children the tools they need to stay safe from sexual abuse. Empower them. Let them know it’s okay to say “NO” to an adult ~ even someone they know. Teach your children that a sexual abuser can be anyone ~ even someone they know, like, love or live with. Discuss with your child that telling about sexual abuse is a very difficult thing but the abuse won’t stop until he/she tells. Children, as young as four years old, can understand the basic concepts of good touch, bad touch and confusing touch. Explain not only good touch/bad touch (because some bad touches can feel good) Talk about “OKAY” touch vs. “NOT OKAY” touch. The discussion should include talking about okay touches to help children appreciate the positive aspects of touch. Include specific definitions of physical and sexual abuse, including using those words so that children understand what they mean. It helps to list a variety of touches to help children learn to identify okay versus not okay or confusing touches. Be sure to help children understand that not okay touching is always the bigger person’s fault or responsibility and that children who are sexually or physically abused have not done anything to cause the abuse to happen.
When choosing a daycare setting for your child there are many important suggestions to follow:
Don’t select a daycare center just because it is close to your home. If you have to wake up 30 minutes earlier to drive your children to a daycare provider that’s farther away, then do so. The time can make a difference in your child’s life.
Screen daycare providers. Do a background check for prior criminal histories.
Get Have a list of all personnel working in the home or center, and research these individuals as well.
Get references from trusted family members and friends.
Conduct an interview with the daycare provider personally; try to gain an impression of their attitude and temperament.
Do a thorough check on the facilities: cleanliness, food being served, basic necessities and toys.
Do random and unannounced visits.
It is important to respect a child’s choice about sharing their body for a hug or a kiss, even with Grandma who lives across country and they won’t see again for a whole year. CHILDREN MUST BE RESPECTED WHEN THEY SAY “NO”!
Teaching children the proper names for their body parts, including private parts, can start when they are infants and toddlers. Be sure to use and teach the words breasts, vagina, penis, testicles and buttocks just like you are eyes, ears and nose.
Communicating effectively with your children involves all three of these. Don’t wait for children to bring a subject up to you. Parents often believe that if their children aren’t talking about something it means they aren’t thinking about it or don’t have any questions. It would be great if children told us everything, but we know they don’t. Ask your children questions. Start conversations, don’t wait for them to start.
As part of daily conversations ask your children about their experiences, their feelings and various types of touches using questions or statements such as:
Tell me something you feel proud of yourself for today.
Was there anything you felt embarrassed or sad about today?
Was there anything you felt scared or angry about today?
What was the best part of your day?
What was the worst thing that happened today?
Did you get any okay touches today?
Did you get any not okay touches today?
When children are telling you about their experiences, be sure to ask them how they felt. The more we talk with our children about everyday experiences, both positive and negative, the more likely they will be able to tell us about a problem. When we combine a good communication pattern between parents and children with good education about okay/not okay touches and personal safety skills we are minimizing our children’s risk of abuse. (Unfortunately, as a family, we talked daily about all of these questions – EXCEPT the touching ones, in hind site, I could have done more but like most people, I just didn’t think this “sort of thing” could happen to our perfect, middle class, loving family. Sadly, I was WRONG.)
Repetition is an important part of learning. So, don't hesitate to take advantage of natural opportunities to discuss these issues. For example, if something comes on the news about child sexual abuse, take the opportunity to talk about it. Use resources to help you talk with children about these issues.
Talk about secrets in order to help children know the difference between surprise secrets that are fun and okay to keep for a little while and secrets that are important to tell. Talk about who might hurt children. It is important to emphasize that most people do not hurt children, but anyone could. It is important for you to know that those people who do abuse children are generally not strangers. They are most often people who children know quite well including family members, neighbors, coaches, babysitters, etc. It is important to communicate that to children.
Although these concepts seem to send chills up the spines of an adult, children understand The more information we provide children, the better able they are to live happy, healthy and safe lives.
Kimberly Cheryl – Author: Shattered Reality (a mother’s story of child sexual assault for secondary survivors)
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