April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
If I’m completely honest with you, this topic is something I would usually avoid reading (much less writing about). I’m already a bit of a worry-wart of a mother, so I tend to bury my head in the sand when I see articles like this on social media. I reason, “Ignorance is bliss.” But . . . knowledge is power, so we will face this difficult subject together, you and I, for the sake of our children. For the sake of ALL children.
One of my closest friends, Kylie Drummond, is a licensed master social worker and has imparted so much wisdom to me over the years from her first-hand experiences. I want to pass that knowledge on to the Birmingham Moms Blog community (and beyond). Kylie has worked for the Department of Children and Families in Florida, the Children’s Assessment Center (an advocacy center for child sexual abuse survivors), and as an ER social worker at the Texas Children’s Hospital, both in Houston, Texas. She now volunteers with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) of Jefferson County with children who are in DHR custody in Birmingham, Alabama.
What is Child Sexual Abuse (CSA)?
According to The Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Abuse (d2l.org), CSA includes:
- Any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors, when one exerts power over the other.
- Forcing, coercing, or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act.
- Non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, voyeurism, and communicating in a sexual manner by phone or internet.
“Child sexual abuse is far more prevalent than most people realize and is likely the most prevalent health problem children face with the most serious array of consequences.”
Some Scary Statistics We Cannot Ignore
- Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 8 minutes that victim is a child. (rainn.org)
- 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn 18. (This statistic may even be higher because only about 38% of child victims disclose the fact that they have been sexually abused, and some never disclose). (National Children’s Advocacy Center website: nationalcac.org)
Parents Hold Power
As frightening as these statistics are, we as parents hold so much power to equip our children with the knowledge and tools to prepare well in advance. Here are some guidelines from nationalcac.org:
- “Begin talking to children at an early age, before children are at risk of victimization.” Kylie adds this should happen once your children are verbal and before they ever are away from you for any period of time — typically around age three to four. By this age, parents should definitely talk about private parts and be naming them.
- “Teach children correct names for body parts, to reduce children’s vulnerability.” (For example, if a young girl calls her vagina her “butterfly” or “pocketbook,” [both actually happened in Kylie’s personal case experience], and if she says, “My uncle touched my pocketbook,” and a teacher overhears, she won’t think anything of it. But if the young girl had been taught to only refer to her vagina as her vagina, then alarms would sound upon the teacher overhearing the conversation.
- “Go beyond ‘stranger danger’ because only 10% of perpetrators are strangers.” Therefore, 90% of children are sexually abused by somebody they KNOW AND TRUST. (Example: family members, family friends, coaches, babysitters, child care providers, neighbors, and clergy members.)
- “Repeat the message often with children.”
- “Keep discussions developmentally appropriate, with an awareness of normal behaviors.”
- “Establish touching boundaries so children understand they can say no to unwanted touch.” This is HUGE. It’s vital we teach our children that their body is their OWN, and they have a right to say STOP. This includes things that we, as adults, deem innocent, such as tickling or hugging by a loved one. I vividly remember being tickled often by various adults (and hating it) when I was a child and being unable to break free. I remember feeling very small, and feeling like I had to play along, thinking no one would stop even if I asked. Those memories propel me as a mom to stand up for my children when they say no to tickles or no to hugs — even if it’s someone they know and love. If they resist a hug, I usually just encourage them to “blow a kiss” and move on.
- “Establish privacy rules in the home and away from home.” Always stress to your children that the only time it’s ever okay for anyone to touch their private parts is when Mommy or Daddy are washing them in the bathtub or when their doctor gives them a checkup and Mom is in the room. Every family has different practices, but a good rule of thumb is after potty training age (three or so), start teaching your children privacy awareness, such as not letting your children change clothes in front of other children (aside from siblings). For example, change swimsuits in a stall in a locker room rather than out in the open for all to see.
- “Give children permission to tell about anything happening to them.” The most important thing we can teach our children is that they can say no to any touch, and they should ALWAYS tell Mommy or Daddy when someone does something that bothers them. Make sure they know they we, as their parents, will NEVER be mad at them or blame them for it.
- “Talk about secrets/tricks/threats or other means a perpetrator may use to keep children from telling about the abuse.” This is vitally important because almost all perpetrators will use threats, such as: “If you tell your parents, they will be so mad at you,” or, “Your parents would never believe you anyway.”
What if Your Child Confides in You?
If your child (or any child) ever discloses CSA to you, try not to appear alarmed or angry in front of your child, because it could cause them to recant the abuse if they believe it has upset you (which is often exactly what the perpetrator said would happen).
Here are some valuable pointers from nationalcac.org should you ever find yourself in this position:
- “Be a listener, not an investigator–encourage the child to talk in his/her language and ask just enough questions to act protectively. Say ‘can you tell me more about that?’ Do not conduct any form of interview with the child.”
- “Reassure the child that he/she has done the right thing by telling you.”
- “Stress that what has happened is NOT his/her fault. Say, ‘You are not in trouble’ and, ‘If I look or sound upset, it is because adults want children to be feel safe.’”
- “False allegations of sexual abuse by children and adolescents are statistically uncommon, occurring at the rate of 2 to 10 percent of all cases.” So, LISTEN up, parents!
- “Medical evidence is found in less than 5% of substantiated child sexual abuse cases.” Know that medical evidence isn’t often found — something I was not aware of before writing this article.
In closing, I would like to include some book recommendations that both Kylie and I have found helpful.
For young children:
- God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies by Justin S. Holcomb and Lindsey A. Holcomb
- Your Body Belongs To You by Cornelia Maude Spelman
- I Said No! A Kid-to-Kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private by Kimberly King
- Do You Have A Secret? (Let’s Talk About It!) by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos
And more in-depth options:
- The Right Touch: A Read-Aloud Story to Help Prevent Child Sexual Abuse by Sandy Kleven
- My Body! What I Say Goes!: A book to empower and teach children about personal body safety, feelings, safe and unsafe touch, private parts, secrets and surprises, consent, and respectful relationships by Jayneen Sanders
Do you have further reading to add to this list? Please let us know in the comments below. We are all in this together, and as a community, we desire to promote information, healthy conversation, and empowerment to parents and to our children.