This is a guest post from Feather Berkower, LCSW. Feather leads the workshop which inspired the Why We Don’t Keep Secrets in Our House post.
Let’s say your child has peanut allergies. Would you ever send him or her to school without first talking with the teacher about the allergies and inviting the teacher onto your child’s safety prevention team?
Or let’s say you’ve been teaching your child to wear a helmet when she skateboards, but sometimes she forgets. Now she’s on a play date; would you ask the other parent to be part of your safety team by reminding your daughter to wear her helmet?
We are continually teaching children rules to help keep them safe—and inviting other caregivers onto our prevention team so they can help keep our kids safe when we can’t be with them. After all, safety is a parent’s responsibility – right?
And it’s no different with keeping kids safe from child sexual abuse, except that THIS topic makes people feel uncomfortable – so uneasy that it can render inaction.
So my question to you is: Are you willing to feel a little uncomfortable so your children don’t have to?
Prevention does work, but it rests on adults moving toward their discomfort so they can talk about body safety and help prevent child sexual abuse.
I’d like to share three important steps you can take to help keep your children safe from sexual abuse. It’s tempting to just focus on #1 and #2, but without #3, your children remain vulnerable.
#1 – Just the Facts
First, know the facts. I can’t tell you how many people buy into myth that “child sexual abuse won’t happen in my community.” Here’s what we know about abuse:
- One in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused by age 18. That’s 150 to 350 in a graduating class of 1,000.
- 90% of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows and trusts – in homes, youth organizations, schools, and places of faith (not by strangers, as it commonly thought).
- 30-50% of abuse is committed by youth.The last bullet point is important because child-on-child abuse is much more common than people think – and kids spend much of their time with other kids, at school, in sports, and on playdates.
#2 – Body-Safety Rules
Second, teach your children at least these three body-safety rules and reinforce that your child is the boss of his or her body.
- No one is allowed to touch your private parts (except for toileting and medical reasons).
- You should not touch someone else’s private parts.
- If you ever feel unsafe, it’s okay to say “no,” tell, and get away.
For body-safety rules to work, it’s also important to create a “no-secrets” rule in your home and let your child know that he or she will never be in trouble if someone breaks a body-safety rule.
# 3 – Your Very Own Prevention Team
Now this is the point at which many parents stop. They feel a sense of security that their children will speak up if someone tries to inappropriately touch them. But what if you could prevent a compromising situation from happening to begin with?
This brings me to the third and most essential piece of child sexual abuse prevention: Inviting all caregivers onto your prevention team. As much as we wish our children could be with us at all times, they are not. Children spend a great deal time with substitute caregivers: Teachers, coaches, babysitters, relatives, and so forth.
So what does every caregiver need to know?
- My child is the boss of his/her body.
- We teach our children body-safety rules.
- We teach our children to respect adults, but it’s okay for them to say “no” and tell if they ever feel unsafe.
- Our children do not keep secrets.
By having a conversation with every caregiver about these four points, you are 1) Inviting that caregiver onto your prevention team and 2) Letting that caregiver know that your child is “off limits.”
People who sexually abuse children methodically groom, and they look for children who are vulnerable – that is, a child whose parents are not paying close attention. People who sexually abuse children tend to disappear if they see that the parent is involved and the child is educated. In the words of one man I met when observing an offender group,
“If I drive up to a bank and see cop cars, I’m going to move on. I’ll go down the street and rob a different bank.”
Parents tell me that it’s hard to invite caregivers onto their prevention team. They fear sounding “over protective” or coming across as if they are accusing someone. Here’s what another offender said about sounding “over protective,”
“Parents have to pay attention to the people who are spending time with their children. If someone had talked to me about boundaries, I wouldn’t have offended my relative.”
Inviting someone onto your prevention team isn’t about “grilling” a caregiver; it’s a conversation – an extension of the safety conversations you’re probably already having about other topics.
If you’re wondering how to confidently get a conversation about body-safety off the ground, you might check out the new Parenting Safe Children Conversation-Starter Cards. The card offers language for starting a conversation about expectations, boundaries and body-safety rules. You can carry the cards in your purse, car, and pocket – and then hand them out to teachers, family members, coaches, etc.
THIS conversation is what prevention is all about, and together we can raise children and build homes and communities that are safe from sexual abuse.
Feather Berkower, LCSW, is founder of the Parenting Safe Children workshop and co-author of Off Limits, a parenting book that will change the way you think about keeping kids safe. Since 1985, Feather has educated over 100,000 schoolchildren, parents, and professionals. She makes a difficult topic less scary, and empowers parents and communities to keep children safe.www.parentingsafechildren.com