Ok, we’re back to talking about child abuse. You may have noted that I didn’t talk about how to prevent sexual abuse in my last non-food post. Don’t worry, this was on purpose and we’re going to tackle that now. Parents that take good care of their children really don’t have to worry about physical abuse or neglect being a problem within their family. Sexual abuse, on the other hand, is something that can happen to anyone, regardless of whether they come from a good home. Sexual abuse picks no favorites–it happens to the wealthy, the poor, and the average alike. This makes it massively important to talk about.
I don’t have a problem talking about this subject, as it’s something I talk to kids about on a daily basis, but I understand that a lot of people have their reservations. Sexual abuse is a gross problem. It’s dirty, terrifying, and evasive. Because this is the nature of the beast, sometimes parents avoid talking about it with their kids. They think it’s too gross for kids to know about.
This is how I like to think of it. When kids are little, we teach them about cavities. Now, a cavity is really a pretty gross and scary problem for a child. It hurts, and you have to go to the dentist to get it fixed, which can be terrifying. But I don’t think too many parents are opposed to having their child learn about cavities.
However, one day the mother of a preschooler decided, “No! I do not want my child to learn about cavities. It’s too scary. I’ll just make sure my child brushes his teeth three times a day and he’ll be fine.” Thus, the mother enforced regular teeth-brushing and freaked out every time he didn’t brush his teeth. His mother also freaked out when he ate anything sugary.
This kind of freaked out the child. He didn’t know why she got so worked up every time he forgot to brush his teeth or ate sugary things. So one day he asked his mom, “Why do I need to brush my teeth and not eat sugary food?” His mother awkwardly searched for an explanation, “Well, you just need to do these things so… you don’t have a problem. It’ll be bad if you don’t, so just do it and you don’t have to worry.” However, her son did worry. A lot. He tried to guess what this mystery problem was. Maybe his face would fall off. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to taste anything ever again.
And then one day the unthinkable happened. He got a cavity. His tooth hurt so badly, and he didn’t know why. He was scared to tell his mom, because he knew she would freak out. She had told him bad things would happen if he didn’t take care of his teeth, but he had no idea it would feel like this. He felt like it was all his fault. He shouldn’t have eaten that snickerdoodle cookie. Or maybe he should have used a little more toothpaste. He was miserable, inside and out.
After a few weeks, his mother noticed that it was taking him a long time to eat his dinner. “What’s taking you so long?” she asked. “Oh, nothing,” he said, eyes watering in pain. She continued to pressure him until finally he broke down and told her about his tooth. As he had anticipated, she was mortified. She quizzed him on his teeth-brushing regiment and sugar intake. She remorsefully called the dentist and scheduled an appointment. “I hoped it would never come to this!” she exclaimed.
When he went to the dentist he learned several things that made him feel better. He learned that what he was experiencing was called a cavity, and that this was something a lot of kids had problems with. He was stunned. He thought he was the only person in the world who had this problem. When he told the dentist how much he brushed his teeth and how he tried hard to avoid sugary foods, the dentist assured him that he had nothing to be ashamed of. Cavities sometimes happen, and they can be fixed. The boy was relieved. Although he knew he definitely didn’t want to get another cavity, learning what a cavity was and how to prevent and fix it made him a lot less scared.
Thanks for enduring my ridiculous little story. Sometimes I get a little carried away in my story telling. Anyway, we can safely say that the mother in the story had misguided good intentions. She wanted to protect her child from cavities by not telling him about cavities. However, this makes no sense. Everyone knows that you need to teach kids about cavities not only so they know how to prevent them, but also so they know what happens if they get a cavity.
Ironically, some parents deal with sexual abuse the same way the crazy mother in my story dealt with cavities. They believe if they watch their child closely enough, sexual abuse won’t be a problem. If their kids do bring it up, they shroud the problem with mystery. This isn’t comforting for a child–it’s confusing and scary. If a child does have a problem with sexual abuse, this mystery will likely make the child not want to tell, for fear of getting in trouble. Often, sexually abused children feel that nobody else in the world has this problem and that it was their fault. No parent wants their child to feel that way.
When kids are taught about sexual abuse in an appropriate way, it becomes something that empowers them instead of scaring them. Here are some important points for parents to discuss with their children:
- Sexual abuse is a sad problem that some kids have.
- Sexual abuse is forced or tricked touch of private body parts. Sexual abuse can also be looking at private body parts.
- Force is when someone is making you do something you don’t want to do or don’t understand
- Tricking is when someone is lying to you, fooling you, or calling something a game that isn’t really a game.
- Private body parts are the parts of your body covered by a swimming suit.
- If a child is sexually abused, it doesn’t mean they are bad.
- Kids are usually sexually abused by someone they know. However, sexual abuse is never ok, no matter who does it.
In addition, here are some important body safety rules that every child should know:
- It’s my body. I decide who I share my body with.
- The Uh-Oh Feeling lets me know if a touch is not ok. If I feel the Uh-Oh Feeling, I have the right to ask questions.
- If someone is touching me in a way I don’t like, I can say “No!” and get away from that person.
- I can tell someone I trust if someone is hurting me or touching me in a way I don’t like. If the person I tell doesn’t believe me, I can keep telling until somebody does believe me.
- It’s never my fault if someone sexually abuses me.
Here are a few things parents should know about sexual abuse:
- Since sexual abuse is done by someone the child knows 90% of the time, often the abuser takes the time to scout out what kind of relationship the child has with his/her parents. If the abuser notes a close relationship, it’s likely the abuser will avoid abusing that child. The abuser doesn’t want to get caught, so the abuser will find children that don’t seem to have open communication with their parents.
- Abusers tend to target children who appear to be depressed, lonely, or seeking attention. These children are more easily tricked because perhaps the abuser is offering attention the child isn’t receiving at home.
- Many (if not most) sexual abusers started out with a pornography addiction. Pornography perpetuates sexual abuse. Check out this website to find out how to help stop pornography
- A resource that should be used wisely is the U.S. Sex Offender Registry. You can look up your address to see if any sexual abusers are living near you. This is a valuable tool, but should be used carefully. Not all of the men and women registered are a real threat to you, so look closely at what their offense was and how long ago it happened. Use your best judgement, and if you see someone you know, don’t use it as a reason to be unkind to them. Everyone makes mistakes, and some mistakes are more public than others.
- 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be sexually abused before they are 18. It’s a bigger problem that most people realize.
There you go. Start talking about sexual abuse.
Update: I forgot to mention that my child-friendly info I used in this post comes from the Good-Touch/Bad-Touch curriculum. It is a program by Childhelp that is being replaced by a new program called Speak Up Be Safe, so they don’t have too much information about GTBT anymore on the Childhelp website. However, we continue to use use Good-Touch/Bad-Touch at my agency.