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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Winning Gold

I find it unacceptable that USA Gymnastics, the sole national governing body for gymnastics in the US with 3,000 gyms, regularly fails to report allegations of child sexual abuse to authorities. This is yet another example of reckless policy making, individual irresponsibility, and institutional failure on behalf of children.

Everything we know about child sexual abuse prevention indicates that we must take every report of abuse or suspected abuse seriously, no matter whether it’s first, second or third hand. The average age a person discloses child sexual abuse is 40, following decades of shame and fear. By then, how many other children have been harmed by the child sexual abuser?
 

To add insult to injury, USA Gymnastics, like many youth-serving organizations and schools, only conducts criminal background checks. Most people who sexually abuse children are never caught, much less convicted, so background checks are largely meaningless unless conducted as part of a three-pronged strategy that also includes: a) Interview questions about boundaries with children and b) Reference checks.

If the leaders of sports organizations reject best practices and ignore their own moral compass, where does that leave children?

We can and must do better on behalf of all children involved in every level of athletics, from local recreation programs, to school teams, to elite competition. Sexual abuse is not more prominent in one sport over another. All children are vulnerable, but fortunately, there are many small and large actions parents can take to put children first, before the all-consuming power of sports, heroes, and winning.

Here’s exactly what you can do now:

1. Talk with your children about body safety.


Regularly talk with kids about body safety. With all the responsibilities of parenting, it can be tough to continually reinforce body-safety rules, yet it’s important to keep those conversations alive—e.g., “No one is allowed to touch the private areas of your body or ask you to touch theirs. If anyone tries to or does touch your private parts, tell a trusted adult.”
Children don’t always tell when they are being abused because they may have been threatened and/or may fear losing a person (including a coach) they love or admire, or in sports, losing the opportunity to compete.


So remind them, “It’s never too late to tell. I will not be mad at you. I will always love you, and will make sure you get to safely play the sport you love.”
 

For teen athletes, you would modify the body-safety rule and have a meaningful conversation about consent. “Remember that consent is always a ‘must.’ This means that no one is allowed to touch the private areas of your body without your permission (and visa-versa) and no one has the right to force, coerce, bribe threaten, or manipulate you. It is also never acceptable for an older person in a position of trust or authority, like a coach, to be involved with you or any teen in a sexual way.”

Also talk with your children and teens about texting, emailing and phoning coaches and other adult mentors. Parents or another adult should always be copied on texts and emails. Youth should not be communicating by phone privately with coaches or other adults.

2.  Be vigilant about talking with coaches and administrators. 


Unfortunately, in the quest for power, wins and medals, adults may debase children. If you enroll your child in a program affiliated with a “hero,” or in a program which seeks the spotlight and winning at any cost, screen and screen again. Ask to read the organization’s child sexual abuse prevention policies, ask how the policies translate to practices, and find out how sexual abuse prevention policies and practices are monitored. You have a right to ask, “Has there ever been a concern about anyone in your organization behaving inappropriately with child? If so, how did you handle it?”
 

Ask about background checks and make sure that administrators are conducting background checks and also checking references and asking interview questions about boundaries with children. Lastly, be sure to ask about policies for adults being alone with children because an adult should never be alone with a child – not in the locker-room, field, gym, car, hotel, or at a competition.
 

3.  Be wary of hero worship. 

We cannot honor a person’s stature, position, or notoriety at the expense of children's safety. Think about your own attitudes toward the leaders in organizations which care for your child, and don’t be intimidated about asking hard questions. In fact, the more power the person has, the tougher you may have to be to keep your child safe. You have a right to ask any question and to see both policies and staff training materials.
 

4.  You don’t need proof to protect a child. 

While everyone has a right to due process, do not hesitate to speak up if you see concerning behaviors. Learn the warning signs that someone might be behaving inappropriately with a child—and if you see something or suspect something, tell the organization’s leader, call social services, and/or report it to the police. If you don’t, you are complicit and can be held liable. If you are scared or nervous to speak up, talk with another parent first or call Parenting Safe Children for a consultation.

If you don’t get an immediate and satisfactory response, you may be dealing with an organization or team that puts winning before safety, in which case, keep reporting up the chain and call the police if you have not already done so. Feel free to download for free this Parenting Safe Children resource: Behaviors to Watch Out for When Adults Are with Children 

5.  Own the responsibility. 

We all, as individuals and members of our communities, share responsibility for keeping children safe. Make sure the volunteers, staff, and administrators who interact with your children in school and youth programs have been trained to honor and uphold the body safety of all children.

If you would like some additional support on how to invite your child’s coach and youth sports program onto your prevention team, please see the Parenting Safe Children video: Talking with a Sports Coach about Body Safety

For more information about the source investigative reporting on USA Gymnastics, see A blind eye to sex abuse: How USA Gymnastics failed to report cases: 
 

Back to School 2016



This is your annual reminder to invite your day care or school personnel onto your prevention team by discussing your children’s body-safety rules with teachers, paraprofessionals, administration, and classroom volunteers. 

Download the free Parenting Safe Children Back-to-School Screening Packet and have a conversation with your day care or school staff.

The packet is also useful for parents with children in daycare, but be sure to include questions about policies around diaper and clothes changing. Make sure there are no opportunities for a staff member to be alone with a child. In-home daycare providers should also have specific policies about how non-staff family members interact with children. 
   
Policies alone are not enough, however, so also ask how practices are monitored. As you are talking with the director, look for open and forthcoming communication. Every school and day care facility has a responsibility to have a policy manual, but many still do not. If your school or day care does not have specific policies and monitoring in place, ask about plans to do so and then make whatever decision you feel good making on behalf of your child, based on the response.

To sign up for a Parenting Safe Children Workshop, visit parentingsafechildren.com

Monday, June 6, 2016

Bathroom Panic

I’ve been asked many questions about transgender men and women using bathrooms and parental concerns about sexual abuse. The questions themselves sometime imply that transgender people are more likely to abuse and this reminds me of a similar myth that is still perpetuated about Gay men.

Fact Check: Gender identity and same sexual orientation are not predictors of child sexual abuse. The vast majority of child sexual abusers are heterosexual males.

North Carolina’s House Bill 2 and similar legislation ban people from using public bathrooms that do not correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate. Proponents of such legislation argue that it’s important because a transgender person, or someone posing as transgender, might otherwise enter a women’s restroom and attack a young girl.

Fact Check: There are hundreds of nondiscrimination measures in place across the United States, and according to law enforcement officials, there has not been a surge in bathroom victimizations.

Unbeknownst, you and your children have been sharing public bathrooms with transgender men and women long before North Carolina passed House Bill 2 and well before Target announced a policy allowing transgender people to use the restroom of their choice. We didn’t worry it about it then and we shouldn’t worry now.

Fact Check: Child sexual abuse typically takes place in homes, youth organizations, schools, camps, and places of faith – not typically in public bathrooms.

“Stranger danger” is among a parent’s worst fear and such occurrences garner a great deal of media attention because they are brazen and sometimes horrific, but in day-to-day reality, people who sexually abuse children typically “groom” children and teens over days, weeks, and months. The abuser is not just alone with the child, but has authority over the child and takes advantage of the child’s trust.

Fact Check: 90-93% of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows and trusts, who is already in their life – not by strangers.


Parenting Safe Children
Test Your Knowledge
This statistic may not feel entirely reassuring because it means that 7-10% of abuse is committed by someone the child does not know, but this is not necessarily in a bathroom.

Female survivors are speaking up as well and a few have shared in the press that it would be traumatic to find a person with male genitals in the bathroom. My heart goes out to every survivor healing from sexual assault. It may be helpful to know that most gender neutral bathrooms, particularly at this point, are single-stall bathrooms – often labeled “Family Restroom” –  so anyone using that bathroom is alone anyway.

In the absence of facts, I believe that people are contributing to a climate of discrimination that hurts transgender people – and does nothing to keep children safe from sexual abuse. In fact, discrimination not only hurts the group whom it targets, but in this case it’s a dangerous distraction. I urge people to redirect their focus to meaningful ways of keeping children safe.

  1. Educate yourself about grooming behaviors so you can spot behaviors of concern.
  2. Teach children the difference between secrets and surprises. A secret is something that someone asks you “never” to tell and makes you feel uncomfortable. A surprise is something that makes you feel good and will come out into the open like a gift or a party.
  3. Maintain a “No secrets” policy in your home. Let your kids know that you don’t have secrets, only surprises. Instead of saying, “Don’t tell Mom I let you stay up tonight or we’ll both get into trouble,” you might say, "I'll let you stay up late tonight and if Mom and I disagree about bedtime, we'll work it out. It's not your problem."
    Parenting Safe Children
  4. Discuss boundaries around touch with all of your child’s caregivers, including family members, coaches, teachers, and faith leaders, and let caregivers know that your child does not keep secrets and has permission to tell you everything.
  5. Let adults know that your child has permission to say “No” if he or she ever feels unsafe.
Parenting Safe Children stands in unison with 250 national, state and local organizations, that work to prevent child sexual abuse or work with sexual assault and domestic violence survivors, in supporting equal bathroom access for transgender people.

Three Questions Every Parent Should Ask This Summer!

Parenting Safe ChildrenIt’s never too late to talk with your camp or summer program director about child sexual abuse prevention. Here are the three must-ask questions:

1.  Beyond background checks, what is the screening process for new hires?


Look for camps & programs that have a three-part staff interview process:  Background checks, personal interviews, and reference checks. Background checks alone are not enough because most people who sexually abuse children are never legally identified and won’t come up on a background check. Interviews should include questions about counselors’ boundaries with children and a discussion of the camp’s zero tolerance of sexual abuse. The reference check might include a question about how the candidate upholds boundaries with children.

2.  What kind of child sexual abuse prevention training do you offer staff and volunteers?


Camps typically provide orientation for staff. Find out if and how the orientation includes training about child sexual abuse prevention. The training should dispel common myths about sexual abuse, introduce body-safety policies, cover how sexual abusers groom children, and identify warning signs that someone is abusing or being abused.


3. What specific policies are in place to minimize the risk of child sexual abuse at your camp? 


Make sure there is a rule for adults spending time alone with children (two adults to one child); appropriate and inappropriate touch of children by adults – and by other children. If your child is going to a sleep-away camp, also ask about showering policies and sleeping arrangements.

Up to 50 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by youth, so it’s important to discuss policies for older kids spending time with younger kids. Just as a counselor should never be alone with a child, an older camper should not be spending time one-on-one with a younger camper either.

PSC Conversation-Starter Cards


If you’re not sure how to start a safety conversation and invite someone onto your prevention team, check out the Parenting Safe Children Conversation-Starter Cards

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Prevention or Discrimination?


http://images.mydoorsign.com/img/lg/S/all-gender-restroom-toilet-sign-se-6055.png

 


I’ve been asked a lot of questions lately about transgender men and women using bathrooms and parental concerns about sexual abuse. 

North Carolina’s House Bill 2 law and similar legislation ban people from using public bathrooms that do not correspond with their biological sex. Proponents of such legislation argue that it’s important because men might otherwise enter women’s restrooms and attack young girls.


Well, I’ve got news for you: You have been sharing public bathrooms with transgender men and women long before North Carolina passed House Bill 2 and well before Target announced a policy allowing transgender people to use the restroom of their choice. We didn’t worry then and we shouldn’t worry now – if people simply embrace fact over myth, acceptance over fear, and follow basic Parenting Safe Children safety rules.


First the facts:
  • There are hundreds of nondiscrimination measures in place across the United States, and according to law enforcement officials, there has not been a surge in bathroom victimizations. Here’s why:
  • 90% of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows and trusts, who is already in their life – not by strangers.
  • Child sexual abuse takes place in homes, youth organizations, schools, camps, places of faith – not typically in retail or large public bathrooms.
  • People who sexually abuse children typically “groom” children and teens over days, weeks, and months. The abuser is not just alone with the child, but has authority over the child and takes advantage of the child’s trust.
Yes, it’s important to teach children safety rules about using public bathrooms, just like you would educate your child about safe practices for walking home from school. For instance, teach your child to use public bathrooms in groups of two or more and to let an adult know when separating from a larger group to use the restroom. If it’s a younger child, you’ll either be accompanying him or her, or standing outside the door.

In the absence of facts, I believe that people are contributing to a climate of discrimination that hurts transgender people – and does nothing to keep children safe from sexual abuse. In fact, discrimination not only hurts the group whom it targets, but in this case it’s a dangerous distraction. I urge people to redirect their focus to meaningful ways of keeping children safe.

  1. Educate yourself about grooming behaviors so you can spot behaviors of concern.
  2. Teach children the difference between secrets and surprises. A secret is something that someone asks you “never” to tell and makes you feel uncomfortable. A surprise is something that makes you feel good and will come out into the open like a gift or a party.
  3. Maintain a “No secrets” policy in your home. Let your kids know that you don’t have secrets, only surprises. Instead of saying, “Don’t tell Mom I let you stay up tonight or we’ll both get into trouble,” you might say, "I'll let you stay up late tonight and if Mom and I disagree about bedtime, we'll work it out. It's not your problem."
  4. Discuss boundaries around touch with all of your child’s caregivers, including family members, coaches, teachers, and faith leaders. Let each person know that your child does not keep secrets and has permission to tell you everything.
  5.  Let adults know that your child has permission to say, "No" if he or she ever feels unsafe.
Parenting Safe Children proudly stands in unison with 250 national, state and local organizations, that work with sexual assault and domestic violence survivors, in supporting equal bathroom access for transgender people.

Test your Knowledge about Child Sexual Abuse.


Courageous Conversations & Tips Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Month


April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Please join me in countering our culture of silence about child sexual abuse by speaking up and having Courageous Conversations.

Child sexual abuse thrives in a culture of silence and opportunity, and by not speaking up, we leave children vulnerable. In fact, offenders have told me outright that they count on our discomfort and silence. On the contrary, when adults are willing to talk openly with caregivers about child sexual abuse and body-safety rules, opportunity for abuse is minimized.

If we are going to stop child sexual abuse, we must be willing to have Courageous Conversations, day in and day out. Only then can we prevent children from being sexually exploited, usually by someone the child knows and trusts. If adults are uncomfortable talking to caregivers about body safety, how can we possibly expect a child to speak up in a difficult situation? It’s just not fair to ask children to do our work.

A strong child sexual abuse prevention program, like Parenting Safe Children, places responsibility for child safety in the hands of adults. Yes, we need to teach children how to say “No” to unwanted touch, but its only we adults who can transform our culture into one with a zero tolerance for child sexual abuse.

Every day this month, I am posting a Courageous Conversation tip on Facebook. Many of you ask me for language to help you get the conversation started, so I am including sample language as well. Go to Facebook now and please also share my posts with everyone you know so we can build communities – far and wide – that are off limits to child sexual abuse.
 
Prevention works – and together, we can keep children safe from sexual abuse.




PSC Launches Parenting Safe Children ONLINE Workshop


I am thrilled to announce the Parenting Safe Children Online Workshop, so parents and families across the United States and overseas have access to my popular program for raising children with strong body pride and for building communities that are off limits to child sexual abuse.

The New Online Workshop
Based on the Parenting Safe Children Workshop, which I’ve delivered live to thousands of parents, the Parenting Safe Children Online Workshop, focuses on these essential parenting skills:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fS-kZANiKgY&feature=youtu.be
  1. Teaching children about boundaries, privacy, and saying “No” to unwanted touch.
  2. Learning the difference between age-appropriate sexual behavior and problematic sexual behavior.Identifying when a child, teen or adult may be harming a child sexually.
  3. Teaching children about body pride through body-safety rules, teachable moments, and “What-If” games.
  4. Asking daycare, schools, youth organizations, and places of faith about key policies for keeping children safe from sexual abuse.
  5. Building confidence for talking about body safety with caregivers: Day care providers, teachers, babysitters, coaches, religious leaders, and members of your own family.
Pricing and Content
For an introductory $39.99, anyone outside of the Denver metro area can gain instant access to the Parenting Safe Children curriculum, which includes:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_XaP5Yg-DQ&feature=youtu.be
  • Three modules of learning from Parenting Safe Children founder and national child sexual abuse prevention expert, Feather Berkower, divided into short segments for easy access and retention.
  • Transformative videos, reading materials, and activities, available any time, day or night.
  • Ten-page download to support parents in applying body-safety concepts in their home and community.
Call to Action
With the Parenting Safe Children Online Workshop, we can reach parents, loved ones, and caregivers throughout the United States, and around the world like never before. This is a great day for parents and kids, so please join me in my mission of keeping kids safe by

  1. Registering today for the Parenting Safe Children Online Workshop, to which you’ll have 60-day access (from the date of purchase).
  2. Sharing this blog post and link with your friends and family so they can become part of your prevention team.
Accessing the course is easy:
  • Register at http://parentingsafechildren.com/index.php/online-workshop
  • Pay via PayPal or a credit card – Be sure to enter your discount code OFFLIMITS on this screen to get the course for $39.99 (regularly $44.99).
  • Begin the workshop, which you have 60 days to complete, from the date of purchase.

Thank you for all you do to keep children safe from sexual abuse!