April is Child Abuse Prevention month and I’ve been reflecting on what it will take to change the cultural norm of silence that allows child sexual abuse to thrive in our communities. I’d like your help.
Body-Safety Rules Are Not Enough
Parenting Safe Children workshop participants tell me how empowered and secure they feel after teaching their kids body-safety rules. There are many benefits to parents and kids talking about body safety, but when we teach children body-safety rules without screening caregivers, we put the responsibility for safety on children and we rest on a false sense of security.
Parenting Safe Children – and the entire prevention community – recognizes that teaching children body-safety rules is important, but it’s not enough, which is exactly why body safety is only one component of the Parenting Safe Children workshop.
Getting Adults to Speak Up
The real work is about getting adults to speak up: It’s about getting up the nerve to invite another parent onto your prevention team; it’s initiating conversations about sexual abuse prevention and body safety with teachers, nannies, coaches, counselors, tutors, and program leaders; it’s about administrators calling out inappropriate behaviors; and it’s about listening to that weird feeling in your gut when you see a potentially concerning behavior.
Put simply, child sexual abuse prevention, first and foremost, is about adults having the courage to speak up.
There are lots of reasons people don’t speak-up. Some of you have told me it’s not always clear whether a particular situation warrants attention. Others have said they don’t believe it’s their “business” to speak up, much less intervene. Most commonly, however, you tell me you’re not sure what to say, or that you’re worried about not having ample proof and being wrong.
From Accusation to Conversation
No one wants to falsely accuse another person for anything, much less for child sexual abuse, but this isn’t about accusing someone; it’s about a conversation – about changing the norms such that we all are willing to talk openly about body safety and prevention policies in the interest of keeping children safe.
Child sexual abuse thrives in a culture of silence and opportunity. By not speaking up, we actually leave our children vulnerable. In fact, offenders count on our discomfort and silence. On the contrary, when adults are willing to openly talk about child sexual abuse and its prevention, opportunity for abuse is minimized. Imagine a summer camp where every parent inquired about child sexual abuse prevention policies and every counselor had gone through child abuse prevention training. Imagine a primary school where every parent asked the administration about its prevention policies and every parent talked with their child’s teacher about body safety. When adults speak up, we are building communities that are off limits to child sexual abusers.
I believe it will take nothing less than courageous conversations day in and day out to obliterate this culture of silence that allows our children to be 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, even with body-safety rules, to speak up in a difficult situation? It’s just not fair to ask children to do our work.
In honor of Child Abuse Prevention month and the survivors among us, let’s rededicate ourselves to speaking up and engaging in courageous conversations. I will support you by posting a daily courageous conversation tip on Facebook during the month of April and facilitating a robust discussion every day about when and how to speak up. Please join this discussion and share the tips with all of your friends. Start Now!
Together, we can end child sexual abuse in our community!