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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Averting Child Sexual Abuse

A Mom Reflects on Parenting and Prevention

As a data-driven professional my career has been spent measuring. I measure my sales team’s success against their targets. I measure a campaign’s success in the marketplace. We even measured poops and pees when our daughter was first born (doctor recommended) … although the line charts weren’t actually necessary. Most of what happens in our lives can easily be measured.

This past year I came to realize child sexual abuse prevention is one thing that cannot be measured – unless it’s averted.

When my children were born, I knew I did not want them to be a statistic. At least not one of the one’s that we see on the news each evening.

We stumbled across the Parenting Safe Children Workshop and signed up. Feather taught us how to prevent our girls from becoming one of the statistics. We took her teaching seriously. We always asked caregivers questions about child safety. We talked regularly with our girls about body safety, making the point they were in charge of their bodies and had to give permission for anyone to touch them. I even told my daughter’s doctors that they needed to ask her permission before examining her. Prior to dropping them off at any activity we went through the regular script, “Don’t go to the bathroom by yourself, don’t go anywhere alone with an adult, don’t go outside the building unless I’ve texted you and you can see my car.” The exact words changed and morphed over the years but the gist and the intent were the same.

We talked about secrets vs. surprises, being isolated or separated when in a group, and the list went on.

Fast forward to last fall: My two girls are now in their teens and they, along with another teammate, came to me and another mom to share “something wasn’t quite right at practice.”

They proceeded to share in detail what amounted to a situation where the coach was grooming the post-puberty girls. He had begun to try to get them alone and was becoming bolder in his actions. The girls on the team made a pact, to not tell the adults, but these three young women recognized everything their parents had been telling and teaching them was coming into play - and they needed help. 

After they told us, and asked for help, we quickly assured them they had done exactly the right thing and that the adults would handle it going forward. The girls never saw the coach again. The parents took action by contacting the owner who engaged a child abuse specialist, engaging a detective through law enforcement, and beginning counseling to ensure all stones had been uncovered.

How many of these cases happen every year – where a child, from the time they were toddlers, has been taught basic body-safety techniques and averts what could have been a very dire situation.

An educated parent and an empowered child can avert a child sexual abuser.

Read the daughter's post here:

A Teen Shares Her Story

Red Flags, But Can I Tell My Parents?

"If something does not feel right, you need to tell us…”

It was those words that rung in my ears when my coach grabbed my hips so close that I felt his breath on my shoulders. I knew what was happening was not right. I was at practice, my teammates were near, I was wearing a leotard and still I was being violated, and that was not ok. Red flags went up all around my body the first time I was touched. I knew after the second time I needed to go to my parents immediately. I remember sitting in a local restaurant telling my parents what happened to me, with one of my teammates. It was a talk that I never dreamed of myself having. I knew I could tell my parents anything and that I would be

I have always read stories of young girls getting molested or raped all over the nation never knowing that it could possibly be me. I remember the day it happened. I was very scared and worried of what could possibly happen next. I didn’t know what to do other than tell my parents, which I was taught since I was a toddler. This possibly could have saved me from the absolute worst.

In the aftermath, I spent three hours talking to a forensic interviewer and a detective. It was one of the most stressful environments for a 15-year-old. I knew I had to continue to push through and persevere, so that what I spoke could potentially save another child. Most nights I would come home crying. I was so emotionally exhausted from all of these events happening. It was and still is one of the hardest obstacles I have had to overcome.

Later on my mom told me about these classes that she had taken and that was how her and my dad had parented to ensure I knew about body safety. I want to thank Feather from the bottom of my heart for providing these classes and giving my parents the tools for awareness and prevention.

Advice for Other Teens
I have found throughout my case and many others that many of my friends are afraid to speak up in a certain situations. They hope by staying quiet the issue will fix itself. My one piece of advice is when something doesn’t feel right, even if it seems minuscule you have to speak up to a parent or trusted adult. To this day I still struggle thinking what my coach did to me was my fault and I think that is an issue that many girls face. They feel that other people’s actions are their fault, when it is not. During forensic interview, it was extremely hard emotionally for me to comprehend. Replaying the details of what happened to me to my interviewer was so hard, but it began to change my thinking of it - that it wasn’t my fault. It was my coach’s issue, not mine.

To start my healing I began volunteering at a child advocacy center. Through my volunteering it gave me the realization that many girls struggle with some form of abuse and it was not just me. I would tell anyone who has gone through something similar to me to get connected, get help, and don’t close yourself off. 

You can read the mom's post here:

Sunday, August 27, 2017

What's Your School Doing to Keep Your Child Safe from Sexual Abuse?

Talking with the Director
Just as you would talk with the director about curriculum, teachers, meals, and play safety, it's also important to ask about policies and practices that will help keep your kids safe from sexual abuse. Please don’t let your discomfort stand in the way of this important back-to-school conversation. Ask the director about background checks for all adults in the building: teachers, staff and even volunteers. Most sex offenders, however, are never caught so they don’t end up on the National Sex Offender Registry. This means it’s also important to ask about reference checking and interviewing. Ideally, the director includes interview questions about the appropriate and inappropriate touch of children.

Also ask about these policies:
1)  Adults spending time alone with children
2)  Appropriate / inappropriate touch of children by adults
3)  Appropriate / inappropriate touch of children by children
4)  Diapering, toileting, and changing clothes

Because one-third to one-half of all sexual abuse is committed by youth, it’s also important to learn how staff intervene in children’s sexual behaviors, both appropriate and concerning. Ask questions about how staff are trained to recognize age-appropriate and harmful sexual behaviors, and the protocol for responding to both.

Policies, however, aren’t enough, so you might ask how practices are monitored. As you are talking with the director, look for open and forthcoming communication.

Touring the SchoolAs you walk through the school, look at the physical layout and make sure there are no spaces where an adult could be alone with a child or a child could be alone with another child. All of the spaces where children study, play, and interact should be open and easily visible. Doors should have windows and bathrooms should not contain areas where children can be isolated. In preschool environments, pay close attention to diaper changing areas.

Meeting the TeacherIf you don’t have a chance to meet your child’s teacher before the first day of school, it's never too late to have a conversation with him or her about your child’s body-safety rules. For example:

“I wanted to tell you that we have been teaching our son, Jamie, some body-safety rules. Perhaps you have heard him exclaim that he is the boss of his body! I also wanted to let you know that our son does not keep secrets. While we will encourage him to follow your safety rules, we have also told him that that if anyone asks him to do something that breaks one of his body-safety rules, he has permission to say ‘No’ and tell us right away.” 
Training for Staff, Parents & ChildrenThe strongest child abuse prevention programs include regular education. At a minimum, look for annual staff training that covers myths and facts about sexual abuse, school policies, appropriate and inappropriate touch of children, and the warning signs that someone is abusing or being abused.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I Know Your Child is Adorable, but…

Posting photos of your children is a personal decision, but to make an informed choice, here is some information about what can happen to the photos you post on social media.

I will now be blunt:

Online child sexual abusers download, trade, Photoshop, and sell images of children. People who engage in child pornography have different kinds of “fantasies;” for instance, some may trade in fully-clothed images of innocent-looking children while others trade in naked photos of toddlers. I am being blunt because Parenting Safe Children is committed to telling the truth and then empowering adults to pro-actively keep children safe.

Contrary to popular belief, social media privacy settings have little bearing on how far and wide an image actually travels. Moreover, according to Pew Research, one-third of parents’ Facebook friends are “actual” friends.

If one of your family members or friends has a sexual behavior problem with children (remember: most child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows and trusts), the cute photo of your child in the tub, playing in the sprinkler, or at home in their scout uniform is simply downloaded – and stored or shared.

I know, you may be thinking, “none of my friends or family members have a sexual behavior problem with children.” Well, statistics just don’t bear this out. Most of us have someone in our social media network who, unbeknownst to us, has already or will sexually abuse a child.

Essentially, once a photo is posted on Facebook, Instagram or anywhere online, it lives on the Internet permanently, even if you later delete it.

You have a range of options:
  • Don’t post photos of your children on social media.
  • Only post photos of your children as long as they are fully clothed.
  • Post an occasional photo.
  • Post every photo you want whether your child is in a snow suit or their birthday suit.
Some parents have shared with me that they choose not to post any photos of their children on social media because their children have not given consent to do so, and actually can’t give consent because they do not understand the possible consequences.

Based on what I’ve shared, what’s best for your child? (Not for you.)

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Please share this post.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sexting - How to Keep Your Kids Safe

Online safetyOver the last year, I have received numerous questions about sexting - whether sexting is harmful, normal, legal, or a gateway to sexual activity. Here's a blog post about sexting so you can keep your kids (and yourself) safe.

What is sexting?
Sexting is the sending and receiving of nude, semi-nude, or even sexually explicit messages by phone, tablet, and via the Internet. It can be as seemingly innocent as, “I just got out of the shower” or “I can’t get enough of you” to a sexually provocative nude image or video.

Do youth really sext?
Studies vary, but an article in the American Journal of Sex Education, reported that 17% of adolescents engaged in sexting, while a study published in Pediatrics, reported 15%. 

Why do youth sext?
On the one hand, sexting is a form of sexual expression. Youth sext to explore their sexual feelings, show affection or flirt with someone they are dating or want to date. Some teens also see sexting as a form of “safe sex” because there is no risk of STD’s (sexually transmitted diseases) or pregnancy. On the other hand, sexting can also be the result of peer pressure, bullying and threats, or a regretful impulse under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There are also instances where adults are soliciting images from teens – i.e., child sexual abuse.

Is sexting harmful?
Sexting has social, emotional, behavioral, and even legal consequences. Adolescents can get caught up in the excitement of sexting and not realize the unintended consequences. Once the photo is sent, the sender has no control about what happens next and the image may be shared further by cell phone, social media, or via a website – and worse yet, used to bully or harm someone.

Believe it or not, sexted images can also end up in pornography portfolios. For instance, a teen receives a nude or semi-nude photo and someone in their own family, with ill intentions, takes and shares it. Or a teen sends a nude or semi-nude photo to another teen; someone in the second teen’s family is involved in child porn and takes the image off of the teen’s phone; the photo is put into an online sharing program and is accessed and further shared by other child pornographers. This isn’t just hypothetical. This happens.

Does sexting lead to sexual activity?
More research is needed, but according to a study published in the July 2014 issue of Pediatrics (a publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics),middle school students who send or receive sexts were found to be more likely to be sexually active.
Is sexting illegal?
Yes, sexting is illegal. It’s considered child pornography and you and your children need to know this. Do not store or send sexually explicit or even suggestive photos of yourself, or anyone else.

Actual laws vary by state, but there have been cases of teens charged of sexting under child pornography laws and put on the sex offender list. If the photo goes across state lines, there could be a felony charge.

How can I prevent my child form sexting?
The minute your child starts using a smart phone, tablet, or computer, it’s time to talk about body-safety rules around safe phone use. Talk with your children about why it's not safe to take pictures of private parts (their own or others). Also talk about why it's not safe to look at pictures of people touching private parts. Let children know they can and should come tell you if they ever receive or see an image with private parts - and let them know that you won't be angry.
You can help keep your tweens and teens safe by talking proactively about body safety and sexting, and then playing what-if games. These games encourage youth to apply critical thinking and problem solving skills to potentially unsafe situations. Consider these “what if” scenarios for teens about sexting:
  • You buy a new lacy bra, take a photo of yourself wearing the bra and send it to a friend. Is this sexting?
  • You put on your new boxers, and you send the photo to the person you’re dating? Is this sexting? What might the consequences be?
  • You take a photo of yourself with no shirt on and send it to a friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Is this sexting? What might happen to this image once you click “send?”
  • You send a message to someone you have the hots for and say, “I want to be naked with you.” If and how could this be something you come to regret?
Of course, always let children and teens know you’ll be there for them, no matter what.

What if I discover that my child/teen has been sexted?
If your child/teen receives a nude photo on their phone, tablet, or computer, tell your child/teen not to respond and to delete the photo right away. Calmly talk with your child/teen and be as supportive as possible. Learn as much as you can about the situation: Find out if there have been other images, if you child/teen forwarded any of them, and what your child thinks about the possible motive. Discuss the emotional and legal impact, and remind your child/teen that you love them and are always there for them. If you are concerned about your child’s/teen's psychological well-being, get some help form a therapist.

What if I discover that my child/teen is sexting?
We all want to believe it's not our child/teen who's doing the texting, but sometimes it is. Should you discover that your child/teen is the one sexting, take a very deep breath and explore the following:

  • Discuss why your teen is sexting - e.g., is it about flirting or peer pressure?
  • Explore the emotional and legal consequences - i.e., sexting is illegal and can cause people to feel really lousy about themselves.
  • Discuss who they are sexting with, and how far the image(s) may have traveled.
  • Discuss whether your child is viewing porn as well.
  • Create a safety plan and get professional help as needed.
Should I contact the police?
This is a tricky matter because in alerting the police you may be incriminating your child or another child. If the photo comes from an unknown source, an adult or an older child – or if there are repetitive sexts as a form of bullying, then yes, take the images to the police. If it’s teen-on-teen sexting, you might prefer to talk with their parents. Alternately, you can call the CyberTipLine at 800-843-5678.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Is Your Child’s School Teaching Internet Safety?

You’ve heard me talk a lot about inviting schools onto your prevention team – that is, having conversations with principals, teachers, and other school personnel about body safety and keeping your children safe from child sexual abuse while in their care. 

Well, here’s another question you might ask, “What are you doing to teach children Internet safety?” Just like a school might teach children how to discern between news and fake news, schools should also be teaching kids about legal and illegal online contact, including sexting.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Please share this post.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Keeping Kids Safe Online – 10 Best Practices

Parenting Safe ChildrenWhile there are unique safety challenges specific to each form of technology, service, and app, here are ten general practices to support online safety.

  1. Keep your computer or tablet in a high-traffic area.
  2. Limit the sites your kids are allowed to visit, and for how long.
  3. Spend time with your children online and invite them to show you sites and activities they enjoy, including chat rooms and social networking.
  4. Don’t allow children to take their phones and tablets into the bedroom overnight.
  5. Resist the urge to purchase external web cams.
  6. Get to know your children’s online friends just as you would their in-person friends.
  7. Let children know that they have to “friend” you as a condition of using social media.
  8. Teach children not to share personal information (birth date, phone #, address, passwords)
  9. Ask your child to a sign “Safe Use” agreement – and don’t hesitate to revoke privileges if the “Safe Use” agreement is broken.
  10. Talk with other parents about your online safety practices and setting limits when kids are using devices together on play dates. 
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Please share this post.