Back to Site

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Body-Safety Rules Are NOT Enough

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.

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. 

Courageous Conversations Tip #6Getting 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.
 

Courageous Conversations
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! 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Build Your Prevention Team - the Easy Way


Parenting Safe Children
"If I was handed this card before I abused,
I'd probably walk right away."
Abuser in Treatment
Parent's are doing a great job teaching their children body-safety rules (yay!), but as I've said before, body-safety rules alone are not enough.

Here’s why: First, when you rely solely on your child to speak up to an abuser or potential abuser, you’re putting the burden of responsibility on your children for keeping themselves safe, when it’s actually a parent’s responsibility. Second, when you have the courage to talk with a substitute caregiver (teacher, coach, nanny, tutor, etc.), you’re letting them know that you are paying attention. And based on my conversations with child sexual abusers, a substitute caregiver, who is a sexual abuser, is less inclined to groom a child whose parent says, "May I tell you about my child's body-safety rules?" 

I want to make it easier for you to have these conversations and urge everyone to spend $10 to buy a set of 25 Conversation-Starter Cards. The front of the card offers language for starting a conversation and the back of the card offers a couple of facts about child sexual abuse. Carry the cards in your purse, car, pocket, of fold a couple and put them in your wallet, and share them to get a conversation off the ground.

In the words of an abuser in treatment:
“If I was handed this card before I abused, I’d probably walk right away.”
In the words of two PSC moms:
“We had one of the cards sitting on the counter when we had a new babysitter over and it led us into a great conversation about our body-safety practices.”
“This card makes it easier to start conversations and in two weeks I’ve gone from having 30% of my caregivers on our prevention team to 50%!”

3 Tips for Talking with Teens About Consent

consentWith teens, you can have deeper conversations about consent. You can use more abstract terms like “consent” and “exploitation,” and guidelines such as “Trust your intuition” and “Set sexual boundaries.”

1.  Teen Body-Safety Rules
Talk with teens about these three body-safety rules, and explore examples of coercion, manipulation, and sexting.
  • No one has the right to touch the private areas of your body without your permission. No one has the right to force, coerce, threaten, or manipulate you into engaging in any type of sexual activity.
  • You don’t have the right to touch someone else’s private areas of their body without that person’s permission. And it’s never acceptable to force, coerce, bribe, threaten, or manipulate another person into any type of sexual activity. With teens, it’s also important to discuss the legal ramifications of sexually assaultive behaviors. 
  • It’s a crime for any person (child, teen or adult) to take photos or videos of your naked body. If any person ever tries to take a photo of your private parts or naked body, refuse and tell a parent or trusted adult. Also be sure that your child knows that “sexting” – sending nude photos by cell phone – is illegal.
2.  Invite teens to think critically about consent with “What-if questions.
  • What if you consent to kiss someone and as you’re making out the person you’re with starts unbuttoning your shirt or pants?
  • What if someone you don’t know very well wants to take photos of your body, saying you could become a famous model?
  • What if you’re spending the night at a friend’s house and the friend’s older sibling or father walks around naked? What would you say or do?
  • What if someone you’re interested in starts sexting?
  • What if you are aroused and excited, and the person you’re with says, “Stop.” How will you manage your excitement (and disappointment)?
3.  Seize teachable moments to have even more conversations about consent.
For instance, the Victoria Secrets catalog comes in the mail, with photos of women in sexy lingerie on the front cover. Or, you’re watching a movie and the female clearly does not want to be kissed, but it looks like it’s going to happen anyway.

Whether you have a son or daughter, don’t miss these moments. If it’s hard to imagine having these daunting conversations, practice with your co-parent or a close friend.

How to Talk with Children About Consent


Learning about boundaries and consent is a process that takes place over many years. Here are examples of conversations you can have with your children at different ages. I’ve also included examples of how you can model consent as well.

Infant: You’re sitting with a group of friends and family who are adoring your infant and you know that everyone in the room wants to hold your precious baby. You get to say “No.” For example, “I know you’re eager to hold my baby, but I’m still bonding and I’m not comfortable passing her/him around yet. Thanks for understanding.”

Toddler: “I’m washing your vulva now. Your vulva is your private part. There are only three people who are allowed to touch your vulva: You; Me, if I’m helping you clean it but you can say NO if you want to clean your vulva yourself; and the doctor, but only if I’m there.”

When a 2-year-old girls starts to learn body-safety rules, the cornerstone of consent, she might say, “My vagina is mine!” This is a powerful statement and puts into motion the building blocks for a young woman, who might say, “I’m not ready to have sex with you.” Or, “I don’t want to you to touch me like that.”

Young Child: Now consider two children at the playground and one takes a toy from another. This is a great teachable moment about consent. You might say, “Darius, did you ask Gracie if you could use her shovel? Remember, you have to ask first and she has the right to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’

Here is how you can tell if a 5-year-old-boy is starting to learn about consent: “Mom, Gracie won’t let me play with her shovel?” “Well, Darius, you have to ask Gracie because it’s her shovel. What could you say to her?” Assuming you don’t stop teaching about consent in the playground, your parenting lessons will produce the young man who is able to say, “May I kiss you?”

Tween: Ivan and his dad are roughhousing, and Mom hears Ivan say, “Stop,” but the roughhousing continues and Mom also hears Ivan laughing a bit. This is a great opportunity for Mom to say, “Hold up guys. I just heard Ivan say stop, but you’re still wrestling. Remember that we’re a family that values consent. Ivan do you want to keep wrestling? Is there anything in particular you want your dad to stop doing?”

Here’s what a tween might say at this point, at least one who has consistently been taught about consent: “I want to keep wrestling, but I don’t like it when you poke my sides.”

Parents: Parents can model and reinforce consent all the time. Let’s say Dad’s mother comes over and asks Gracie for a hug. Dad can say to his mom, “I know you love to hug Gracie, but we’re teaching her that she gets to choose if and when she gives and receive hugs, so she knows that if she’s ever uncomfortable with touch from anyone, she has our permission to refuse.”

Here’s what a child might say in this situation if they’ve consistently been taught and supported around consent, “Maybe later, Grandma, I don’t feel like it right now.”

Some children are super affectionate and run up to other people to give hugs. These kids also need to be coached to ask first. “Liam, I know you love to give hugs, but it’s important to ask first before you touch someone else because each person is the boss of their own body. How might you ask Levi’s permission?”


Here’s another example of a parent modeling consent. Let’s say you see your child’s coach pat your child on the buttocks, while uttering, “great job!” This is your moment, parents. After practice you might say, “I noticed that you patted my son on his buttock. We are teaching our son about the importance of consent around physical touch and I would appreciate it if you would not do that.” If all parents could do this, we’d welcome a sea change in our culture.