I have a very vivid memory from my childhood: my mother sitting on the couch, tears running down her cheeks. She wasn’t crying about a tragic event or a sad movie. She was crying at—get this—a McDonald’s commercial. My dad and I used to make fun of her mercilessly for crying at the very thought of something bad happening. Now I feel guilty, because I realize (after the birth of my own daughter) that the tears were beyond her control: motherhood did it to her.
Parenthood changes people. Our children bring us more joy than we ever could have imagined . . . and they also bring us fear we never knew. It feels like our hearts are running around outside our bodies, loose from our chests and unprotected. Every sad story is a reminder that we can’t always protect our precious little ones. It’s an awful, awful feeling. That feeling has made me dread writing this blog post.
The horrible truth is that we can’t always protect our children. There are things that are beyond our control, things that we could never predict. So we arm ourselves with information and keep our eyes wide open, hoping our awareness and preparedness will keep our children from becoming a statistic.
Because the statistics are not good. According to Darkness to Light, a quarter of all girls and a sixth of all boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. A staggering 90% of the victims know and trust their abuser. Most children never report the abuse.
How can we protect our children?
As parents, we have a duty to protect our kids, because they can’t protect themselves. While it is important to teach kids how to stay safe, they’re children—imagine how difficult it is for a child to say “no” to someone they trust, like a parent, family friend, teacher, coach or member of the clergy. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), there are a lot of steps you can take to protect your kids:
Talk with them about sexuality and sexual abuse in age-appropriate terms.
- Talking openly teaches your kids they can ask you anything, anytime they have questions.
- Don’t have one big talk about sexuality—create an ongoing dialogue.
- Teach your kids the correct names for their body parts, so they have the language to express concerns about them.
- Teach them that some body parts are private, and others should not touch or look at those parts unless they need to provide care.
- Tell your children that if someone tries to touch those private parts OR an adult wants them to touch their own private parts . . . to tell you or another trusted adult right away.
- Let your kids know it’s okay to say “no” if they are uncomfortable with the way someone touches them, and to tell you or another trusted adult right away.
- Abusers often tell a child that the abuse is a “secret.” If you talk openly with your kids, you teach them it’s okay to talk about sexuality. Tell them they will never get in trouble if they tell you this kind of secret.
Be involved in your child’s life.
- Learn about your child’s activities, the people they go to school with or play with. Get to know other parents and coaches.
- Ask your kids what they did during the day.
- Know the other people your kids might talk to. Sometimes kids don’t feel like they can talk to their parents, but they might feel comfortable talking to other family members or friends.
- Spend time with your child.
- Let them know you are always available to talk to, and you’ll never get mad at them for talking about something that makes them uncomfortable.
How can we help other children?
Sadly, not every child has a loving family—and even those who do might not be able to talk to their parents. There are many charities working nation- and world-wide to prevent and end child abuse, and to help victims heal. Here are three great organizations:
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization and was named one of “America’s 100 Best Charities” by Worth magazine. They maintain a national sexual abuse hotline and work to educate people about all types of sexual abuse.
Stop the Silence calls child sexual abuse “a silent epidemic” because so few children talk about it. They aim to expose child sexual abuse and to help victims heal.
The NCPTC works to end child abuse through awareness, prevention, and advocacy. NCPTC staff have trained more than 40,000 child protection professionals in all 50 states and 17 countries.
Although it seems as though there are “bad guys” around every corner, waiting to hurt our children, the good news is this: there are now resources for victims as well as parents, educators, churches and anyone who works with children. In years past, there was no help, and even talking about sexual abuse was taboo. We’re taking those hurdles away and shining a brighter light on such an important issue. Please continue the conversation with your family.
–Sara Olsher, Marketing Manager