Many of us have heard the term “sexual assault”. Over the past thirty years, the general public has become more aware of and responsive to sexual assault victims and victim services. The initial and exponential growth resulted from Oprah’s unprecedented national television exposure. In 1994, the US Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA offers a series of programs and services; some of which include funding for domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers, enacting rape shield laws protecting the identity and reputation of victims, and funding for a variety of community prevention services. When VAWA’s original authorization expired, it took two years of advocacy to achieve reauthorization by the US Congress in 2013.
As parents, we feel a normal, natural urge to protect or shield our children from knowing that bad people exist or that this world isn’t always a safe or friendly place. Sometimes, we have to remind ourselves that talking to our children about predators and developing a safety plan is not paranoia, it is prevention through preparedness.
Before we can talk about protecting our children, we must be clear on the facts of sexual assault.
1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by the time they are 16 years old.
Nearly 1 in 4 women have experienced at least one physical assault by a partner during adulthood.
1 in 6 women have experienced an attempted or completed rape at some point as an adult.
Less than 10 % of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by strangers.
Between 30 to 40 percent of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by family members.
60% of child victims are abused by people the family knows and trusts.
1 in 5 children are solicited for sex on the internet.
The Centers for Disease Control has found a correlation between bullying and perpetration of sexual violence.
Sexual assault is the most underreported crime. An estimated 68% of rapes go unreported.
Only 2 out of every 100 perpetrators who are reported will serve time in jail.
These statistics might seem grim but they would be much worse without VAWA and various Anti-violence programs and organizations throughout Pennsylvania, like Alle-Kiski HOPE Center. Despite all of the legal progress we’ve made, the burden of responsibility remains with us as parents, neighbors, and individual members of the community. There is no such thing as “too much” with regard to education, prevention, and proactivity. Likewise, there can never be “too many” tips and strategies for mindful, vigilant parenting.
Tips and Strategies for Mindful, Vigilant Parenting
Teach your children the difference between a secret and a surprise. Surprises are good; they are a fun and healthy part of life. But it is NEVER okay to ask a child to keep a secret. Secrets are used by predators to keep children silent.
Teach all children (of all ages) the correct terms for their body parts and genitalia. This will disarm and unnerve predators who like to use cutesy pet names for “private parts.” If a child says, “that’s my penis or that’s my vagina, you’re not supposed to touch me there,” predators will know that this child has been educated by vigilant parents. Children who are kept naïve about their bodies make easier targets.
Teach your children the difference between “good touch” and “bad touch.” Think about what a bathing suit covers. Tell your children that nobody is to touch them on the parts of their body covered by a bathing suit except when being bathed, dressed, or examined by a doctor.
Let them know that good touch (like tickling, being bathed or dressed) can turn into bad touch.
Do not give family members or people you know a pass or waiver. Let your children know to reach out and tell you even when the person “bad-touching” their body is known or loved.
Use safety as a context for starting a discussion. Ease into it from a fire safety plan or from learning how to dial 911. Tell your children that like stealing or breaking into someone’s home, there are bad people who try to do bad touching. Do not talk about molestation or sexual assault as a disease or sickness. This might lead children to feel sorry for the predator or think it’s no big deal like having a cold.
Do not force your children to hug or kiss relatives or friends when they don’t want to. Doing so will teach them that they have no choice and no control over their bodies.
Get into the habit of having your children share their day with you. Ask questions.
Role-play with your children. Have them practice saying “NO” loud and with authority. Act out different scenarios with different categories of people as the predator like the neighbor, school janitor or crossing guard. Ask your child, “what do you say when the neighbor touches you in a bad way? Who should you tell?” After a few of these scenarios, you might want to say something like, “this time I’ll be the predator.” You will likely see your child pause and think. Let them know that doctors, coaches, priests, police officers and older siblings can engage in bad touching as well.
Let your neighbors, teachers, caregivers, daycare workers, and boyfriends know who they are. Know the parents of your children’s friends. If your child is spending the night at a friend’s house, ask to visit the home in which your child might be staying. Find a daycare that will allow you to pop in and observe your child’s interactions. There are many websites and even phone apps where it is free to check sex offender registries. There are also some low cost options for checking criminal backgrounds.
Pay close attention to adults favoring your child or asking to spend a lot of time with your child. Again, this is not paranoia, this is caution and mindfulness. Keep your eyes open and trust your gut instincts.
If you suspect a child is being sexually abused, report it. If it’s your own child, talk with them before reporting it, let them know how brave they are and that you’re very happy they came to you. Children who disclose sexual abuse need to be believed and supported. Call a child abuse hotline and/or report the disclosure to your local police. Children who get support and therapy heal better and faster than children who did not.
“The fact is, rape is utterly commonplace in all our cultures. It is part of the fabric of everyday life, yet we all act as if it’s something shocking and extraordinary whenever it hits the headlines. We remain silent, and so we condone it…Until rape, and the structures – sexism, inequality, tradition – that make it possible, are part of our dinner-table conversation with the next generation, it will continue. Is it polite and comfortable to talk about it? No. Must we anyway? Yes.”
‘To protect our children, we must talk to them about rape”
~by JMV, Residential Advocate, Alle-Kiski Area HOPE Center
Resources and Information
www.familywatchdog.us Family Watchdog is a free service to help locate registered sex offenders in any given area where you happen to live or visit. Free notifications will keep you updated as to which offenders move in or out of your area.
FBI National Sex Offender Database, free and searchable, coordinated by the Department of Justice. http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/registry/registry
National Child Abuse Hotline, 24/7: 1-800-422-4453
www.paar.net The Pittsburgh Action Against Rape center offers a crisis hotline, medical advocacy, legal advocacy, and counseling/therapy for children and adult survivors of sexual abuse or sexual assault. They have a 24/7 hotline: 1-866-END-RAPE (1-866-363-7273)
www.pcar.org The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape is a great source of information and referrals. They have a toll free hotline, 24/7: 1-888-772-7227
www.rainn.org The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network is also a great source of information and referrals. They have a National Sexual Assault Hotline, 24/7: 1-800-656-4673
US Department of Justice, National Sex Offender Database, free and searchable. http://www.nsopw.gov/
Books and Teaching Materials
Britain, Lory. It’s MY Body: A Book to Teach Young Children How to Resist Uncomfortable Touch. 1982.
King, Kimberly. I Said No! A Kid-to-kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private. 2008.
Free coloring books about the body (good touch v. bad touch) that you can download and print out for your children. http://dev.paar.net/prevention/resources/coloring-books/