Child sexual abusers count on our discomfort, passive acceptance, and silence. If we are going to stop child sexual abuse, we must break this silence and advocate for children, like never before. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and I am dedicating this issue of the Parenting Safe Children newsletter to courageous parents and off-limits kids, who are speaking up to keep their homes and communities off limits to child sexual abusers. I hope these stories inspire you!
I Didn’t Like What I Saw, so I Spoke Up This mom is committed to making her community off limits to child sexual abusers. She not only reported what she observed, but also pointed the organization toward useful resources.
"Something happened during Activity Club today that made me extremely uncomfortable. A father of two club members was sitting on the couch with a very little girl, not his daughter. The mother was not present. The man was tickling the little girl incessantly, putting his head in her lap, touching her on her thighs and tummy with his hands and with some other objects (a pillow and maybe an ice pack). This made me uncomfortable.
It is obviously not okay for an adult to touch a child that is not his or her own, without the express permission of the parent, unless in the context of coaching or teaching, or to help that child if the child is hurt or sick.
When I got home and reviewed the Activity Club code of conduct, there was no clause addressing appropriate and inappropriate touch. Many organizations that serve children have explicit policies. For example, the Boy Scouts of America has implemented thorough, strict, and enforceable guidelines that limit ‘physical contact’ and ‘one-on-one contact’ between staff and youth. The Wisconsin Youth Soccer Association states on its website, ‘Physical contact should be limited to that necessary to teach a skill, treat an injury, or console or congratulate the player.’
Why doesn’t the Activity Club handbook include policies on appropriate vs. inappropriate behavior? I would like to urge the Club to add such policies.
Inappropriate physical contact with a child should never be condoned, no matter who the adult is that is touching the child.”
I Still Get Butterflies in My Stomach I understand that having conversations about body-safety rules can be a little scary, but when you have the courage to speak up again and again, as this parent does, your kids – and all kids – are safer.
“The initial screening conversation is still tough for me. Every time I’m going to approach a caregiver about our body-safety rules, I have butterflies in my stomach, and have to picture my kid’s faces to push through it. I want our caregivers to know that my kids are off limits, but also do not want to offend anyone. So I’m still learning, but I have found that this format works best for me:
Upon meeting a new caregiver, I talk about the Parenting Safe Children workshop, and our family’s body-safety rules. This part of the conversation is easy.
Then I try to ask a question: ‘What kinds of things do you do to keep kids safe from child sexual abuse?’ This can go one of two ways: a) The person is very receptive and knows exactly what I'm talking about or b) There is an awkward silence and confusion. In the latter case, I refer people to www.parentingsafechildren.com, and then move on to a more educated or open-minded caregiver.
Then after a little time passes, with a chosen caregiver, I mention it again in some way. I say something to our teachers like, ‘I’m really proud of my son for knowing his body-safety rules. Does he talk about the rules here?’
All in all, it’s going very well, and I think the more people who speak up, the better for all kids.”
Body Safety & Summer Camp Kudos to this Colorado mom for including body safety in her email exchange with a potential summer camp program. The mom wove it in with her other questions, but here’s just the portion of the exchange on child sexual abuse prevention.
“Please tell me about the special training that camp staff, guides, and leaders receive in body-safety rules to maintain sexual safety at the camp.”
“The camp staff gets fingerprinted and goes through a background check before employment. Staff also go through an extensive ten-day staff training that is focused on topics such as behavior management, engagement with children, bullying and child abuse prevention training. During the child abuse prevention training, we discuss child safety, appropriate interactions, red flags for abusers, and the importance of staff accountability.”
“We teach and practice safety rules at home so that our kids are empowered to protect themselves as well. In particular, they know that they are the boss of their own bodies: No one gets to touch or see any part of them if they don't want; secrets are not safe; privacy is always allowed; and if they know that a safety rule is being broken they have to tell. I also want any caregiver to understand that we will believe our children if they tell us that a body-safety rule has been broken. Is your Child Abuse Prevention training consistent with ours?”
“It seems that our child abuse prevention training is consistent with your safety rules. We train our staff on understanding privacy requests and encouraging kids to be the boss of their own bodies and be honest about what is going on at camp. We also train our staff about believing a child when he or she says that a body-safety rule has been broken.”
Off Limits is a hands-on Parenting Guide for Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse: Must-teach body-safety rules; how to talk with kids about sexuality and body safety in an age appropriate way; info on choosing safe authority figures and protecting kids from online predators; and tips for raising kids and building homes and communities that are off limits to sexual abusers.
I also doPhone Consultations,and help with situations where something makes you uncomfortable and you’re just not sure what to do.
Lastly, with over 1,000 people we are growing a community on Facebook committed to keeping kids safe. Join us!
Meet Some Off-limits Kids!
We Don’t Keep Secrets Here’s a two-year-old child who has internalized her body-safety rule about ‘no-secrets.’
“Mommy, if someone wants to tell me a secret, I will tell them I don't keep secrets and I will tell you, okay?"
My Daughter is Empowered and I’m Proud of Her! THIS is what an off-limits kid looks like! No offender wants to get near a kid who knows he or she can tell his or her parents everything!
“We had a proud, wonderful experience with our very shy daughter, who is in kindergarten. Our daughter has been participating in a national competition. During one of the regional events, there was a spontaneous problem-solving competition, and the parents were asked to wait outside. I felt okay about this because my daughter’s coach, one of the moms from her kindergarten class, was present.
When the competition was over, the coach reported to me that they had a debrief with the kids, during which the judges asked the kids to keep secret, for a couple of months, what had gone on in the competition room. The judges also said, ‘don’t even tell your parents!’ Apparently, my daughter raised her hand and said, in front of the whole group, ‘My mom says that we don't keep secrets and that I can tell my mom and dad everything.’
I could not have felt more proud of our daughter or more pleased about her safety in this moment.”
Boss of Body Some parents are concerned that if a child thinks he is the boss of his body, the child will ‘talk back.’ Here’s a great example of how a mom and her child practiced the body-safety concept. THIS is an off-limits kid in the making!
“I’ve been teaching my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter that she is the boss of her body. She was over tired and didn’t want to get out of car seat. I picked her up and she screamed, ‘you bossed my body, Mommy.’
I replied, ‘I know sweetie, but you’re not safe in the garage alone and we have to go in the house. Mommy sees you’re really sad and mad, and it’s ok that you’re mad. You are the boss of your body, but sometimes Mommy has to touch or hold you to make sure you’re safe.’”
Child Sets Boundary with Sitter While it’s a parent’s job to keep kids safe, by teaching body-safety rules to children, you empower them to speak up themselves. THIS is an off-limits kid!
“My husband and I were out on a date and when we came home, our sitter told us that she was giving our son a bath and he said, ‘No one is allowed to touch my private parts, so I will wash my own butt.’ Our sitter knows our family’s body-safety rules and respected our son’s boundaries.”
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