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Protecting Kids From Sexual Abuse

Protecting Kids

There has been a lot of discussion regarding child sexual abuse lately and the topic should continue. A recent blog post, “Why We Don’t Keep Secrets in Our House (Child Abuse Prevention)” on Denver Metro Mom’s Blog went viral and for a great reason. We need to face this unimaginable issue head on by educating ourselves, kids and the community. I have attended several workshops for both the prevention as a parent and as a supportive facilitator in a clinical setting as a child life specialist. I thought it would be helpful to share some additional resources

Teddy Bear Hopes is a wonderful blog about helping children express their emotions. Kathylee Forrester is the creator of the site and author of Patches the Bear and The Feelings Tree.

Darkness to Light has information about prevention, workshops and how to become a facilitator.

A very good friend and colleague of mine, Deb Vilas just wrote a post about Child Abuse Prevention on her blog PediaPlay.com last week. Read her amazing tips below.


Today, I am writing on one of the topics I had in mind when I set up this website – advice for child life specialists, but my hope is that it will be helpful for teachers and caregivers as well. A wise man, Jon Luongo, advised me that I have a great deal of writing material squirreled away in the posts I have been making to the Child Life Forum for a number of years. Today I responded to a request on the Forum for information and resources regarding running a workshop for parents/caregivers on child abuse prevention. Below is the gist of my response.

If I were to lead such a workshop on prevention, I imagine including the following:

  • small amount of developmental content – info about how children think and feel at different ages
  • Just a few statistics about types of abuse frequency, who are the perpetrators, etc. in order to dispel some myths.
  • A short text-light and image-heavy brief powerpoint
  • A read-aloud of a great children’s book. I suggest reviewing any books cover to cover for appropriateness (consider culture, developmental stage of child, gender, any hints of blaming a child) before recommending them.
  • The most important piece of the workshop would be the discussion that follows.

I have always gone back and forth in my mind about the importance of teaching kids how to say “this is my body”, being measured against the reality that children are not mini adults and are extraordinarily vulnerable to the power, manipulation and threats of pedophiles. Children are taught to respect and obey adults, especially ones they know. 80% of abusers are related to or close to the child. This makes things very dicey when we want our children to feel safe and trusting in the care of adults, yet still be able to say, “No! You aren’t supposed to touch me there.”

How do we teach the parents/caregivers how to empower the child, but not frighten the child with too much information? It is vital that we refrain from setting children up to blame themselves if they are unable to prevent abuse. Discussions about power, shame and how children think at different ages can help.

When I teach Child Abuse Detection and Reporting, I start off by asking for a show of hands: Who thinks they know someone who has been abused, an adult or a child, now or in the past? I go on to share the statistics of frequency of abuse, along with some other facts. A few of these are:

  • If abuse happens to a child before a child is old enough to speak, there is no cognitive memory of it. But there may be a muscle memory or physical memory.
  • Chances are if you didn’t raise your hand, you actually doknow someone who has been abused. Stigma and shame go hand in hand with abuse, and non-reporting is common for both children and adults who look the other way because it is too awful to think about.

One of the most helpful words ever spoken to me were by Christine Low, a social worker at Mt. Sinai. “If you can’t imagine it, you will never be able to report it.” And I suppose we can add to that: “If you can’t imagine it, you will never be able to prevent it.” No one wants to think about these things happening to kids, theirs or anyone else’s. But we must imagine it if we are to protect our children.

One thing I have learned from teaching these workshops for many years is this. The more I know, the more I don’t know. These issues are a minefield of our deepest emotions, our cultural backgrounds and our life experiences. If the presenter takes an approach that reflects just how complicated this topic is, how we are incredibly influenced by our own experiences of abuse, and how there are no easy answers, she is probably on the right track. I recommend hanging back from taking the role of expert and instead taking the role of fellow explorer who has some great developmental “snacks” to share in your backpack.

For more info, go to: http://www.preventchildabuseny.org/resources/about-child-abuse/


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