April starts Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) so let's kick things off and talk about kids.
Child sexual abuse is one of the most under-rated and pervasive crimes in this country. Conservative estimates say 1 in 5 girls, 1 in 15 boys, will be sexually abused by the time they are 18. I use the number 1 in 4 girls along with other facts here (insert link for the file infographic). My own belief is that the numbers are more like 1 in 3 girls, 1 in 7 boys especially if contact and non-contact abuse is included in a definition. Regardless of exact numbers, sexual abuse among children is common.
The good news is that there are things that you as a parent can do to help keep your children safe. Here are three ideas:
Introduce a "no secrets" agreement. We have told my daughter that there are no secrets in our house. There are surprises (what Santa might bring, for example) but there are no secrets. She knows from her time at her excellent preschool about the idea of excluding. I've built off of that. Secrets exclude people. So no one should ever ask her to keep a secret. We've made an agreement that she should tell my husband or I if anyone ever uses the word "secret" with her.
Make a big deal about "no". She says "no" to my tickling and I instantly stop. When she is sticking her face uncomfortably close to my own, I tell her "no". If my "no" doesn't stop her actions immediately, I remove my body from her reach. Consent conversations must start early with kids. You can do this by teaching them they have the right to say "no" about anything with their bodies. This includes asking them to give someone a hug (or kiss) and modeling you saying "no," with your body.
Identify their safe people*. If a parent or caregiver wasn't around and a child needed help or support, who could they ask for help? Teachers and the police are often in this category for many kids. But who else? Your child needs to know that there are other adults that they can count on for help. You and your kiddo should have a conversation where they identify 2-3 grown-ups that they feel comfortable asking for help. For us, my daughter chose 2-3 neighbors on our street with whom we are close as a family and she felt safe talking to.
If you are a child in an abusive situation, it can feel like not only does no one else see what you see but that no one can help. One of your many goals as a parent is to avoid having your child feel that way. These three tools help create a foundation of trust between you and your child. So hopefully if anything bad does happen, your kiddo will tell you straight away. And when they do, that you will believe them.
What are the ways that you help keep your kids safe? Leave a comment below.
*Depending on age/maturity, starting with "safe people" can be easier than "tricky people".