<![CDATA[Building Stronger Families -protecting children against sexual abuse. - Blog]]>Sat, 17 Feb 2018 11:28:31 -0500Weebly<![CDATA[Sleepover Check List]]>Thu, 25 Jan 2018 19:50:22 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/sleepover-check-listA very brave 8 year old girl in Kentucky started 2018 by filing a report of sexual abuse at the hands of her friend’s father during a sleepover. (Link to story here)

While some families have a ‘no sleepovers’ rule, with the right precautions, we believe the risk for abuse can be significantly reduced. 
  1.  Allowing your child to have sleepovers for fun only when you feel confident that they understand what private parts are and that they should not be shared. 
  2.  Only having sleepovers with family/friends that you know well and are as supportive of body safety rules as you are. If you’re not comfortable to talk about abuse prevention with them, then you shouldn’t be comfortable letting your children under their care without you, right? 
  3.  You know who will be in the home, including any older siblings (or their friends) extended family or romantic partners.
  4. You have a ‘safe’ word that you’ve taught your child so that if they need to call you and ask for help they can do so without calling unwanted attention. For example, “I need my medicine” may be a good way for your child to let you know they need you. 

A good alternative to giving a cell phone to a child (especially if you’re minimizing access to the internet) are the watch phones that are geared towards kids, which only allow a child to call/text their parents. 

These rules should apply to play dates as well. Let's never assume that by removing the aspect of ‘sleeping over’ that there is no risk. It is our responsibility to know who is around our children and vocal about our knowledge and support of body safety.

During a quiet moment after time spent away from you (and not in front of others), it's always a good idea to ask your child if they enjoyed themselves, whether or not everyone acted appropriately, and watch for any changes in behavior. 

<![CDATA[When 'Playing Doctor' Gets Private, Don't Walk Away]]>Wed, 21 Jun 2017 02:13:04 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/when-playing-doctor-gets-private-dont-walk-away
by Adrianne Simeone, Founder The Mama Bear Effect 

Recently a supporter shared this article with advice from Deborah Roffman regarding the issue of children sharing private parts with one another. While this is not an uncommon situation, nor necessarily cause for alarm, but in my opinion -  a great teaching moment, her advice, especially coming from a professional, felt alarming. 

The article begins with, "the current scholarly advice on handling show and tell is very simple and easy to remember: Turn around and walk away." Roffman later shares “The point is to treat these parts the same as all others.” 

Now, I myself do not hold a masters in health as Roffman does (I began my masters in social work but put it on hold after becoming pregnant last year), however I have researched the issues of child development, sexuality, abuse and trauma and listened to many survivors of child sexual abuse. I'm also a mother to four as well as a survivor. 

I have to, humbly yet firmly, disagree with this advice. Genitalia are not the same as other parts. First off and foremost, if they were, public nudity would be legal. But my greatest concern is that by allowing children to openly explore the sexual organs of their siblings or friends - how do we teach them the difference between what is safe or unsafe? How does a child go from showing his penis to his friend, to then having his older cousin or an adult babysitter that exposes them to pornography or takes nude pictures of them?

At what age would a parent end sharing of genitalia? Roffman suggests, "while innocent exploration can last until around third grade, things shift in the fourth and fifth and the exploration may be less innocent." I personally, cannot imagine any parent of children nearing the end of elementary school being OK with their children exploring each other's bodies. Especially considering how many children are exposed to pornography by this age, I believe promoting privacy while being open about talking about their growing and changing bodies and what constitutes appropriate behaviors is the better choice. 

To be clear, I don't want anyone to scare or shame their children if they are sharing privates with another child, but we certainly need to redirect them to more appropriate ways of learning about or bodies and respecting personal privacy. Instead of turning around and letting the game of self-exposure continue, I would suggest it would be better to say something like "hey guys, it looks like you're curious about your bodies. Remember though - our privates are supposed to stay private, they're not for sharing. Lets get our pants back on and I'll get a book so we can talk about them some more." 

When you know about child sexual abuse, you know a game of doctor can become abusive, even with children. A young child that has been abused may do inappropriate things to another child out of naivete. The article never mentions the issues of sexual abuse, which I find to be dangerously misinforming. When you know that the research has shown that an estimate 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys experience sexual abuse, and that as much of 40% of abuse is perpetrated by other children, I suppose it's hard to face that reality while promoting a blind-eye approach to children sharing genitalia. 

I mean no disrespect to her education or intention to help children learn and not be ashamed of their bodies, but the disregard for the issues of empowering families to protect children from the very real threat of sexual abuse is down right, shuddering. I can't help but feel that the pro-pedophilia community would applaud this advice as a step toward breaking down the barrier to adult/child sexual exploration. Perhaps if we lived in a world where so many people and especially children were not exploited for sexual purposes, and more good people were proactive about protecting and educating their children against abuse, I could be ok with a more laissez-faire approach to children growing up with such loose rules regarding their reproductive organs, but we are not there. Until society jumps on board, protecting children from abuse and being their voice when a child discloses, I have to lean toward finding this to be a naive and, arguably, an irresponsible approach to the issue. 
<![CDATA[Five Tips to Help you Rock the Talk™ on Body Safety With Your Kids.]]>Tue, 06 Jun 2017 02:33:32 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/five-tips-to-help-you-rock-the-talktm-on-body-safety-with-your-kids
Too many parents and caregivers shy away from talking to kids about private parts and body safety rules because they believe that it means sitting down and talking about sex. They focus more on what they fear (explaining what sex is and the idea of sexual abuse) and not enough on what they love and want to protect (their children). Even schools and youth organizations are often more concerned with navigating the proper way of addressing this issue to avoid offending parents, instead of focusing on the reality that there are children under their care that will benefit from this information. 

But if we take the time to really educate ourselves, we'll realize this is so much more than a 'talk', it's a culture change. The reality that an estimated 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys are affected by sexual abuse is almost more than we can comprehend. It's shocking. But perhaps even more shocking that there isn't more being done to prevent it. When children do disclose some are not believed and do not receive help, and even more disturbing offenders often are never prosecuted, let alone convicted.

This isn't something for parents who worry about every little thing. This is for people who have the common sense to accept that this is very real and very serious and denying it won't make it go away. 

It's putting safety first, it's education that children deserve, it's empowerment that benefits beyond prevention. And perhaps most rewarding, parents that embrace body safety often have stronger, more connected relationships with their children. A child that knows they can talk to their parents about anything, especially their bodies, is much more likely to have higher self esteem, exercise  skills to identify possibly dangerous situations, and disclose abuse sooner. 

So how do we do it? How do we take such a scary subject and talk about it with our children and the adults we know? 
1. Start Early 
If you're uncomfortable with using the proper names for genitalia, start early and just keep using them as part of your vocabulary - during bath time, diaper changes etc., until you realize: they're just words. Certainly, we have bigger issues in our lives than hearing the proper terms for our body parts, right? 

2. Keep it Casual 
We teach our kids so much, don't we? How to share, button a shirt, ride a bike - why should educating them about how wonderfully special and private their bodies are be any different? We talk to them about fire safety, walking with scissors, and crossing the street - so what's the big deal to include their right to know what kinds of touches are appropriate and which are inappropriate, and such issues should never be kept secret? We are their protectors  - we are teaching them one way or the other; if we say nothing they're much more likely to say nothing, too. It's our responsibility to give them the information they need to stay safe and understand what respectful, appropriate relationships look like. 

3. Keep it Common 
You might be amazed how often you can talk to kids about consent, keeping privates private, the importance of listening to our instincts, and not keeping secrets from us. Kids having a tickle fight or that great aunt that wants to snuggle your shy child? Great opportunity to talk about respecting other people's bodies and that even children have a right to decide how their body is treated or touched. Talking about the importance of 'privacy' when people are using the bathroom, changing clothes. Although children often need help with these tasks, as they become able we can promote privacy by asking if they'd like us to close the door while they use the toilet, or encouraging them to wash themselves in the bath when they're old enough. Or encouraging them to give us adults privacy when using the bathroom (the struggle is real, we know).  

4. Get a Book 
There are a number of body safety books out there. Build them into your regular rotation, whether you get them from your local library or buy a few as a gift. Not only does it take a little pressure off of us to bring up these concepts and talk about it, it also normalizes these conversations, and can help children learn through the added visual impact. (We also have free coloring pages you can print any time.) 

5. Keep it Real  
While not every sexual abuse case make to our local news (and sometimes we can't bear to watch the news these days), many stories regarding sexual misconduct (by adults or minors) from across the country come up on a daily basis, rarely do they involve strangers but trusted family members, coaches, and classmates.  Talking about these situations with our family, friends, and older children can help make it real, not just some 'thing' they're being taught, that there is a reason why we prioritize education and appropriate, respectful behavior. 

No, not everyone is going to want to hear about it. There will be naysayers, deniers, those that blame children for not being able to protect themselves. There's a term for this dangerous mentality: Willful Blindness. Sexual abuse can be prevented, but not if we refuse to face the truth. The angerous taboo that surrounds this issue grows in silence. If you are reading this, you absolutely have the power to protect children: your voice. Do not surrender it.  Rock the Talk™.

<![CDATA[We're Against "No, Run, Tell!" And Here's Why.]]>Mon, 27 Feb 2017 14:05:58 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/were-against-no-run-tell-and-heres-why
vWhen 'stranger danger' awareness became popular, the concept of teaching children to shout "no!" run away, and tell someone was the mantra for prevention advocates. Naturally, many children, but not all, feel some hesitation with strangers and teaching them to not accept candy, toys, or to go anywhere with a stranger is certainly a good idea. So why doesn't it necessarily work to help protect kids from sexual abuse? 

1. Most sexual abuse is not perpetrated by strangers.
As much as 90-95% of abuse is perpetrated by a person known and trusted by the child and family - parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts/uncles, family friends, childcare providers, coaches, teachers, etc. Sexual abuse is not often committed in a shocking manner, it's often done through a patient 'grooming' method - that seduces or blackmails the child into submission.  Offenders use the naivete of children and their own power of authority, feigned friendship, and other tactics to make sure the child does not resist but feels powerless or that they enjoy the sexual contact. Some people call these 'bad touches' but sexual stimulation does feel good to the body which confuses children and abusers use this to their advantage. (FYI, we call sexual touching 'inappropriate' and promote educating children that such touching can and does feel good to the body so they can better understand what is going on, but that it's not right for others to touch or watch them touch themselves.)

2. It's Not A Natural Response 
With that knowledge on offenders, can we really expect a child to should no to their father, teacher, priest, etc? The child has likely spent months if not their whole life knowing this person as a someone they should respect, someone that is supposed to protect them. It may have begun when they were very young and didn't even know it was wrong. It's not rational to expect a child to suddenly have the courage to start shouting no at someone they know, especially when they are made to feel the abuse is something they are choosing to do and are a 'consenting' party and therefore responsible and to blame. There are way too many psychological factors at play to assume a child would be able to yell no, run away, and tell someone right away. 

3. It Puts Undue Responsibility on The Child 
Preventing sexual abuse is never a child's responsibility. A child that is taught they must say no and get away but doesn't, may feel they are to blame and ashamed for what happened. They may fear telling someone because they will have to face admitting their 'fault'. Especially if the abuse was continual, the child may prefer to endure it and never tell, than face the pain of talking about it and the fear of talking to the authorities, not being believed or being blamed, which sadly many are when they do disclose. 

Preventing sexual abuse of children is our responsibility as adults, but to be clear, that doesn't make it our fault.  The blame has been and will always be on the offender. However, that being said, with as much as 40% of sexual abuse being perpetrated by juveniles - many as they just begin puberty, we also have a responsibility to promote proper sexual behaviors with our children as well. Preventing abuse doesn't just mean protecting our children from being abused - it also means doing what we can to educate and guide them so they do not abuse others. 

4. It Doesn't Even Work With Adults 
Survivors of sexual assault are working very hard to educate the public to understand that rape doesn't need to involve a physical struggle or threats of violence. Since much adult sexual abuse is also often committed by someone the victim knows, there is a level of shock and confusion that often takes over. As a protective instinct, the body's reaction to a surge of "stress chemicals" is to freeze, allow the abuse to continue out of fear that something worse may happen. Police recommend that a person being robbed not fight and surrender their valuables, yet those who are threatened with rape are often labeled responsible for not resisting 'enough'. Advocates in the world of adult sexual assault understand that expecting a victim to fight, scream, run etc. are not scientifically supported, so how could we expect this from children? 

5. It Could Make Adults Feel Less Responsible
Any form of education to empower children against sexual abuse against children that doesn't involve adults as well, is not comprehensive. While sexual abuse prevention education in schools is a necessary and welcomed component to fighting this silent epidemic, no adult should feel confident that their child alone is capable of protecting themselves because they've had a lesson in body safety. There is so much that we adults need to know and do to identify warning signs, minimize opportunity, and build a network of adults that know and support body safety for children. We buckle our children in the car as a protective measure, but we are the ones behind the wheel, driving defensively, looking ahead and behind. Teaching a child tactics to get away from a dangerous situation should be considered a last resort - which we would be thrilled if it does work, but assume that it would not and prepare accordingly. Do we want our child's body safety education put to the test, or would we rather do our best to avoid that from happening in the first place? There is a lot we can do to keep our children safe so they don't have to try to do it on their own. Effective abuse prevention requires a change in our culture - from the way we parent to how policies are created and enforced in schools and youth serving organizations. 

So what can we teach instead? 

Well, first off we don't have to take "no, run, yell" off the table. But instead, let's make it an option, not a requirement. Yes, children can yell, kick, and run away - even from someone they've been taught to respect, like a grandparent or coach. But they can do other things, too. They can make up an excuse to get away, like they need to go the bathroom. And if they can't get away, that is OK. It is OK to not get away because it's not the child's responsibility to get away. It's not their fault if they can't get away. That must be taught, arguably, more than how to get away, because realistically they probably won't be able to get away, not matter how much they're taught to resist. 

Do they have to tell someone right away? No. Do we want them to tell? Yes, absolutely. But even if they don't tell right away it's OK. We have to realize that sexual abuse is very confusing, there is a level of shock that the body experiences as the brain is trying to figure out what exactly happened and why. There are many reasons why a person who has been sexually abused doesn't tell right away.  Even some that people don't think of at first - a parent has threatened to harm anyone that touches their child, the child may fear that their parent will get into trouble. If the offender is in a position of financially supporting the family, the child may fear the consequences for the entire family if they tell. There are a myriad of reasons, which is why we need to work to create an environment that supports disclosure by being educated and aware of the complexities involved with sexual abuse. Putting child safety first means accepting the responsibility to protect and empower children appropriately, and being prepared to be their first line of defense. 

<![CDATA["She Felt Like She Couldn't Say No." A Parent Perspective on Consent, Respect, and Empathy ]]>Wed, 02 Nov 2016 14:35:32 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/she-felt-like-she-couldnt-say-no-a-parent-perspective-on-consent-respect-and-empathy
A fellow Mama Bear forwarded us the following email she wrote to her fellow mom-friends after picking up her 7th grade daughter and her friends from a school trip. As many parents know, the tween-teen years are challenging for kids and parents-alike. She unexpectedly found herself in a teaching moment (as many are) on the issues of consent and empathy and gave us permission to share it. (Names have been changed for confidentiality.) 

Fellow Mom-Friends, 

Allie got off the camp bus and a gaggle of friends were eager to tell 
me that Robert had asked her to the Halloween dance. I think I played it appropriately cool - as much as can be expected of a mom at this stage. Robert seems sweet. Allie seemed pleased and at ease with the ask, and said she was fine with accepting.

On the way home, and in two different conversations with three different friends since yesterday, I heard, "[Other Boy] asked [Other Girl] to the dance. I don't think she's really interested, but she felt
couldn't say no. She felt bad." and then, "I know. I wouldn't be able to say no either." and "Me, too."

It came up today in soccer travels. I hope you don't mind (Moms whose kids were trapped with me in the car at the time) - I needed to talk to Allie about this, so I took the opportunity and said something like, "You know what, girls? I think it's really great that you understand how hard it is for a boy to get the courage up to ask. And that your first inclination is to be sympathetic. It's hard to say no. But there are several ways you can say no - it doesn't have to be in a mean way." They agreed that is it hard for the boys - and then someone said that if So-and-so asked, it would be ok to be mean - giggle-giggle (keepin' it real).

I continued, "You can say, 'Thanks, but I've already made 
arrangements to go with my friends.' or 'Thanks, but I'm not really ready to do the "going out" thing.'" [in hindsight/thought, another option is, "Thanks, but I'd really like to just stay friends for right now."] I let them know, "This is a hard time. The boys are worried and confused about what to do just like you are. If you are honest and let them know how you feel, they'll appreciate it. Girls mature somewhat faster than boys and they might be really grateful if you're able to say the words that you're both thinking. It would be a relief. Just be honest with yourself and with them." I quickly added, "This goes for a lot of things. First asks, first dates, first kisses..." and left it at that.

It was a conversation, not a lecture, and the girls were open and 
appropriate. I think it was a good moment. This is such a small and innocent way of starting the conversation about saying "no" and meaning it. It's good for them to think about what they're ready for, have a plan of action and to know it's OK to say "no." Empowering our girls now, with the relatively small stuff, may help them find a voice later should they need a more powerful NO. It seems like a long-time away (kind of like November felt like a long time away 2.5 weeks ago) and a foreign concept to think about, but hearing, "...she felt she couldn't say no" and three other girls agreeing was a wake-up call for this mama.

I wanted to share this with you because two girls (in addition to Allie) were subject to the 'Sermon in the Car'. But I thought others might like to know what's kicking around in our girls' minds - generally. This is a topic close to my heart for many reasons, so I'm a bit earnest. I beg your pardon if I worried you, or if you feel that I overstepped by bounds in speaking this afternoon, or if this email feels like an overreach. My intention is to inform and support, and for the love our wonderful young ladies - whom I have said, and will continue to say, are some of the best kids I've ever known.

​We appreciate the opportunity to share this interaction for a few reasons: this mom was casual and conversational with her daughter and the other girls regarding the challenge of being able to say no and honoring one's comfort level and self respect, while still acknowledging that empathy for the other person's feelings are appropriate in this situation. "No" is a complete sentence, but some situations benefit with more than a no or, to be honest, it's not always easy to say no. Sometimes white lies are ok if we're concerned about a person's feelings or need a safe way to get out of a situation and don't have the courage to be so bold and just say "no". 

We also love how this mom shared this interaction with the other parents. She not only kept them informed and shared her perspective, but facilitated the opportunity for these conversations to be continued and work together to support their children (and one another). It does take courage to talk about these issues with other parents because not everyone will agree. Some parents may even express points of view that concern or shock us - but it's better to know and take this information into account for the future than to not know. 

Our final point is that these kids were empowered to understand that they were allowed to be in control and prioritize their own bodily comfort and right to choose for themselves. They weren't told to sacrifice their personal comfort for the sake of another person's ego, and hopefully the boys in question will have an opportunity to learn to deal with rejection with an equal level of maturity and respect. These young men need be supported by the adults in their lives to understand that a no isn't a measure of their self worth, nor is it an invitation to try harder or to respond with animosity. 

Have you experienced a teaching moment like this? Please share your experience and thoughts with us in the comment section! 
<![CDATA[When a Child Lives With the Secret of Sexual Abuse]]>Mon, 15 Aug 2016 23:33:52 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/when-a-child-lives-with-the-secret-of-sexual-abuse

When The Words Can't Come Out - Behavior Often, But Not Always, Speaks 

Sexual abuse is innately psychological - it affects a person's sense of body autonomy, self worth, ability to trust others, properly identify safe and unsafe situations, and to simply focus on daily tasks in an efficient and healthy manner. 

There is no exact 'road map' for how the brain will respond to sexual abuse, there are a multitude of factors that come into play - the child's family situation, their own age and mental capacity, who the offender is and how the abuse is being perpetrated, just to list a few. To say that there is a 'typical' response to abuse is not only ignorant, it's also hurtful to survivors essentially shaming them for not acting the 'right' way, as if their behavior somehow lessens the impact of the abuse and puts blame on the subject of the abuse. 

Yes, There Can Be No Signs 

Before we begin going over the possible signs of abuse children may exhibit, we  strongly urge you to make a habit of talking about body safety with your children, and on occasion specifically asking if anyone has ever broken a body safety rule. Numerous parents have shared with us that their child disclosed abuse during one of these talks.

How can a child not show signs of abuse? 
  • The child may not know that what is happening to them is wrong, offenders often try to make such contact friendly - as part of a game 
  • The abuse may not hurt and therefore the child is confused about how their body is responding to stimulation
  • The child is mentally blocking out the abuse - which can happen for years, even into adulthood
  • The child is so concerned about the consequences of disclosing (breaking apart a family, facing the reaction of those who find out, having to go to the authorities, etc) that they go above and beyond to maintain a normal composure 

We also recommend choosing other trusted adults (or responsible teen, like an older sibling or cousin) to be part of their 'body safety circle.' These people should be educated in your child's body safety rules and prepared for a possible disclosure of abuse. The reality is, children are better protected when they are surrounded by people that support body autonomy and understand how abuse is perpetrated.  

​Now, depending on the age your child - they may 'test' what it means when someone breaks a body safety rule. It is important to listen, respond with a calm voice, and make a decision on how to proceed with the information given. If you are unsure if you need further help, there are resources available. 


Fear may be one of the more obvious sign of abuse, but it is not necessarily directed with the intensity that many expect. Depending on the age of the child, their relationship to the offender, and the extent of the abuse - the child may or may not be fearful of their abuser. Naivete, level of trust with the offender, combined with an offender's specific intention of not causing physical pain (at least not at first) to the child, often create feelings of confusion, not fear. However, if the child does understand that what is happening is wrong and/or physically feels pain from the abuse, or is threatened by the abuser if they tell - there are some signs that they may exhibit. 
  • Fear of that person or place where the abuser occurred, sometimes a child may fear a certain gender or people with similar attributes/behaviors 
  • Child is overly obedient (possibly not just with their abuser), child may be under the control of their abuser - not allowed to socialize with others
  • Nightmares or bedwetting
  • Over-dressing and/or demanding extreme privacy when changing or using the bathroom A child may want to wear extra underwear or dress in baggy clothes to cover their body to minimize attention and increase protection from an abuser
  • Fear for their family or other loved ones, becoming clingy, not wanting to be alone, lacking confidence in new situations 
  • Self-soothing behaviors - thumbsucking, rocking, needing a comfort blanket/animal
  • Running away


A very common but arguably not as often associated with abuse as it should, children that are burdened with the secret of abuse yet feel they cannot disclose (or have disclosed and were not helped), will resort to various forms of aggressive or destructive behavior - toward themselves and/or others. As adults, it's important to remember that behavior is communication, and that it is important to understand and address 'why' this behavior exists. A child acting out because of abuse that is punished for their behavior will likely only grow to become more agitated. 
  • Aggression toward others, animals, or destruction of property
  • Self harm - cutting, hair pulling
  • Anger directed toward those they feel should be protecting them - ex. a child may claim his parents don't love him because they do not suspect anything

Depression & Low Self Esteem 

Depending on the child's understanding of abuse, if the abuse is continual, and how long they have kept the abuse a secret - feelings of shame, guilt, and lost sense of self worth will begin to impact their daily life. Those who know the child may notice a sudden or a gradual decline in their mental health:
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, schoolwork and activities they once enjoyed
  • Overeating
  • Sleeping often throughout the day
  • Talks in a disparaging way about themselves 
  • Drawn to friendships/relationships where they are mistreated 
  • Substance abuse 
  • Suicide/attempted suicide 


Because abuse directly affects a child's growing brain it may impact their ability to function in ways people may not expect. Post traumatic stress disorder can be misdiagnosed as attention deficit disorder, and if doctors and psychologists are not aware of the possible overlap of symptoms, a child in need of help may instead be put on a medication to reduce the 'symptoms' of their trauma. Children that experience abuse will struggle with trust, how to identify safe and unsafe situations, and simply cannot process the trauma without help. They may develop nervous ticks, come off as distracted, or unsettled. A child may strive to counteract this loss of control in their life by overcompensating in other ways..
  •  Striving for perfection in school or extra curricular activities/sports
  • Developing an eating disorder 
  • Excessively washes self or other compulsive behavior
  • Struggling to focus in school or in regular conversation 
  • Becomes easily startled and may become emotional 

Sexual Behaviors 

Depending on the child's age, they may exhibit signs of knowledge about sex beyond their age. Older children may become promiscuous, seeking numerous sexual situations as a means of gaining control of their sexuality, because they interpret sexual performance with self worth, or because they feel that they are only worth being used by others for sex. Some may avoid romantic relationships, intimacy, and sexual interaction but there is no one 'right' way for a child to respond. 
  • ​Young children talking sexually, kissing with open mouth/tongue, acting out sexually with oneself, others, with toys, in drawings etc
  • Children that compulsively masturbate, exhibit signs of  pornography addiction 
  • Children that openly and/or frequently perform sex acts with their peers or adults, possibly prostituting themselves or falling prey to a trafficker 

Physical Signs 

Sexual abuse is, surprising to many, often lacking in physical symptoms. Sadly, this can make prosecution challenging. Many doctors are not adequately trained to properly identify abuse - there are specialized pediatric-SANE (sexual assault nurse examiners) that work at hospitals or in connection with a child advocacy center. Signs are most often seen in younger children and can include:
  • Abrasions, redness, swelling, bruising or itching of the genitals, anus or the mouth
  • Bleeding  
  • Urinary tract infection, sexually transmitted disease
  • Pregnancy 
Other Signs Due to Stress 
  • Headaches 
  • Stomach aches 
  • Panic Attacks 

When Children Want to Tell 

Disclosing sexual abuse is not easy, especially when a child is old enough to understand that it's not right, and sometimes more difficult as time passes and the child struggles with feelings of shame and embarrassment. Young children may tell and not be understood or believed, and others may drop subtle 'hints' hoping that someone may ask questions, helping them gauge what the person's reaction may be and if they will be believed. 

For example:
  • A ten year old boy that told his mother his butt was hurting when he'd go to the bathroom, he would later disclose to friends at school that he had been raped 
  • A girl who told her mother that her teenage male cousin was 'weird', it would take more than ten years for her and her sister to tell that he had been molesting them during family gatherings 
  • A young girl who told her parents that her uncle touched her cookie - it would turn out that 'cookie' was a word he had taught her to call her vulva. 

When a Child Recants a Disclosure 

Have we mentioned that disclosing abuse is hard? It's even harder when a child faces not being believed, the fear of reporting, and the backlash of people who are 'inconvenienced' by such a disclosure. Allegations will inevitably affect the accused's job, personal life, and the entire social dynamic of the community. If the offender is well respected and connected, it will likely make it even more painful for the child and those that believe. 

Out of all sexual offenders, very few will be reported to the authorities, even less will be charged, and only a small fraction of all abusers will face a conviction - yet, it has been estimated that less than 1% of sexual abuse disclosed by children is false. 

Cases that involve custody disputes are often handled in family court, and do not receive the same type of investigation as non-custodial offenders. Children and non-offending parents in such cases rely on social workers and have to pay for their own legal representation and expert analysis by therapists or guardian ad litems (GALs). There is growing evidence that non-offending parents are systematically being suspected of 'parental alienation', which has resulted in children being put in to the custody of the offending parent. 

Be Prepared 

Talking about body safety - with our kids and the people we trust is not just a good idea, it's essential. With sexual abuse at epidemic levels and nearly all offenders being people known to the child, often a family member and/or a juvenile, it is likely that we all know multiple survivors of child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse happens in loving families, in nice communities, in top-rated school systems - perpetrated by some of the most respected members of society. Just as there is no typical way for a child to react to abuse, there are no 'typical' offenders, either. 

Be educated.
Know the risk, talk about body safety - with kids and other adults. 
Be vigilant.
Pay attention to situations that give offenders opportunity. Look for potential signs of abusers and abuse in children. 
Be fearless.
Speak up when a situation puts a child at risk. Believe the child. Support the child - even when others would prefer to deny or minimize the impact of abuse. Report abuse. 
<![CDATA[8 Times Parents Should Make Time to 'Rock the Talk' on  Body Safety]]>Fri, 05 Aug 2016 14:42:38 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/8-times-parents-should-make-time-to-talk-body-safety
Talking to kids about body safety is no 'one and done' kind of conversation. Truly effective sexual abuse prevention education requires a change in our culture - how we talk about their growing bodies, what concepts like consent really mean, and being real about how exactly abuse happens. It's not the stranger on the street that poses the greatest risk - it's the people that we know and trust around our children that are most likely to offend. (More on that, here.)

So many parents wonder when they're supposed to talk about all this and what to say. Here are a few suggestions to make it a bit easier, and more frequent of a conversation. 

Mark Your Calendar! 

1. A birthday is a great time to take note of how much your child has grown and learned over the past year. Each year is a celebration of what make them special, how much we love them, and how much we value and respect them as individuals. Maybe this is the year you've felt they're ready for a smart phone or other device that gives them access to the internet and social media. While your child maybe excited to finally text and take photos with friends, they may not be prepared for exposure (even unintended) to pornography, peer pressure, sexual harassment, and lures that endanger teens. We encourage all parents to research how to keep kids safe online and learn from the very people that hunt these predators down. 

2. The start of the school year is a good way to remind kids about what sort of behavior they should expect from their teacher, staff, and fellow students. Some schools may host a body safety seminar for student, and this is a good time to check-base with our kids about what they've learned and what they're being taught through a program. 

3. Any new or reoccurring youth program - sports, scouting, camp, special lessons or tutoring, and other group activities. In these situations children are at an increased risk of abuse due to the fact that such programs increase opportunity for 1:1 situations or for children to be temporarily isolated from a group. It is important that we talk to our kids not only to recognize the risk, but also talk to the director/coaches about how they address these issues and also to raise awareness that we are aware - and our kids, too. 

4. Play date, birthday party, or sleepover invitation? Yes, yes, and yes. We need to talk about body safety to our kids, assess the risk on our own, and last but not least, talk to the other parents about body safety. It's important to know who else lives in the home (guests and even other siblings), how comfortable we are with the parents, and wouldn't it be a bit more assuring to know your child will be in a home where body safety is also a priority? (More on this...)

5. Holiday or family gathering coming up? Although it may seem comfortable to have a house full of relatives, the reality is, family abusers (young and old) have not only opportunity, but trust. It may take only a few minutes to isolate a child, even with people nearby - especially when we least expect it to happen. 

6. If you use a babysitter, daycare, or leave your child alone with family (even immediate family), it's prudent to be aware of how your child act before and after, and make sure the caretaker is aware and respects your family's body safety rules. Dropping by unexpectedly (or asking a neighbor or other trusted adult to do so), or coming home early may help gain a sense of what the dynamic is like when they don't expect you, and make it known that when you leave and return is not 100% predictable.

(In case you haven't noticed,reducing opportunity and sharing our knowledge of body safety with other adult is a key part of abuse prevention.) 

7. Before and during a doctor's visit - it's important that children understand what they should expect during a check up, and even better - if their pediatrician reinforces body safety rules. 

8. Throughout daily occurrences - bath time, toileting (when people - especially adults should have privacy), when kids are horsing around and may not respect 'stop' or 'no' from a sibling or friend. Having some human anatomy and body safety books in your regular library to present this information in a new way, is also something we recommend to keep these conversations frequent.  
With the Center for Disease Control estimating that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are survivors of child sexual abuse, this is truly a threat that cannot be ignored. But empowering and protecting our children doesn't just reduce risk -  it creates a stronger parent-child bond, promotes self respect and respect for others. But perhaps equally important, improved awareness and education promote a stronger sense of empathy and compassion for survivors, who not only struggle due to the abuse, but from the ignorance and apathy from those they expect and need to support them.  This isn't just about our kid - it's about every child, every survivor.

<![CDATA[5 Ways We Confuse Kids About Body Safety]]>Thu, 17 Mar 2016 18:22:36 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/5-ways-we-confuse-kids-about-body-safety
Talking to kids about body safety is important, but often when we try to 'sugar-coat' the truth we can mislead, confuse, and unknowingly shame a child into not telling when they're in an abusive situation. If we want to protect our children, we need to be honest and face the things we don't like to admit are true - because we cannot change anything by ignoring it.
#1.  We talk to our kids - but no one else. 

A lot of parents (but arguably not enough) ​ talk to their kids about body safety. Yet, many of these children are still abused - almost always by someone they know, often a family member. Educating a child about privates and safe vs unsafe touches is important, but it's not the end of our responsibility to protect them as best we can. 

It should also be a complement to what we're doing as a whole to keep our kids safe. And that includes sharing our body safety rules with family, friends, and the people we trust with our children. Finding ways to minimize or interrupt 1:1 situations - for example, if a person routinely watches your child, create ways for you or someone else to 'stop in' unexpectedly. If your child goes for play dates at friends' houses, know who is in the home - you should know if there are older siblings or visitors staying in the home and trust that the family knows your body safety rules and follows them as well. Lastly, we should be well educated on different ways abusers groom and seek to gain access and control of children. Often these red flags are clearer after a child has disclosed, but we are hearing from more and more parents that are recognizing such risk and taking action (like this woman).  The idea is that we want to deter a potential abuser rather than put it on a own child to defend their body. 

Kids are smart. They learn just as much from what we don't say as what we do. When kids are taught about body safety but we treat it like a secret by not talking opening with others, they may not truly believe that they should tell and that someone will understand and help them.  
#2. We refer to people who break body safety rules as 'bad people.' 

We've read this in a body safety book or two - telling children that there are 'bad people out there who break body safety rules.' Well, what does that say to a child who is molested by their favorite cousin, a friend, or their own parent? A child may become protective of their abuser because of an emotional connection they have with this person.

Instead, we can tell our children that people who break body safety rules need help - because it's not the right thing to do. The reality is that for one reason or another, there is a psychological problem with the person who commits abuse. It may be pedophilia, sexual deviancy, narcissism, or a low sense of moral standing in combination with depression or low self esteem and/or a substance addiction.

For juvenile offenders, it may be a response to their own experiences of sexual abuse,or even physical abuse/neglect, or sexual curiosity of a child that has not been educated about their own sexuality and what constitutes healthy behaviors, and therefore fails to fully acknowledge how harmful their behavior is. Which is why it's SO important to talk to our kids, so we can bring down the 40% of sexual abuse perpetrated by minors. 
#3. We refer to abuse as something that 'hurts'. 

Abuse is hurtful - but not always in a way that leaves a mark on their body. The trauma of sexual abuse is psychological - from not feeling in control of one's body, the betrayal of someone they trusted. It is confusing when a child feels they're supposed to be their own defenders - especially when the offender is someone that is viewed as a protector. Sexual abuse often feels pleasurable to the body, and this builds a sense of shame as they feel this is something they must want or are willingly participating in.  In order to make sense of this, children often take responsibility for the abuse - they feel they must deserve it, they are 'lesser' people because it is happening, that they can't say anything because of the disruption to their family and life if they tell. The fear of losing a parent, or their home can often be enough for the child to feel they should endure the secret of their abuse in order to protect their family. 

So, please let's be honest with our children and tell them the truth. Our private parts - the penis, the anus, vulva, and vagina have lots of nerve endings. This makes these parts of our body very sensitive, and it can often feel good to our bodies when these parts are touched. This isn't something we can control - just like if someone tickles us or hits us - we cannot control laughing or pain. This is called an 'autonomous response'. No matter what we do - we cannot stop how our body feels.  Remember, education is empowerment - ignorance does not protect their innocence. If we are real with our kids about how our bodies work, we can help avoid feelings of shame from their body's reaction to abuse - just because it's pleasurable to the body, doesn't mean it's wanted - or right. 

​*Side note: Our children are allowed to touch their own bodies in private - like when they're in bed or a bathroom. 
#3. We them to shout NO! Run fast! Tell someone right away!
This would be our biggest hope, that a child would have the courage and opportunity to do so. But if we're going to be honest - can we really imagine our children yelling no at a grandparent or a school teacher and running away? The reality is - abuse is rarely committed so black and white. Many abuser use a tactic called grooming. It starts as hugs, or tickling games, or an arm on a shoulder. Rarely is abuse perpetrated in a manner that the person being attacked would immediately sense the threat - and even so, it is naive to imagine that a person - especially a child would have the ability to escape the situation. 

Instead, lets impress upon our children that they have a right to say no to people if they don't like how they're being touched or treated but regardless of what happens - it's never their fault. And this is a point we often stress - it is never too late to tell.  

Never do we want a child to feel that it's their fault for not being able to stop an abuser, or that it's their secret burden because they didn't tell someone right away. This is true for adult survivors of sexual assault as well - what society at large doesn't understand about trauma is a lot. 

Survivors of assault often process their abuse - starting with shock, denial, confusion, fear, and shame. Rarely is the first reaction to go and tell someone when often, they themselves, are confused about what happened. 
#5. We tell them their bodies belong to them, and then we treat them like our property. 

Inevitably, when we bring this up, there are people who believe that forcing their children to hug family or laugh at photos of their children terrified on the lap of Santa or the Easter Bunny (arguably, most terrifying) is some sort of sign of respect or right of passage of childhood. What it really says to a child is that sometimes big people have a right to force them to do things they don't want to do - and they may even find it funny to treat children this way. Bottom line, the child's choice about their body doesn't matter and it's not defended either. Not surprisingly, people who sexually abuse children don't believe that children deserve to be treated with equal respect. They often don't see children as 'people'. So, while this may not be the most detrimental point of this whole post, we still have to ask - would you rather side toward protective parents or abusers? 

Whenever we have these talks with our kids, we need to put our words into perspective. Would we understand what is being told to us if the roles were reversed? Are our expectations reasonable? Are we not just talking but showing our kids how important their body safety is by living in a way that embraces their rights and minimizes risk? Are we building a closer relationship with our child and giving them the tools to understand the world, their bodies, and right of all people to be treated with respect? 

We are their teachers, their guardians, their cheerleaders, their confidants. It is not just a responsibility, but an honor that we must embrace with the interest of not just 'getting through it' but getting the most out of it. 
<![CDATA[Going Beyond Body Safety - Why Parenting Matters In Protecting Children From Sexual Abuse ]]>Tue, 26 Jan 2016 04:20:54 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/going-beyond-body-safety-why-parenting-matters-in-protecting-children-from-sexual-abuse
Teaching children body safety is important. They need to know what constitutes right and wrong behavior and when they need to tell. But this is only one aspect of prevention. The responsibility rests upon the shoulders of us adults to not only minimize the risk of abuse, but also establish an environment where children feel that their rights will be reinforced and that they can tell someone should they need to. A child only educated in body safety rules in a short class at school is not nearly as empowered and safe as the child raised in a family that lives by them.  At best, body safety classes should reinforce what children have learned at home, and at worst - teaching them what they don't but need to know from their parents. 

Even so, 'body safety' as a set of rules that apply to body autonomy and private parts are only one part of the necessary education and nurturing of children. There is also an essential emotional component that cannot be 'learned' it must be nurtured between the child and a caring adult - preferably a parent. 

For those parents out there that truly want to do everything in their power to protect their children, here are three tips to best protect and empower your children beyond rocking the body safety talk. 

Treat Them With Respect 

This may seem like a given for all parenting, but even the most well-meaning parents can belittle and undermine their child's sense of self respect. When we minimize their feelings about something: "Oh, it's just a spoon - it doesn't matter whether you get Toy Story or Tow Mater" or whether or not you want to receive a kiss from an extended family member. To them - it does matter. And when we don't at least acknowledge what matters to them, we are essentially telling them that we don't care about what is important to them. Sure, when they're older and they're able to regulate their emotions better it won't matter (and FYI - this is a biological development of the cognitive area of the brain, parents, we cannot 'make' them learn this) - but today, at this moment what matters to them - matters. 

Treating children as people who have a right to opinions, emotions, preferences - this is what helps them feel like they have a right to be treated with respect by others. It doesn't mean we give in to every whim, it simply means that we acknowledge their feelings, we consider their thoughts as being valid to them, no matter how immature or foolish they may seem to us. 

Children that feel  'less than' may feel they don't have a choice when someone - especially a family member or other authority figure violates their personal autonomy. 

In fact, parents that don't treat their children respectfully can actually increase opportunity for abusers who now have an 'in' with that child. They can be the one to show interest and understand how they feel. The child is often so surprised and happy to receive such positive attention that by the time the relationship becomes damaging, they may be too afraid to lose that one person who treats them that way, or they may feel they themselves caused it and are obligated to follow through. It becomes yet another way the child must submit the value of their rights to the wants of another person who deserves more respect than they do, or so they've been raised.

Simply listening to a child is a way to not only show that child love, but respect, and in turn, give them the power to understand that their voice matters. 

Treat Failings as Opportunities for Improvement, not Just Punishment

The book Parenting with Love and Logic is a great resource for parents who really wish to make the most out of all those moments when our children fail to follow our good advice, or simply do the wrong thing out of spite or selfishness. How we behave when things go bad will affect whether or not our children will be willing to share their experiences with us or work harder to keep them from us. If we blow up and ground our kids when they mess up, if we go overboard with our discipline (Read: Authoritarian Parenting) they will learn that when things go wrong, it's better not to tell. 

 Conversely, if we are able to maintain composure and focus on helping our children identify solutions and proper restitution when things go wrong - they will see us more as the person they need to go to when a problem needs to be resolved (Read: Consultant Parenting). In essence children learn to take responsibility for their own actions and feel closer to us because they still feel loved, even at their least lovable. 

For any child, disclosing sexual abuse carries the weight of shame, various forms of blackmail that will come to light (whether it's disclosing what happened to them, drug or alcohol use, gifts, money etc), and even with the strongest bond it will be a challenge for them to not feel guilty and embarrassed. The last thing a child considering telling such a secret wants to be exposed to is yelling and anger. 

Don't Forget We're Empowering Our Children Against Sexual Abuse - Including Abuse Perpetrated By Them 

It is hard. It is, sometimes, impossible for parents to accept that their child could, or has, done something sexually inappropriate with another child. Unfortunately, it happens at a much greater rate than society is, arguable, ready to accept - with nearly as much as 40% of abuse perpetrated by minors (and not just boys - but girls, too), with many reported perpetrators just entering puberty. When we talk to our children about body safety, we have to remember that these rules don't go one-way. 

Some abuse prevention trainings won't talk about our responsibility to raise children with a strong understanding of appropriate sexual behaviors, respectful relationships, the need for consent in any and every situation - and the difference between assumed consent and actual consent. Yet, we have the opportunity to make a significant impact on the future of sexual abuse. 

Research has shown that empathy plays a significant role in raising children that don't become offenders themselves (Walker & Brown, 2013). Not surprisingly, abusers often lack remorse and focus on their wants with little consideration for those they perpetrate against. Perhaps surprising, many people are raised in such a manner - thinking of the world as means of accomplishing what they want, even if that means it being at the expense or indifference to others. 

One of the chief sources of discomfort for families whose children were abused by another juvenile is the lack of interest of the offending child's family to seek help to address the problematic behavior. It often becomes apparent that the values of those protecting such offenders are not based in morals, but self-serving interests and lack of interest in living with the ugly truth that even 'good' people, kids even, can commit sexual abuse. 

With more children being exposed to sexualized materials through the internet and media it is not surprising that pornography addiction is occurring at a muchyounger age. It will take parents with both feet firm in reality, hearts set to nurture and guide with love, not fear or power, and the courage to have conversations that matter with the goal of raising responsible, moral, compassionate human beings. When it comes to raising our children we have every right and responsibility to help break the cycle of abuse by raising a generation of adults that don't just 'know better' but are raised better. 
<![CDATA[Playdate Etiquette for Body Safety ]]>Thu, 14 Jan 2016 17:10:20 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/playdate-etiquette-for-body-safety Playdates are a great way to build friendships (child and adult alike) and they're often the highlight of a child's week especially as they make new friends in school. Each family, however, has their own way of doing things, and it's important to address safety and parenting style issues that may arise. Surprisingly, parents are often confronted with situations where someone else's approach is contradictory to their own. Rather than find this out after the fact, here are some suggestions of expectations and topics that should be covered pre-playdate. 

Do Invite The Parent Over 

Maybe you are the most amazing people in the world and set the bar for playdate standards. But part of that should also include assuring the other parent that you value the responsibility of having their child in your home. Getting to know the parents also gives you an opportunity to learn a little about them and their parenting style - maybe you wont want your child going to their house in return, or maybe you'll find that great parent friend you can rely on for a last minute babysitting need.

A Don't: Don't offer to take the child home straight from school unless you know them well enough that you feel this would be a comfortable situation for them. It may seem like a convenient offer - an opportunity to give them a break, but without knowing you or your child, this is a potential red flag for 

Do Talk About Your Family & Parenting Rule 

Some things you should cover in the course of conversation: 
  • Are there other siblings and what are their ages - will they have friends over as well? 
  • Will the other parent or other adults be home during this time? 
  • Do you own any guns and how are they secured? 
  • Where do you both stand on video games, internet usage, tv time and types of shows you allow the kids watch? 
  • Do you have pets, if so what kinds?
  • Do you own a pool, trampoline? Will someone be watching the kids?
  • Do you let the children play outside by themselves - what are the rules about leaving the house and how far they are allowed to go? 

Do Bring Up Body Safety 

Ok, so we agree this may seem awkward - how do you bring up the topic of body safety naturally? Here is one suggestion - since you're here reading this right now, let them know that you follow our advice regarding parenting children and body safety. Offer them a copy of our educational materials or our free coloring pages and explain how you've been teaching your children about body autonomy and the rules about body safety.  If you are always having playdates where the other parent stays the whole time, you may not need to bring all of this up right away. But during the course of time, we recommend that any home where your child may be playing should be a home that is aware of your body safety education and, hopefully, teaches their children and adopts similar rules.  After all, the more people that are educated and proactive about body safety, the safer the whole community will be. 

What rules? 

1. No playing in rooms with the door closed and, especially, never lock doors. 
Maybe a younger sibling is bothering them, but the solution is not to allow them to be isolated from the rest of the house. 
2. We always keep our clothes on and we don't share or touch each other's private parts.  
This may seem like a given, but most younger kids don't have a strong sense of needing privacy. Children that are not educated about body safety may begin to be curious about their private parts and use a play date as an opportunity to explore. This is not unnatural, but it is important that we positively direct children to learn about their private parts at home, by talking or reading a book with us. 
3. We don't keep secrets from our parents. 
This seems to be a big one for kids. When they're over a friend's house there are new snacks and toys and places they want to explore. You may be surprised how even the most well behaved child can be convinced to sneak a treat or allow their friend to play with or take something they're not supposed to. If one child is trying to get the other to do something and keep it hidden from the parent, it needs to be told. We know kids are learning and they're not self control experts, so it's understandable that this is probably going to happen. It's important that we control our response - to not be angry or punish our child for doing the wrong thing, but rather take it as an opportunity to explain why we have these rules and the behavior we expect from them and their friends. 
4. We don't trick, bribe, or bully others. 
This is not only needed for friends but also younger or older siblings. To the older child involved it may seem funny to get a younger child to do something they're not supposed to. But for the younger child involved, who isn't as aware of what is going on or doesn't have the ability to defend themselves it becomes an issue of not being treated with respect. It could be as simple as getting a toddler to shake a bottle of baby powder on their own head, or convincing a child to do something sexually inappropriate. When older children are present in the home, it is important to be aware of where they are all playing and to supervise when children of different ages are playing together. With as much as40% of sexual abuse perpetrated by minors, the risk shouldn't be discounted. 

Do Keep The Other Parent Informed 

If the child is being dropped off at your house, maybe you'll want to text a photo of what the kids are up to during the course of the playdate. If something happens that you feel the other parent should know - don't hold back, tell them. We parents should be on the same page when it comes to understand that our kids are learning how to behave properly and that things can happen by accident. For example a child may walk into the bathroom without knocking and accidentally intrude on someone else's privacy, or maybe the kids snuck outside without asking first. Don't let the other parent find out that this happened without hearing it from you first. Open communication is necessary. 

Our goal here is to build upon our safety network for our children. We want our children to be safe in any home they enter, whether it's family or friends. We want every adult and child our children interact with to be aware of body safety rules and, hopefully, to employ them in their families as well.  Children are not safe from abuse by knowing these rules on their own. We must surround them with people and in environments that support body autonomy and minimize risk for abuse. It's not about being a helicopter hovering over our kids, it's just being smart about how we empower our children to explore the world around them.

 A Last Don't: Don't feel guilty if you do not feel comfortable allowing your child to play over someone's house. Invite them to a park or other activity where you can both be present. It is not our job to protect the egos of other adults, it is our job to protect our children as best we are able.

A Last Do: Do observe your child's mood and behavior after playdates with friends. Are they talkative about how their time was spent together? Are they happy and looking forward to playing together again? Or, are they quiet and withdrawn? You know your child best and when our children can't talk, they often communicate through behaviors when something is bothering them.  
To Learn More, Go To:
<![CDATA[Two Young Lives Shaken By Abuse ]]>Tue, 03 Nov 2015 18:57:45 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/two-young-lives-shaken-by-abusePurple Angela and Little O are two sisters we are soliciting cards of support as for they prepare for their father, who sexually abused them for much of their early childhood, to face charges and prepare themselves to testify in court. 

Often such children and their parents are shrouded in secrecy in order to maintain the integrity of the court proceeding, and with limited resources available for support they often go through the legal process.

If you would like to send a card to Purple Angel, Little O and their mother, they can be mailed to: 

Purple Angel & Little O
c/o The Mama Bear Effect
PO BOX 190 
Pinehurst, MA 01866

**Please note we will not be able to forward material items until after the case is complete in order to protect the authenticity of their testimony. 

Cards will be screened to protect the emotional well-being of the family. 
Here is their story as shared by their mother: 

7 months ago, I was a stay at home mom to four beautiful children. I organized play dates, coffee dates, and homeschool activities. I volunteered as a Crisis Counselor and was in the process of opening a home for pregnant teens in the State we lived in. I went to church and spent every moment I could with my children and husband. 

Until the day I stumbled upon my oldest daughter's 'Purple Angel'  (13 year old) journal while cleaning. The first three pages detailed sexual abuse that had been done to her over the past 7 years. She didn't name her abuser, so while shaking and crying I called my husband who was with 3 of our 4 children. He immediately started driving home and I told him that I wanted to take my daughter away from the house for a little while so she would feel safe to talk to me. 

 After talking to her, I discovered that the abuser was my husband. My best friend. The man that adopted her at 7 years old when we got married. I spoke to my youngest daughter, 'Little O' when we got home and she confirmed that her father had also been raping her for the past 4 years. My oldest has since told us that she believes he began raping her sister even before that. Both girls were interviewed by forensic experts and their statements were taped. We turned in the journal, packed up our things and went to a hotel until my dad could fly out to where we were and drive us across the country to his home. 

My other 2 children were sent to their biological mother, who had not had custody of them since they were 1 and 3. We haven't been allowed to speak to them since March because she's still allowing them to have contact with my husband and he hasn't told her that he's facing 12 separate charges or that the investigators were able to obtain solid physical evidence during a search warrant they executed at our home.We are now living in the same state as my father and my girls are devastated. 

My oldest spent a week in the hospital due to her severe depression and anxiety. She doesn't sleep because her nightmares are so real to her, she has developed and eating disorder and began cutting herself as a way to ease her pain. She's no longer the happy little girl she once was. She lives everyday in fear that her Dad will come after her, take her away from her sister and I and hurt her again. 

 My youngest tries so hard to stay positive and happy but every night I hear her crying in the dark. She won't sleep alone so she sleeps beside me and some days she's afraid that if she goes to School, her Dad will come hurt me while she's gone. She desperately misses her siblings and although she understands that what her father did to her was wrong and wants him to face consequences of his actions, she misses him too. 
 After spending 9 years as a stay at home mom, I'm now having to look for work to support my children. I underwent a bilateral mastectomy in August of this year and am still going through treatment. The girls lives have been shaken so horribly and we know it's not over yet. 

In November, their father will face the equivalent of a grand jury and be indicted. Because we are a military family, my husband an active duty member and myself a veteran, and lived on base, the journal was turned in to military investigators and their court process is a lot different than a civilian process. The girls will not have to appear for this but will have to testify against their father when we go to trial. It's been a very painful, long road and knowing that this is just the beginning is at times hard to bare. I do believe that justice will be served and my girls and I will find healing in the days ahead.
<![CDATA[Despite all the wounds, I am healing.]]>Mon, 28 Sep 2015 00:52:13 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/despite-all-the-wounds-i-am-healing
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Below is 'Butterfly's' History of childhood sexual abuse. This is part of our Survivors Series to give voice to the real people behind the statistics of the millions of adults that have been affected by childhood sexual abuse. This post does contain potentially triggering material, so please read with consideration and care for your own history of abuse. 

If you would like to submit your story, you may reach out to us at info@themamabeareffect.org with the email subject heading: Survivor Series. 

I wanted to share my sexual abuse story as a gift to myself, a desperate cry to parents, and encouragement to all those who have faced abuse. I accepted that I was sexually abuse three years ago. 

These last few months I have experienced the most growth and healing. I know now that I am ready to share my story. I want to break the silence. I want to encourage others who have been there. You are not alone, damaged goods, dirty, or broken. 

I remember being abused for the first time at age five. A boy in his late teens was playing Hide N Seek with all the younger children from my neighborhood. He told me that if I hide in the shower I would win. I excitedly hid! He never went looking for all the other kids. He came right into the bathroom that I was in. I had no idea how long we were in there. I was terrified, embarrassed, but also experiencing pleasure that was new to me.  Suddenly one of the parents burst into the bathroom. I ran away as fast as I could. I heard the adult yelling. I remember being so scared. I thought my parents were going to talk to be about the bad thing I did in that bathroom. No one ever talked to me though. No one ever mentioned it. That is the first time my abuser successfully got away with his crime. 

I would be raped for several years following that event. Looking back now I see all the signs of grooming. I was a quiet kid. I loved playing pretend by myself instead of being with a bunch of kids. I desperately wanted to be pretty like a princess and I wanted to make everyone happy. I never got a lot of attention or affection from my Dad. I desperately wanted his approval, affirmation, and love. My mom and dad fought a lot so I never felt safe in our home. My abuser started grooming me by giving me compliments and playing my pretend princess fairy games. He then moved to brushing my long brown hair while I was on his lap. He would tickle, kiss, and hug me in front of the adults. They always spoke about how great with kids he was, and how he was. He was on a star player on the football team in high school and made good grades. I felt safe, pretty, and special, with him. He gave me what all little girls should get from their parents. I will always wonder how my childhood would have been different if my Dad would have put on the flower crowns I made and played with me. I will always want that. 

My abuser change suddenly and drastically about a year into the sexual abuse. I was swimming by myself. (That alone is a clear sign that I was not watched or protected like a small child should be.)  My abuser got in the pool and held me under the water until I stopped fighting. I remember choking and puking water. I remember my feet couldn’t touch the bottom of the pool I was so little. My baby dolls had sunk to the bottom. The calm demeanor of my abuser is still shocking to me. I gave in only so I could breathe.  The pain was terrible. I know now that he raped me anally that day. I only share that information because I know my abuser was provided porn through one of the parents in the neighborhood. I believe if my abuser would have been protected from porn that I would have been protected in a lot of ways too. 

I know my abuser was deeply addicted to porn. I also know now that his addiction played a huge role in why I was sexually abused. That parent thought that if teenage boys had porn they wouldn’t get teen girls pregnant. It was like a rite of passage for them as men. All the while, I was forced to view porn, react porn, and even given a porn star nickname by my abuser.  I masturbated openly, in front of my parents and baby sitters. I told my parents and other adults that this was a game called “Tickling.” I remember getting spanked when I got caught, but no one ever asked me any questions.

 I don’t think anyone wanted to admit what was going on. Three adults walked in on my being raped during my abuse. Each time I thought that I would finally be free because they would tell my parents. Each time I was disappointed. I felt like trash that no one cared about. I felt like no one cared enough to help me be free. I would go to my little garden and talk to my pretend fairy friends after I was raped. I never lost the hope that I was their princess fairy. I created my own little world where I was loved, cherished, and protected. Looking back now I know that beautiful pretend world saved my life. 

These last three years have been so hard. Going to counseling, talking with my support people, and raising my toddler has felt impossible some days. Recently though I had a breakthrough. I realized that I was a little girl. I am not guilty for what happened to me. I was just searching for the affirmation, affection, and love all children need to thrive. I realized that I am not broken, damaged, or dirty. I started posting up note cards all of the house that said things like, “You are a strong!”  “You are a good Mom.” “You are beautiful!”  I know now that every time I get in the floor and play pirates or trucks with my son I am not only surviving, I shattering the darkness. I am breaking the cycle of abuse in my family. I am being the mom and adult that I needed as a little girl. Despite all the wounds, I am healing. Despite all the lies, I am learning to believe the truth. Despite having a terrible childhood, I will give my son a great one. 

Despite it all, I am surviving! We are SURVIVORS!

We want to thank Butterfly for her courage and conviction in speaking her truth. We also would like to share a link to Porn Kills Love, an organization dedicated to exposing the dangers and misconceptions regarding pornography. 

You can also view more of Butterfly's artwork at our Survivor's Studio Page. 
<![CDATA[Three Reasons To Not Teach Body Safety To Kids ]]>Mon, 14 Sep 2015 01:14:32 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/three-reasons-to-not-teach-body-safety-to-kids
How we understand and talk about sexual abuse can make the difference between a protected child and the illusion of protection. There is no such thing as 100% safe, but there is definitely more we can all do to reduce the risk - and most of it doesn't involve talking to our kids. 
1. Because you believe a child educated in body safety will be able to prevent sexual abuse.

Instead, teach them body safety so they understand their rights, that abuse is never their fault, and that you will always be there to support them. 

It has never been and never will be the responsibility of a child to protect themselves from the tactics sexual abusers employ to take advantage of a a child's trust to deceive, manipulate, and control their victims. And it would be unwise to expect that a child - even the most confident, would be able to.  Every child deserves to know they have a right to bodily autonomy, and to understand what constitutes inappropriate behavior -  but that it is never their fault if a body safety rule is broken. No child should feel that they failed or ashamed that they were too 'weak' to protect themselves - it's the job of us adults to keep them safe.Every child should know that there is someone that would believe them and be proud of them for telling - no matter what. Body safety should teach children they have body safety is their right, not responsibility. 

Beyond that, children not only need to be educated to keep them safe, but to reduce the chance that they could perpetrate abuse against another child. Body safety is a two-way street, and with 40% of sexual abuse estimated to be perpetrated by other children, we have the opportunity to reduce the number of children being abuse by taking time to teach our kids about consent, respect, and personal responsibility. 

Every adult should know the warning signs of abuse so that a child that needs our help can receive it sooner than later. Remember, most children (even children educated in body safety) most likely will not tell right away. 

2. Because you believe that it is the only way to keep a child safe.

Instead, lets teach kids body safety in addition to taking preventative efforts. 

The reality is, we as adults can do more on our own to keep our kids safe than by relying on their education in body safety. Educating ourselves on the situations and warning signs that signal increased risk of abuse, minimizing opportunities that our children are alone with others, and possibly the most important yet least exercised - educating and seeking others to become involved in reducing risk. Convicted sexual predators have shared that they targeted families/children or took advantage of a situation where they were trusted to be alone with a child, without any concern that the protective parent was even considering the risk of sexual abuse. Too many families that did educate their children in body safety never suspected that those they trust the most, the ones they assumed were on their child's side would break that trust. It's not enough to educate ourselves and our children - we need to involve our partners, family, friends, teachers, and youth leaders to be proactive in reducing risk and taking steps to keep kids safe. 

Think of a child's education in body safety as the last line of defense - we, the adults, should be at the front lines. Think of trust, not as a gift, but as an action involving authenticity checks and balances. 

3. Because you're terrified your child will be kidnapped by a stranger. 

Instead, teach them about lures and how to get help if they're ever alone (Protecting the Gift is a great book for this), teach them how to get out of uncomfortable situations - not just yell and tell, but that it's OK to make excuses to get away, and it's OK if they were too scared or confused to get away.

In approximately 93% of cases where a child was sexually abused, the offender was someone the child knew, trusted, and often loved - most often a family member or close family friend. A parent, sibling, grandparent, aunt/uncle, cousin, caretaker, family friend, coach/mentor, or teacher. In a growing number of child predator situations involving strangers, the perpetrator established a relationship with the child online, masquerading themselves as someone closer in age. The Stranger Danger mentality can be dangerous if we believe they pose a greater threat than the people we know. 

 There's no denying that this can be a hard reality to accept, but there's no good excuse why we can't each do more to raise awareness and protect the children in our own communities. With 1:4 girls and 1:6 boys estimated to have experienced sexual abuse, there is no greater threat to the health and well-being of our children, and no better time to do more to stop this from affecting today's generation and in the future. 

The Mama Bear Effect is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It is our mission to raise awareness for the prevention of child sexual abuse through the education and empowerment of adults and communities to protect children. Make a tax-deductible donation today to help us educate more adults and strengthen more communities to keep kids safe. With your help, we can make the world a safer place for children to learn and grow. 
<![CDATA[The Predators of Fairy Tales - What We Can Learn ]]>Tue, 08 Sep 2015 02:05:59 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/the-predators-of-fairy-tales-what-we-can-learn When you think about the issues of abuse, specifically child sexual abuse, as much as we do - you start to see the world in a different light. In reviewing some of these popular pieces of literature (some old and some newer versions) it brings to mind some of the important lessons that we strive to instill in our educational work and materials. There is no one 'lesson' on predators, nor should we have just one conversation with our kids. Here is our feedback on some of the most well-known predators children learn about during their childhood reading.
The Three Little Pigs 
Which house did the Big Bad Wolf blow down first? The one with the most vulnerable foundation. Child predators in the real world are no different. They look for single parents, families struggling financially, parents that are too busy or simply don't give their kids enough attention - many predators that premeditate abuse look for weaknesses in a family unit and often choose the family and child that seem easiest to prey upon.  
Photo: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_g9nTp-8Xgks/TMEMET1i2BI/AAAAAAAAAJA/A8c5GvevMN0/s1600/Red+Riding+Hood+and+Wolf.jpg
Little Red Riding Hood
"Do not stray from the path and don't talk to strangers."

 What did Little Red do? She strayed and talked to a stranger. Kids do that, not always face-to-face but online via social media, video games, and chat rooms. Most parents are terrified to let their children walk alone down the street, yet  too many, arguably, allow their children unsupervised access to the internet - where the newest crop of predators wait. Not unlike real-life online predators, the Big Bad Wolf gathers personal information about Red Riding Hood - where she was going and who she was seeing and, again, like in real life - he pretends to be something he isn't in order to draw her as close to him as possible. 
Photo: http://shortstoriesshort.com/story/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Hansel-and-Gretel.jpg
Hansel & Gretel 
While the witch may have lured the children with candy - there are many forms of grooming that predators use to gain trust and break down the defenses of a child. Here she had two hungry children lost in the woods, but many children are hungry for attention, friendship, or a sense that someone truly cares. Much like the witch, predators don't always attack right away. She fed them, and made them nice beds to sleep in - the children were completely at ease. In the real world, predators can takes months of time grooming the families and their victims into a state of complete comfort and trust. 
Photo: http://missbutterfly11.deviantart.com/journal/The-Spider-and-the-Fly-492978472
The Spider and the Fly
Spiders are, perhaps, one of the best known predators for luring and ensnaring their prey. Perhaps less known than most fairy tales, The poem, 'The Spider and the Fly' is a cautionary tale about those who use flattery and false kindness as a way to woo those they wish to harm, or in the spider's case, devour. The meaning in the last lines of the poem are is not so disguised,

"And now, dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly, flattering words, I pray you ne’er give heed;
Unto an evil counselor close heart, and ear, and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale of the Spider and the Fly."

The Little Mermaid 
What ultimately drew Ariel to go to Ursula the Sea Witch? That she could give Ariel what she wanted - when her father responded with anger and outrage, Ursula found her moment to ensnare the girl. Her father's behavior drove Ariel away - Ursula's feigned empathy and offer to 'help' drew her in. 

Some predators will seek opportunities to show that they 'understand' their victims and encourage them to partake in adult activities - whether it's giving them alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs. Ultimately, it's an attempt to blackmail the child so that they feel they cannot ask for help - especially if the parent is likely to respond with anger or if they fear they'll be in trouble. It is important to remember, especially during the most trying moments of parenthood, that maintaining the bond we have with our children is essential. A parent's love should never be conditional. 
Sleeping Beauty 
The point we want to make here is a simple one: sometimes no matter how loving, how protective parents can be - a predator will still make their way through. The good news - there can still be a happy ending. 
As most people know - many abusers live in the home of their victims. And often, victims are very adaptive in order to survive - from the outside you may never know what they're holding in. There is no 'one fits all' way for victims to act nor what abusers look like. But no matter the ability for a person to deal with mistreatment, whether physical, emotional, sexual or otherwise - abuse and neglect are never OK. Not every survivor comes out with Prince Charming. Surviving the abuse is half the battle, surviving the recovery means overcoming the trauma, the depression, the anger, struggles with trust, low self-esteem all while moving forward with their lives.  Like Cinderella, we hope every victim and survivor of abuse can see that castle in the distance and know, in their hearts that no matter how much dirt and soot is thrown at them - it doesn't change their worth. We may not always be where we want to be, but so long as we don't give up we can get there. 
<![CDATA[Young Boys' Trust Betrayed & In Need Of Support]]>Wed, 02 Sep 2015 21:23:46 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/young-boys-trust-betrayed-in-need-of-support
Artwork by "Superman Zay" His heart with stitches and band aids.
Nearly a year ago, my world came crushing down, a state trooper at the door and I heard the words I never wanted to hear, "mommy, he touched my no no square." His uncle, a man we trusted and knew for years a man that filled a void that my child and nephew had from having no father figure. All the activities and gifts that he gave them that I could not afford to, I now realize was him grooming them and keeping them quiet about the abuse.  It wasn't until another boy disclosed to his mother and reported it to authorities. 

They have made great progress and have had set backs at the same time. Currently my 9 year old 'Superman Zay' has been just released from an inpatient mental health facility. He went through 8 months of therapy, but 2 weeks ago attempted to take his own life. Since then he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sometimes, it's like I don't even know my son anymore.  

We have court fast approaching.  He feels weak and scared and all alone. I thought if some of you would could send a post card or anything to maybe brighten his day and let him know he isn't alone, that he has support to face the unthinkable. 

My 15 year old nephew is also in need of support and courage "Bug" will have to face the accused at this time as well and although he hasn't required in patient treatment he is having difficulty coping on a day to day basis.

 Superman Zay loves outdoors, and of course superhero (he is mine) and Bug loves the outdoors fishing and art. Art speaks volumes and the both of then use it as a coping skill. Thanks in advance for anyone that would like to send these boys a word of encouragement. 

The family will be seeking a local B.A.C.A. chapter for support as well. 

Cards of support (no physical or items of monetary value, please) can be sent to:

Superman Zay & Bug 
PO Box 162 Athens, WV 24712
<![CDATA[On Being 'Back To School']]>Mon, 31 Aug 2015 18:37:19 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/on-being-back-to-school
Children are making their way back to the classrooms and the athletic fields. It's another year of learning, growing, friendships, and memories.

While our children debate first day outfits and deal with lunch room anxieties, we parents, teachers, and mentors must all be mindful of one of the greatest threats to our children's opportunities to learn, build up self esteem, establish supportive relationships, and gain productive life skills. 

This year will mark something very significant for tens of thousands of children. For too many it will mean remembering the first time they were sexually abused, the first time someone noticed something was wrong, or the first time they had the courage to tell someone. 

For the child that sees school as a way to get away from what's going on at home. The child that doesn't realize the person they trust and admire - can't be trusted. The child that has a secret to tell but doesn't know where to turn. Please know it not your fault and you're not alone.  To the young survivor that doesn't feel worthy enough to be loved and respected- you are. You always were and always will be. 

For the parents reading this - please know that over 90% of children that are sexually abused are perpetrated upon by someone they and their parents know and trust - often a family member. It could be a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, and often a sibling. Any opportunity others are around our children, it is important that we talk about body safety, maintain vigilance for red flags, and create opportunities to interrupt 1:1 time when others are with our children. 

For the survivors who are now parents facing the triggers and anxiety of watching their own children go through the same experiences that bring back the pain of your own childhood, know that you are not alone

For the teachers and coaches and mentors reading this - ask your school administrators to refresh their policies on how they interview and train staff, review vulnerabilities across school grounds and policies that are established to reduce 1:1 situations with children, reinforce that private communication outside of school with students is not acceptable, and how to identify and properly report suspected abuse. For the principals and school administrators - please reach out to us about distributing our materials to parents and staff. 

For the pediatricians that may come upon this, please take advantage of the opportunity to introduce body safety and abuse prevention education with parents. They trust you to tell them what they need to know to keep their children's bodies safe. 

If we're going to talk to kids about stranger danger, lets not ignore that the internet is the new playground for predators and that our teens are far from being capable of protecting themselves from abuse. And with 40% of abuse estimated to be perpetrated by juveniles, with headlines like the Steubenville Ohio and St Paul's Academy - we need to be actively engaged in lessons to prevent them from abusing others. Rape culture is alive and thriving among adolescents.  If we don't talk about it with our kids, we're only helping to enable it - when we're at an opportune time to disable it. 

So while the children are gearing up to learn - it's also our time to learn as well. It's time to face our anxieties about understanding how abusers perpetrate and unlearning the misconceptions, for example -  that all offenders are pedophiles.  Be aware that sexual abuse is often suspected through changes in behavior - rarely does a child disclose on their own. Talk about it even if you suspect nothing, the child that wants to tell may depend on someone who is courageous enough to ask first, and then again, and again. Remember, their trust has been violated - they need to know they can trust us, trust that they will be believed, that they will not be shamed or blamed. 

And before our kids have too much homework to do, we can do a little with them, and give them a lesson on body safety that we will benefit from as well. 

For the social workers, detectives, prosecutors, and judges that may stumble upon this - remember, these are not just 'cases' with report numbers and paperwork that needs to be filed. These children are people who need you during a time when they are most vulnerable and least capable of protecting themselves. This is especially true when their abuser holds custody or is an enabler to the abuser. 

For the 1:4 women and 1:6 men that are estimated to be survivors of child sexual abuse, this is truly the silent epidemic of our society. No matter who we are - parent, grandparent, neighbor, friend, teacher, coach, peer - we all have a role to play in preventing abuse, detecting & stopping it, and helping survivors heal.  The time is now. 

<![CDATA[Join us in Supporting 'Warrior' as he Prepares to Testify]]>Mon, 17 Aug 2015 14:13:00 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/join-us-in-supporting-warrior-as-he-prepares-to-testify
Photo by 'Warrior' - a 9 year old survivor of sexual abuse preparing to testify. copyright 2015
UPDATE From Warrior's Mom 11/6/15

I just wanted to send an update.  I have dreaded the calendar changing to this month, for some odd reason the change signifies something in my gut and heart that I cannot put into words. Here we are.

Warrior has met with the prosecutor and our VA numerous times so far. He watched his VIS which was very traumatizing for him. He even stopped the video during the first session himself because he had enough. The prosecutor was so proud of him for standing up for himself like that. 

 Earlier this week, we started the trial prep. Warrior has voiced concerns about being scared and nervous. I know this is going to impact him severely, I just hope it is in a positive way. The unknown is so scary. We will go each week until trial. I have asked God to guide us and walk with us because I am not sure how we are going to make it. I keep trying to focus on the positive. 

Warrior has received over 30 cards from the campaign. We did not tell him about it but he found my stash a week or so ago and I explained to him about when we created 'Warrior' and shared his story, that so many people wanted him to know how brave he was. We will sit down as a family the night before trial and go through them all so that he is brave and encouraged and empowered and strong for the next day.

 I cannot thank you enough for all you have done and for all these strangers that have prayed for and praised our son. It will be a bench trial due to the perp being a juvenile and we have many obstacles to overcome due to evidence being inadmissible due to technicalities, etc. but we are going in with a positive outlook and Faith and support.

 Regardless, Warrior will overcome this and I know by his brave, young voice, he has saved other children and we cannot be more proud of him for that. Man does not provide final justice. God does and he is on our side. I will update as I can. 

Please continue to keep Warrior in your thoughts and prayers.

'Warrior' is a nine year old survivor of sexual abuse who will be taking the stand later this month against his perpetrator. As with many cases of child sexual abuse the child's testimony is critical to the prosecution. 

Young Warrior not only has to relive the abuse and be questioned by the defense team about his painful experience, he also has to face the possibility that he won't be believed, or that his testimony may not be enough to prove he was abused.  Since it is a juvenile trial his parents have not yet received permission from the court to be allowed in the room, but the perpetrator and his parents will be present during the testimony. Closed circuit testimony is also not permitted. 

Many families often choose a plea deal or forgo prosecution all together to avoid the possibility of further traumatizing the child. We support Warrior and his family in this journey and believe that, despite the outcome, he and his family will be able to continue their path of healing knowing that he was able to speak his truth. 

Unfortunately there is no B.A.C.A. Chapter near them to attend the trial and support Warrior, which is why it is even more crucial that we each take the time to send a card of support to Warrior, so that he can know he is not alone - that we are all rooting for him and are inspired by his courage and conviction to do all he can to protect other children. 

Below is his story, provided by his parents. At the end we have included a PO BOX address where you can send him a card (please, no packages or gifts - it has been advised that it could influence the trial if any child testifying is receiving gifts prior to their testimony. If you wish to send a stuffed animal or other physical item, please look out for a post-trial update and you can then send a second package.) 

Warrior was seven when he first reported being touched inappropriately by a teenage neighbor boy, which was a close family friend, in March of 2013. We immediately contacted the parents and got him into counseling. After a couple sessions he disclosed so much more severe abuse by this boy. The juvenile offender is charged with 4 felonies. 
Warrior continued counseling for a very long time and we, as his parents, chose to proceed with the legal stuff without him being aware of what was happening. Our family relocated and tried to pick up the pieces the beat we could and survive. He had a rough time at first but I think getting him away from the neighbors was crucial to his healing. We moved in October of 2013. 
Counseling was amazing for him. He ha a relationship with his therapist that still exists and we will continue his therapy after the trial to ensure he is doing ok. He received a citizenship award from his school at the end of last year which he was nominated for by teachers. That was very helpful in our healing as parents. It was then that we knew what we had been doing was what was right. 
We had always said we would not let him know about court of have him testify but as it nears, we have sought outside professional opinions and have chosen to have the talk with him. We were scared because we didn't want to dig it all back up for him. However, he is so strong and so determined to make sure the kid is held accountable and doesn't hurt anyone else. With his therapists testimony and the children's center testimony being inadmissible due to some technicalities, Warrior's testimony is crucial in the trial now. While he doesn't know that, we do and I am so scared. 
We want him to be strong and be supported and know that he is doing what is right, no matter how scary it is. He is nervous and has asked questions. He is scared to face the perpetrator and his family. Which is understandable and so sad since he knew them so well. 
Warrior is a wonderful, intelligent, caring child. He excels in school, sports and loves to have fun and makes us laugh so much. I have faith that he will thrive and that he will heal after all of this is over.

 He loves sports. He is currently playing his first year of tackle football. His favorite NFL team is the Patriots. He has played baseball for 5 years. He is obsessed with WWE wrestling as well. Hence his pen name of Warrior or Ultimate Warrior. We cannot thank you enough or this. I have no doubt it will give him the confidence and strength he needs to stand tall and be brave when he needs to at trial and even thereafter throughout his life when he thinks back on what has happened to him. He is a fighter. A survivor. Our Warrior.

UPDATE: 8/25/15

He met with the prosecutor for the first time ever on Friday. The initial meeting broke him down so bad. He introduced himself and Warrior lost it. It tore me up to see the tears streaming down his small cheeks. Once we all got him calm, he was able to visit the courtroom and sit in the Judge's chair and we all made small talk while explaining things simply. 

The prosecutor wanted to move the trial to October/November to allow himself time to establish a relationship and trust with Warrior which is crucial due to the fact that the VSI from the Children's Center and his counselor testimony cannot be used. He said he feels confident that Warrior will make a strong witness and impact. As mush as I want this over, I want it to be right and just.

 I am so grateful for the cards of support from the members of the site. We plan to give Warrior what has come so far, this weekend and continue to have a designated time to share them with him as they come in and the meetings get more difficult. We go again tomorrow.

 Can you please thank everyone, from the bottom of my heart for their support. Warrior is going to be blown away and so empowered! It will make all the difference in the world!

You can sends cards to:

Cards for Warrior
6260 E Riverside Blvd. 
Box #194
Loves Park, IL 61111
This post is the copyright of the author and cannot be republished without their written consent. Contact info@themamabeareffect.org for requests. 
<![CDATA[A Small Victory For Justice Against Child Abusers ]]>Wed, 01 Jul 2015 00:19:18 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/a-small-victory-for-justice-against-child-abusers
The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that when a child discloses abuse to a teacher or other mandated reporter it may be used as evidence without necessarily making the child testify in court against their abuser. 

Every year many children disclose abuse to mandated reporters who file the necessary paperwork with the police only to then find that the child is too afraid or too young to testify. Now, these children have a chance at justice without having to be re-traumatized through the process of testifying.

Read more

Read the Supreme Court Ruling
<![CDATA[Why I Don't Like Compliments]]>Thu, 25 Jun 2015 17:03:22 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/why-i-dont-like-complimentsSurvivor's Series: How Sexual Abuse is So Much More Than Physical
by Anonymous 
My father was a salesman, and this did not just apply to his day job - if he could keep one for long enough. He was a master manipulator. 

The abuse began for myself and my sisters when we were young. He seemed to rotate us on a weekly basis. I dreaded it but yet in a sick way it was our 'normal.' From the outside we seemed like a typical family.

When he would abuse us, he would often compliment and 'encourage' us. For some reason, even at a young age, I knew it was manipulation. I never believed what he would say, although he did successfully groom some of my sisters into his psychological mind games. For this reason, I believe he didn't like me very much. I was obedient, but he didn't control my mind. Later in life one of my sisters disclosed that he had told her he would have married her - had he met her before our mother . You see, when we were born, child sexual abuse was never talked about. There was no awareness, no outreach. My biological father left my mother for another woman. My mother was alone with myself and my older sister, forced to come back home to her rather poor mother. I do not know many details but within a year or two my mother married my father who adopted us. 

When he wasn't abusing us, he would sometimes praise and encourage us in our education and talents. To me, it was all the same. I never believed it - I could never tell the difference between what was a sincere compliment and if someone was trying to manipulate me through flattery. 

When my mother would be suspicious that something was going on, my father would berate and accuse her of having disgusting thoughts. He was very controlling of her. I was once sent to my room for the night without supper for doing something very minimal. My mother took some food to me as said she was 'sorry.' She once told me that if he was doing anything wrong - he'd be gone, I just had to say the word. But at the time, I felt like that was him talking - that he would leave us and we would be homeless if we told. Money was always tight and he was always borrowing more than he could pay back and blowing it often at the race track. We were always moving.  If he was gone - so would be the meager income we had. Not to mention I didn't believe my mother could help us - after all, if she couldn't stand up to him for sending me to my room without supper, what could she do about something much bigger? 

 When I was of dating age and a guy treated me with respect, I felt like there must be something wrong with him. Why would he treat ME as someone special - there must be something wrong with him, right? I married young, and as you can imagine, that didn't go well. 

My father died young,  and my mother said that she felt a huge weight lift off her shoulders. By then she was able to live off social security, and could live on her own terms - to a degree. Things seemed to be pretty good with my siblings for a while, but in time the abuse came back into our lives. One of my siblings was particularly manipulative with our mother and when she finally resisted the controlling behavior, the abuse seemed to turn into something that it never was - as one sister accused our mother of enabling and even participating in the abuse. (This from the same sister who claimed herself to be my mother's favorite and wanted her to live with her.) There are many ways in which survivors heal or struggle to heal from sexual abuse. Some of my siblings, sadly, seem to still be stuck in their anger and hatred and it became a weapon. We were given a choice: to associate with our mother and be disowned by my sibling, or hate her and disown our mother.  Our family has not, and seems likely never recover. My mother has been dead for years, but even though we all were victims of our father, we cannot unite and support one another.  I have let go of the anger so that I can live my life on my terms. I never saw my mother as an enabler, I saw her as a victim. This may not be true for all non-offending parents, but I never felt my mother didn't care about us - I believe that in today's time, she may have had the resources and support she would have needed to leave him. Back then, most families didn't. 

Do I think my mother knew? Yes. But I also feel that she very alone and without support. Back in that time it was encouraged to resolve incest 'within the family' and not involve law enforcement. The attitude was that it was better to deal with the abuse than the shame of reporting and going to trial.  Had we left my father, we all would most likely been homeless and put into foster care. You may disagree, but if I had to go back in time and make a decision to live with my mother and abusive father or be in foster care - I would still have chosen to be with my mother. She was my rock and she tried so hard to take care of all of us. Her spirit and perseverance inspired me through life to never give up. 

As a mother, I struggled to praise my children or tell my daughter she was beautiful. It seemed impossible to say such words without thinking of my own childhood and how I felt when my father would act like a normal, loving parent. My husband who was raised in an emotionally abusive home came from a childhood where his father and uncles thought it was motivating to make a child feel worthless - so they could prove themselves. Thus our children grew up with one parent tearing his children down, and the other too afraid to build them up. 

This Ted Talk by Nadine Harris spoke to me - about how children should be screened for trauma at routine physicals.  But here's another idea: 
Parents should be screened for childhood trauma before giving birth or through their child's pediatrician. We cannot break the cycle of abuse until we are able to heal ourselves and shine light onto the shadows that follow us into our adulthood.
So please, keep speaking. Keep raising awareness and demanding more resources for prevention, better policies to reduce the risk, and treatment for healing. Too many of us would rather live through the pain of our trauma than stand up for ourselves. But now, the next generation is at risk, and we cannot afford to allow any more children suffer. They do not deserve it, and neither did we.  

This blog post is part of a new Survivors Series we are running. If you would like to make a submission you may contact us at info@themamabeareffect.org 

 Entries should be 500-1000 words, free of spelling and typographical errors, contain citation or direct links to any references. It should be your own work, and not published elsewhere. Due to the level of correspondence we receive we may not be able to respond to those applicants we choose not to publish. If you do not hear a response from us within 3 weeks, you are free to submit your story to another site or blog. We are a non-profit organization and do not offer any financial compensation. 

This blog post is the property of The Mama Bear Effect and cannot be republished without our expressed consent  and the consent of the author. 

<![CDATA[Think All Child Molesters are 'Pedophiles'? Think Again.]]>Fri, 19 Jun 2015 01:43:49 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/think-all-child-molesters-are-pedophiles-think-again
Categorizing those that sexually abuse children as predatory pedophiles is not only a common misconception - it's also dangerous.  It gives us a sense that offenders are easier to identify through grooming behaviors or a lack therof, and easier to understand - that they have a sexual perversion that can't be cured. This makes it all the more difficult to understand how someone respected and well-liked could sexually abuse a child. 

We think of sexual offenders as wolves waiting to pounce from the shadows, when in reality - it's more often the gentle shepherd that we need to focus on. Why is this? Why would seemingly good people sexually abuse children? Decades of research suggests it has less to do with sexually attraction, and much more to do with the psychological issues behind their motivation. 

What are Pedophiles, Exactly? 

A pedophile is an adult person (usually male, but can be female) that has a sexual attraction to prepubescent children. They may prefer a specific sex or be sexually attracted to both males and females. 

There are also hebephiles - adults attracted to adolescents that have entered puberty - generally aged 11-14 years old. 

A pedophile does not become a sexual offender until they act upon those sexual urges, by viewing child pornography, or sexually abusing children. 

Since they have an innate sexual attraction to children, those that offend, will seek out children. Some may groom children over a period of time, and others may act impulsively and abuse a child briefly. 

Other predators that prey on children may do so because of sadistic or sociopathic tendencies - they take pleasure in mentally and physically manipulating and abusing others. 

So, How is A Situational Offender Different? 

As Dr. Anna Salter said, "if predators are opportunity makers, situational offenders are opportunity takers." 

Possible Scenarios of Situational Offenders:

They can be family members, teachers, coaches, babysitters, and most juvenile offenders. Examples:
  • A grandfather that never abused his own children, but sexually molested his grandchildren. 
  • A teacher that seduced a student from class. 
  • A boy that sexually abused his sisters and her friends during a playdate. 
  • A nanny that took photos of her sexually abusing a young child in her care and sent the photos to her boyfriend. 

In these cases, the offenders did not 'seek out' an opportunity to abuse a child, but rather, found themselves in a situation that enabled them to abuse a child and took it. Sure - some predatory pedophiles may purposely seek such positions, but situational offenders do not. Grooming techniques may be used, but the basic foundation of trust - and most importantly, access, has already been established.

Why Do They Abuse?

The  FBI has established four types of adult situational offenders and the psychological issues behind their behavior: 
Repressed offenders may be struggling with a job loss, divorce, illness, or death in the family or other life issue that is causing feelings of stress or depression. 

The morally indiscriminate may physically abuse children as well as sexually or physically abuse other adults. It's not about sex as much as it is about control and desecration of another human.

The sexually indiscriminate may have an addiction to sex and be involved in other illegal sexual behaviors - prostitution, bestiality etc.

The inadequate offender may be considered a social outcast due to communication barriers or physical differences that make forming intimate relationships with their peers difficult.

 Children are an easy target - easier to coerce, manipulate, control and silence. It is no coincidence that child abuse and animal abuse are connected.  Those most vulnerable are at the greatest risk to be targeted by those that seek pleasure in abusing others. 

  Situational offenders often have sexual relationships with their peers, or they may struggle socially and fail to form intimate relationships with other adults. 

'Thinking Errors' 

While child sexual abuse is morally wrong, many offenders create and reinforce 'thinking errors' to rationalize and minimize the impact of their abuse.  The inclusive and most detrimental factor of these errors is that they refuse to consider the best interests of the child. 

For example:
  • They may convince themselves that if the child is young enough that he/she won't understand or remember. 
  • That children are not 'people' and do not have the same rights as adults.
  • That their children are their property. 
  • Abusing children not their own is 'less bad' than abusing their own biological children. 
  • That the relationship is loving - that they are filling an emotional need for the child. 
  • That the child wants and/or sought out the sexual abuse and had the developmental readiness to enter into such a relationship.
  • That they are 'teaching' the child about sex. 
  • That if the child consents to the abuse, it isn't abuse. 
  • That they are not physically harming the child - so therefore, their behavior is not damaging the child. 
  • That the child deserves to be punished. 

Aren't Most Adult Offenders Former Victims? 

Hindman and Peters (2001) found that 67 percent of sex offenders initially reported experiencing sexual abuse as children, but when given a polygraph ("lie detector") test, the proportion dropped to 29 percent, suggesting that some sex offenders exaggerate early childhood victimization in an effort to rationalize their behavior or gain sympathy from others.

Female Offenders 

Although limited research exists, it is suggested that for many cases involving female perpetrators the motivation is not primarily sexual, but emotional needs (loneliness, low self-esteem, depression), and that women offenders are more likely to have experienced or be in abusive relationships (sexual, physical, and/or psychological) than male offenders.

Evidence would also suggest that female perpetrators are less "predatory" and lean more toward being "opportunistic" offenders.

Practical Aspects of Rape Investigation, offered the following types of female perpetrators:
  • Facilitators women who intentionally aid men in gaining access to children for sexual purposes
  • Reluctant partners women in long term relationships who go along with sexual exploitation of a minor out of fear of being abandoned
  • Initiating partner women who want to sexually offend against a child, they may do it themselves or get a man or another woman to do it while they watch
  • Seducers and Lovers women who direct their sexual interest against adolescents and develop an intense attachment
  • Pedophiles women who desire an exclusive and sustain sexual relationship with a child (a very rare occurrence)
  • Psychotic women who suffer from a mental illness and who have inappropriate sexual contact with children as a result

Juvenile Offenders 

This may be one of the biggest reality-checking curve-balls regarding child sexual abuse. Who would have ever thought up to 35-40% of abusers were older or more powerful children?

Seven out of eight juvenile offenders are at least 12 years old, and 93% are boys. (Crimes Against Children Research Center, UNH, 2010)

What would bring a child to sexually abuse another child? 
  • Sexual curiosity and a lack of proper education and guidance of healthy sexual behaviors
  • Acting out in response to physical abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse 
  • Sexual abuse as a form of bullying 
  • Sexual abuse as a prank or form of hazing

While recidivism rates are hard to determine due to the challenge that most abuse is not reported, there is evidence to suggest that juveniles respond more positively to treatment than adult offenders. 

However, the prevalence of child-on-child sexual abuse is enough to warrant a nation-wide awareness effort for parents and caregivers to educate children on healthy sexual behaviors and remain vigilant for signs of abusive tendencies. Also, given that most children are exposed to pornography before they enter high school, and the growing evidence that such exposure can create dangerous attitudes regarding sex, the threat of sexual abuse by juveniles to increase, not decrease, is certainly arguable. 

How Can We Stop Them?

Even though they are not targeting children with premeditated abuse intended, situational offenders may still employ 'grooming' tactics to gain access and break down a child's barriers. 

1. When we say that raising awareness for child sexual abuse is part of the solution - we mean it. Offenders can be deterred when people are educated and talk about child sexual abuse openly. Silence truly does empower abuse because it allows those 'thinking errors' space to grow. If no one is talking about it - then it is more comfortable for potential offenders to think about it, and rationalize abuse. 

2.Minimize opportunity - child care centers, youth serving organizations, and schools have a lot of work to do to make their environments safer for children. How they screen applications, train staff, and the policies and procedures they have to make sure conduct between staff and the children are appropriate and increase understanding of grooming behaviors and how to appropriately handle suspected or disclosed abuse. And, there is a lot we can do within our own homes, during playdates, family gatherings etc to keep our kids safe with those we trust the most. 
3. Educate children. Children deserve to know their rights and have those rights upheld by the people who have the power to do so - adults. They need to be told no one - not their parents, not their babysitter, or even their doctor should be touching them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable - and especially in regard to their private parts. They need to know that it is never their fault and that it is never too late to tell. It should never be a child's responsibility to prevent abuse - rather, the focus should best be kept on telling someone when they have a concern. And, with so much abuse being perpetrated by other juveniles, all children need to be educated early and often on the concepts of consent, respect, and healthy body boundaries. 

Think of prevention education like a security system - awareness is the lock on the door that deters the situational offenders. By working to minimize opportunity and be vigilant for red flag behavior of possible grooming situations - those are the motion detectors that sound off when there is dangerous movement. The educated child knows they can call for help when someone (most likely someone they know) - violates the rules of body safety.  Educating children without working to educate the adults that surround our children is, in a way, like leaving the door wide open and leaving it up to our children to defend themselves. 

Does this mean we trust no one with our children? No. It means we trust with knowledge and vigilance. Trust is not a gift - it is a continual function of healthy relationships.  And when we trust - we verify that trust

Now the only question is - if education is a major factor in preventing abuse, what will it take to break the taboo surrounding child sexual abuse that holds people back from even talking about it?  Perhaps understanding what motivates abuse can help tear down the blinders so many eagerly wear and tighten to defend identified abusers. 

<![CDATA[Predators Within The Family]]>Mon, 15 Jun 2015 19:47:26 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/predators-within-the-family
While it is easier and more comfortable to focus on protecting our children from those we know the least, many children are sexually abused within their own family - by a parent, sibling, cousin, or aunt/uncle. Since these are the people we have known the longest and often trust the most - it seems almost offensive to consider the possibility of sexual abuse being perpetrated by a favorite grandparent or happy go lucky niece or nephew, and especially by a spouse. 

So, how do we help keep our kids safe with the ones we love? Here are a few tips that can decrease risk and make it more comfortable to discuss. 

1. Make it Part of Normal Conversation

Break the ice - and talk about it. Every day, there are new cases hitting the news of perpetrators being accused and convicted - often with little detail about the victim to protect their privacy. Perhaps you saw a post on the issues of sexual abuse through social media, or came upon a body safety book at your library.  Talking about sexual abuse doesn't and shouldn't require a 'family meeting' - it can, and should be a part of regular conversation. 

 When we talk about it, we can gain a sense of how other people feel about the subject - what they know, and share what we know. When we're not afraid to talk about it, we're not only giving others a chance to learn - we'e letting potential abusers know that we're vigilant. 

Especially with our spouses/partners, it is best when we are both on the same team. If you are all about teaching body safety and taking precautions and your spouse is acting like you're ridiculous - that certainly doesn't help and may even be a sign that they are deterring you on purpose. 

2. Promote Body Autonomy 

Of course grandparents and aunties and uncles often want to hug, kiss, wrestle, and tickle the little ones in the family - but children also need to know they have a right to say no, and be respected when they want to stop. It not only empowers the child, it also diminishes the ability for grooming tactics of offenders. When other adults stand up for the rights of children, the child is more likely to believe they will be helped if someone ever did anything inappropriate. 

3. Ask Them To Be In Your Child's Body Safety Circle

Every child should know that they can talk to more people than just their parents if they feel sad, scared, or need advice. We recommend five such people.  By inviting family members to take responsibility for being open to any suspicion or potential disclosure we're improving the ability to keep our children under watchful eyes. 

And the truth is, many children do not tell their parents first - they often tell a friend or a peer. Inviting an older, responsible cousin or other family member into the body safety circle may help increase the likelihood of the child telling someone that knows to get help. 

4. Be Vigilant for Signs of Grooming

An adult or older child that: 
  • seems to have a 'favorite' child or seems excessively affectionate/complimentary. 
  • only plays with the kids and doesn't hang out with people their age.
  • tends to bully or boss around the other children. 
  • makes sexually inappropriate comments. 
  • has a lot of 'cool' stuff that the kids always want to check out. 
  • seeks alone time with children, away from others. 
  • Downplays the need for privacy when bathing, using the toilet, dressing or sleeping.
Or any other possible red flag behavior

5. Increase Supervision

While it may be great that the kids are being occupied with video games in the basement, having grandparents watch the kids instead of hiring a babysitter, or taking trips to the movies, park etc with a favorite aunt & uncle - we must accept that when our children are alone with others, that is when the risk for abuse increases. Even during a family gathering, a child can be isolated within the house and abused. While this shouldn't mean that we never let our children out of our sight - we may want to take a break and 'check in' to see what they're up to. 

6. Listen & Observe Behaviors

If a child is often alone with another family member - we should take note of the frequency and assess whether or not we feel comfortable with the interactions between the child and peer/adult.  Even if it is a sibling or family member babysitting or spending time alone with the child as a regular part of the day. We need to ask open ended questions and listen for their response and observe body language.  Who is doing the talking and how much information is being shared.

 Does the adult seem controlling or overly attentive to the child? Does the child look forward to seeing this person - is the child talkative in regard to how they spend their time together or does the other person seem to dominate the conversation? Does the child complain or make vaguely derogatory comments about the person? Does the child withdraw or refuse to talk?   Do you witness any other warning signs of abuse

7. Talk To Our Children 

We put this at the end of the list on purpose. Many feel that simply talking to their kids about safe & unsafe touches and 'yelling and telling' is enough. When we talk to our kids about sexual abuse in vague terms - "if someone ever touches you" or refer to abusers as 'bad people' the child may not realize the people they like  are capable of abuse - and they may be too afraid to say no or tell. 

It may feel uncomfortable to talk with other members of our family about sexual abuse and therefore put the responsibility on children. Yet, this is often how sexual abuse is perpetrated within families that do teach their kids body safety.  To us, teaching kids body safety is like a seat belt - it's there in case of an accident, but ultimately we're the ones that are in the driver's seat and should be doing everything in our power to avoid a dangerous situation in the first place. 
  •  Children should know that no one - not their parents, siblings, grandparents, etc have a right to touch them or show them anything related to their bodies that makes them uncomfortable. 
  • No one should be asking them to keep secrets. No one should be threatening them or forcing them to do anything they don't like. 
  • And most importantly, that it's not their job to protect themselves, it's our job . Their only job is to tell, so that we can get help. Not just for them, but for the person who is breaking the rules about body safety. 

8. Don't Forget Our Teens

As our children begin to develop into young adults, their own sense of self confidence and desire for independence may sway us into a false sense of security that they are no longer a target of abuse, or that they are better prepared to protect themselves. On the contrary, as these young teens go through puberty, they may, in fact, become a target. These children are indeed, still children and need our protection. The fact that they know more about sexual abuse may make it even more challenging for them to tell - they may blame themselves more for the abuse and/or suffer greater psychological damage. 

It is just as important that we continue the conversation - with other family members and our children, and maintain a communication channel between ourselves and our children as best we can, while respecting their growing need to gain independence and responsibility for themselves. 

But talking to our kids shouldn't just be about protecting them from others, but also so they understand what it means to treat others with respect and what healthy, responsible bodily and sexual behavior is. Puberty is a common period of development for children to be curious about their own sexuality, and without proper guidance and open communication, the likelihood for a child to perpetrate sexual abuse increases. 

9. Listen To Our Gut 

When our instinct sends a warning signal that something may be unsafe - we should listen. It may not always be right, but it always has our child's best interests in mind. 

In the past, some non-offending parents noticed but didn't pick up on or tried to downplay certain signs before their child disclosed abuse: 
  • An offending grandparent that kept suggesting the child was 'too attached' to her parents and needed more time away from them.
  • A spouse that flattered his daughter about her looks in comparison to his wife ' you look better in that dress than your mother ever did!' 
  • An aunt that continued to give her nephew gifts, despite the parents asking her to stop. 
  • An uncle that would watch tv with his nephew's head in his lap. 
  • A child that always played with cousins much younger than him.

10. Don't Wait for A Disclosure

If you feel concern about a situation or person - seek professional advice from your local child advocacy center. Keep in mind, not all reports of suspected abuse will lead to an investigation, but that shouldn't stop us from doing all we can to address a concern within the family. Reducing opportunity for abuse and establishing a network of caring, educated adults is key.  If your child exhibits signs of depression or low self esteem, there are a variety of therapy methods that can be employed to help the child and encourage a possible disclosure. 
While it's an ugly truth that many children are sexually abused by family, it is a reality that will not be changed unless we do more to protect our children.  There is a stigma that a family must be dysfunctional or have parents that neglect their children for abuse to occur, and this is simply not the case. Abuse often occurs in some of the most loving families because they often want to see the best in people. When we talk about sexual abuse and work together as a family to create an environment that is safer for children - we make our families stronger and ultimately impact future generations, so that one day our grandchildren and great grandchildren  will find it odd that it wasn't something talked about.

 After all, children have a right to be safe from all form of abuse, and we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to protect that right. 
Copyright The Mama Bear Effect, Inc 2015. This blog post cannot be republished without written consent. 
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<![CDATA[I KID YOU NOT – TALKING WITH CAREGIVERS ABOUT CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE]]>Tue, 02 Jun 2015 15:57:46 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/i-kid-you-not-talking-with-caregivers-about-child-sexual-abuse
Guest Blog Post by Feather Berkower of Parenting Safe Children
If you’ve ever wondered how to keep your child safe from sexual abuse, just ask a person who sexual abuses children.  

From time to time, I meet with child sexual abusers who are in offender groups, both in and out of prison.

I participate in the groups to better understand child sexual abuse, so I can better equip parents and professionals to prevent it. It’s never easy to hear the stories, but the men and women I meet welcome my questions and want me to share their comments with you, so you know what to look for and how to protect your child.

#1 – “We can be anyone.”

The groups in which I participate have included fathers and mothers, teachers and business people, working class and middle class, and people of different ages and ethnic backgrounds. What they all share in common, however, is that they knew the child or teen they abused, and had access, privacy, and power.

Some, but not all, were sexually abused themselves as children, and some started abusing children when they were teens.  

What these offenders want you to know is that people who sexually abuse children are already in your lives, and they already have your love and trust and your child’s love and trust. In fact, 90 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows – and not by strangers, as commonly thought.

Child sexual abuse takes place in homes, youth organizations, schools, camps, places of faith – any place children are alone with adults, whom they come to know and trust.

Statistically, one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. But here’s the good news: Child sexual abuse can be prevented when parents learn about the behaviors to watch for and diligently communicate with all caregivers about boundaries and body safety.

#2 – “Pay attention to our behaviors.” 

People who sexually abuse children methodically groom to gain access and then compliance. One offender said,

“The kids I abused were all seeking love. I would shower the child with gifts, special treatment and attention, and painstakingly move toward the moment when I could gain compliance and cross the line.” 

In some instances, the parent is also being groomed through a level of generosity that is probably too good to be true. This might include free babysitting, excessive willingness to “help out,” and even financial support.  

Fortunately, you can learn to recognize grooming behaviors. Some common ones include: Favoring children and going out of one’s way to spend time alone with a child, special treatment, allowing kids to break rules, gift‐giving, lots of attention, a listening ear, taking a child’s side, manipulation, and introducing kids to sexual material or talking about sex (i.e., sexualizing the relationship).

Thirty to 50 percent of abuse is committed by youth, so pay attention to these behaviors in both teens and adults.

#3 – “We’re really good at what we do, so speak up.” 

In each of the groups I attend, I ask participants, “If parents had talked with you about body‐safety rules and boundaries, would that have deterred you?” The answer is always a resounding “Yes!” For instance, one person said,

“Parents have to pay attention to the people who are spending time with their children. If someone had talked to me about boundaries, I wouldn’t have offended my relative.” 

People who sexually abuse children actually run in a different direction if they see that the parent is involved and the child is educated. In the words of one man,

“If I drive up to a bank and see cop cars, I'm going to move on. I'll go down the street and rob a different bank.” 

Parents tell me it’s so much harder to speak with the people they know, but this child sexual abuser makes it very clear that you have to be willing to speak with friends and family members:

“If you see someone, even a family member, spending a lot of time with your child instead of his or her own peers, ask why. Parents would have no problem interrupting a stranger with their child, but they are uncomfortable asking Uncle Joe.” 

By not bringing ‘Uncle Joe’ onto your prevention team, your child is vulnerable. Yet time and time again,parents tell me that they are nervous inviting a relative, or any caregiver for that matter, onto their prevention team. Parents tell me they worry about offending a relative, sounding “over protective” with a teacher, or accusatory with another parent.  

Here’s my question to you: Are you willing to feel a little uncomfortable so your children don’t have to?

Tips for Inviting Caregivers onto Your Prevention Team 

  •  Normalize the conversation. Inviting someone onto your prevention team isn’t about “grilling” a caregiver; it’s a conversation – an extension of the safety discussions you’re probably already having about other topics like allergies, wearing bike helmets, and so forth.  
  •  Let the other person (e.g., parent, teacher, counselor, coach) know that you talk with all of your child’s caregivers about your child’s body‐safety rules, so the person you’re talking with doesn’t feel singled out.
  •  Parents tell me that it’s easier to initiate the conversation when they can reference a blog post, article, or workshop. For instance, one mom said to a neighbor before a play date, “Matt and I just went to a workshop called Parenting Safe Children, which is about keeping children safe from sexual abuse. We’re starting to have conversations with everyone in our son’s life about his body‐safety rules. Can I share some of the things I learned and get your thoughts as well? (By asking a question, you are getting buy‐in for the conversation, which makes it easier.)
  •  The conversation is about matching expectations, and in the course of your discussion, here are four points to convey to every caregiver:
  1.  My child is the boss of his/her body.
  2.  We teach our children body‐safety rules.
  3.  We teach our children to respect adults, but it’s okay for them to say “no” and tell if they ever feel unsafe.
  4. Our children do not keep secrets.

When talking with schools and youth organizations, I encourage parents to discuss three 
questions. You also have a right to ask for any written policies.
  1.  Beyond background checks, what is the screening process for new hires?  
  2.  What kind of child sexual abuse prevention training do you offer staff and volunteers?  
  3. What specific policies are in place to minimize the risk of child sexual abuse? (e.g., buddy system in which a teacher/counselor is never alone with a student/camper).
If you’re wondering how to confidently get a conversation about body‐safety off the ground, check out the new Parenting Safe Children Conversation‐Starter Cards. The card offers language for starting a conversation about expectations, boundaries and body‐safety rules. You can carry the cards in your purse, car, and pocket – and then hand them out to teachers, family members, coaches, etc.  

While it's important to teach children body‐safety rules and teach kids how to say "No" and tell an adult, ultimately it is an adult's responsibility to keep children safe. And the best way for adults to do this is by inviting all caregivers onto the family's prevention team and making body safety as regular a topic as bike helmets and seat belts. 

Feather Berkower, LCSW, is founder of the Parenting Safe Children workshop and co‐author of Off Limits, a parenting book that will change the way you think about keeping kids safe. Since 1985, Feather has educated over 250,000 school children, parents, and professionals. She makes a difficult topic less scary, and empowers parents and communities to keep children safe. www.parentingsafechildren.com

This blog post cannot be republished without the expressed consent of the author. 
<![CDATA[Incest in the Duggar Family]]>Thu, 21 May 2015 19:09:15 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/incest-in-the-duggar-familyPolice reports confirm Josh Duggar molestation charges. 

We are sharing this link because we have read a few different articles stating that Josh Duggar molested girls as a teenager - the details of each story were different (age, when and how the abuse was reported), but this link provides copies of the police reports.  Josh has also come forward making a statement of his behavior to People Magazine

Reading some comments online, many are 'shocked' that such a nice, religious family could have this happen.

 Others, seem to be celebrating that the Duggar family is not as 'perfect' as they seemed.

  But really, these are the types of families that it does happen in. And no family should be considered 'perfect' - it's a dangerous thing when we put people on pedestals. They can't balance themselves up there forever. 

The question remains - did the Duggars ever educate their children about appropriate sexual behavior? The story reports that Josh was sent to a 'program' that involved hard work and counseling, but did Josh receive sexual offenders treatment - which is often effective for juvenile offenders

No family or community is 'above' sexual abuse, incest, molestation, rape etc. Society at large seems to keep having to learn this lesson. When former Miss USA, Marylin Van Derbur came out about being raped nightly by her own socialite father - it helped to spur the movement to end child sexual abuse.  The Catholic Church scandal rocked the world, yet many other religious organizations did not see the failings of the Catholic Church and establish necessary protocol to protect children. Cases involving the Jewish faith, Protestant faith, and Jehovah's Witnesses continue to break news - that children were abused, reports were ignored, and offenders were sheltered. Not to mention sexual abuse that is occurring in our schools and youth organizations.  Or our childcare facilities that continue to act reactively to abuse, rather than proactively. 

Perhaps the lesson here is not about the Duggar family. Perhaps it's about us. If we think abuse can't happen in our family, in our school, in our church - then it won't make a difference how many of these news stories make waves through the media. 

Until each caring, responsible adult is educated in prevention - children will be at risk, in even the most loving, charitable home. 

Perhaps, we need to stop pointing the finger and treating each case as an isolated, yet shocking incident, and ask ourselves, "what are we doing to protect the children we care about?"

One Page of the Police Report
<![CDATA[Trusting Thoughtfully]]>Thu, 14 May 2015 17:22:48 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/trusting-thoughtfully With so many children being sexually abused - often by the very people we ought to trust, it is hard to find comfortable ground, where we can best protect our children while at the same time allowing healthy relationships to be built. 

Often times people will respond with the fear-driven, "TRUST NO ONE". But that's not very realistic or healthy. What is love without trust? Family, friendship, mentoring are all important in the life of a growing child, and with each individual relationship trust is necessary. 

So if trust is what enables sexual abuse - how do we continue to trust and protect our children?  We need to change the way we think about trust. 

Trust is Earned. 

We, as guardians for our children, have a right and responsibility to feel comfortable with the people and situations we allow our children. We sometimes blindly trust authority. A teacher, a doctor, a caregiver, a person with a badge or a religious collar - we trust that since they have taken on the responsibility of nurturing, protecting and defending children that they are holding themselves to that standard. But, time and time again, the reality is that they break the very codes they have sworn to uphold. 

So, whether it's a highly-recommended nanny through an expensive referral service, an elite youth program, a doctor or therapist with a degree from an ivy-league school, or a mentor that has received award after award for their community service and dedication - we still have a right to have our trust earned. Anyone that expects us to simply trust them because 'xyz' has essentially denied our right to do our job as protectors of our children. No one, and we mean no one cares more about our kids than us - and if someone is arguing otherwise - they are either fooling themselves or they're possibly trying to fool us. 

We have a right to spend the time and energy to get to know the people we are trusting with our children - especially when it will involve time alone. We have a right to transparency - to see this person interact with our child, interrupt on occasion, and supervise remotely. Many art & sport facilities, therapists, and child care centers provide remote visual access so parents can see their children. 

We have a right to know our children are safe. It is not our job to simply give our trust - it is their job to earn our trust and more importantly - prove it. Have they been educated in trained to prevent child sexual abuse? Do they have protocol for minimizing risk and reporting suspected or known abuse? These are questions that should be answered, and to meet our satisfaction. Any youth-serving program that takes their responsibility seriously needs to address the risk of child sexual abuse. 

Trust, But Verify.  - Ronald Reagan 

What if someone has already earned your trust, like a family member or friend? These people also abuse children, much to the shock of those that would never suspect it - so what do we do? We trust, but verify. 

Take, for example, a grandparent that wants to spend a lot of time alone with our child or a sleepover at a cousin's house, a play date across the street, or a private tutor if our child has a particular talent or need for specialized support. It can be a lot of fun (or necessary) for the child, and possibly a needed break for us. But we also need to keep an eye open for how often these one on one encounters are happening, and occasionally participate and interrupt these situations. 

We need to do the same for a babysitter (even if it's an older sibling), a coach, a music lesson etc. Anyone that we are leaving alone with our child, we need to occasionally check in and see what is going on during their time together.

What we'll most likely see is our child building a loving relationship, or practicing their talent and gaining confidence in their abilities. And what we're also doing is showing that we are present

Even if it's a play date with a friend, we need to make our presence known and unpredictable. By minimizing opportunity, we can deter and detect possible abuse. 

If we interrupt a situation and something sparks our instinct - perhaps someone looks surprised or anxious about our arrival - it may indicate that more supervision is required. Reading body language is important, and when we are vigilant for the possibility of sexual abuse we become more in tune with the behaviors of others and what is being communicated through what is not being said. 


Some feel it is insulting, or at least awkward, to a person to bring up child sexual abuse - as if we are accusing them of something. But there are many ways to talk about it in a way that, as Parenting Safe Children puts it, 'invites them onto your team'.  We want more people in our child's life to be educate - not less, right? We should want our parents, their caregivers, their friends' parents their teachers educated so that we create a tighter net of safety. The more people that know and understand the more eyes we have watching out for our kids. 
And yes, we can also deter abuse by talking about it. Many see sexual offenders are 'predators' - pedophiles that seek out situations to sexually abuse children, but the reality is that many offenders are not considered pedophiles. These people do not seek opportunities to abuse, but rather,  find themselves in a situation with a child and, due to weak morals and possibly stress, depression, low self esteem or other mental issue use the child for sexual purposes. In one study, 70% of offenders had a range of 1-9 victims. (Finkelhor, D., Ormrod,R., Chaffin, M. (2009) Office of Justice Programs)

We also need to talk to our children about body safety - whether they're seven or seventeen- they're still children and still vulnerable. We talk to them about their rights, the rules of body safety, and that it's always right to tell - not necessarily because we think they'll be able to keep themselves safe - but so if anything ever should happen, they at least know it's wrong and that it's OK to tell. If a child does manage to avoid a possibly dangerous situation we should feel very fortunate. But no child should be given the responsibility of keeping themselves safe from sexual abuse - and it would be dangerous for any parent to believe their child could. 


We need to listen to our children before and after they spend time with other people. 
 Are they excited to see this person?
 Are they telling us they don't want to go?
Do they seem excited when they come back? 
Are they open to sharing details of how their time was spent? 

If a child exhibits a change in behavior - we don't need to assume it's caused by abuse, butat the very least, consider it. Even professionals in the field of child development fail to recognize sexual abuse (and possible even diagnose PTSD as ADHD). 

Remember, when a child can't talk about something- they're behavior often speaks for them. 

Using Our Instinct. 

We need to listen more to the little voice inside that speaks more than we listen. When we know the people we trust are the most likely to abuse and that most of these situations involve that child being alone with the perpetrator - we can empower our instinct to better identify risk. And when our instinct calls, we need to pay it some respect. It may not always be right - but it always has the right intention, to keep our kids safe. 

And lets be clear - it may be our responsibility to keep our kids safe, but it is not our fault, nor our child's fault if someone deceives us and violates our trust. We do not 'invite' abuse. People falsely believe that sexual abuse only happens in neglectful families - but the reality is that sexual abuse happens very often in good, loving families because good people believe and try to see the good in others. To be a good person is, arguable, to allow oneself to be vulnerable. But the blame belongs on the abusers and those that willingly enable and protect their crimes. Our naivete is their power, we're just here to help you keep your child's safety in your control. 
Keep this Body Safety Fridge Magnet up at your home as a reminder for your family and visitors!

<![CDATA[Talking to Kids About Strangers]]>Thu, 07 May 2015 17:46:45 GMThttp://themamabeareffect.org/blog/talking-to-kids-about-strangers
Undoubtedly the idea of a child being kidnapped by a stranger is something that every parent fears. The perfectly-rhymed idea of 'stranger danger' has been so ingrained into our parenting models that most parents don't give it a second thought. Strangers = unknown = scary = avoid. 

But yet, we all engage in conversation with strangers on a regular basis - at the store, in line at the coffee shop, on the train. There are, in fact, a lot of good people in the world to counteract the bad. The stories of heroes that rescue complete strangers from a car accident, or return lost jewelry found on the sidewalk. So, how do we navigate this world, and in turn teach our children about strangers in a way that empowers them to be confident enough to seek help - from the right person if they may need it, and avoid possibly dangerous people? 

First, A Look At Statistics 

The 1999 Census Bureau report on missing kids states that roughly 115 children were kidnapped in the 'typical' stranger or slight acquaintance scenario.  Most kidnappings involve custody arrangements between parents or family member or direct caretakers and the child was not necessarily taken but by definition considered to be 'held hostage'. 

Take those 115 cases divided by the roughly 73 million children in the United States and the odds of a child being abducted by a stranger are .0001%.  
Of those stranger abductions, 20% of children were ages 0-5, 25% ages 6-11, 45% ages 12-14, and 20% ages 15-17. 

In terms of where the child was abducted: 16% were in their home or yard, 40% were on the street, in a car or other vehicle.  The remaining percentages were too low to be considered as reliable. 

In 49% of those abductions the child was sexually assaulted, 33% were physically assaulted, 20% were robbed, and in 49% the perpetrator had a weapon. 

in 57% of those episodes the child was returned alive, 32% were injured, and in 40% of cases the child was killed.  

Considering the number of children above the age of 12 - that should definitely understand the risk of strangers, it is definitely an issue that is worth talking about with our kids. Especially with increasing numbers of internet predators targeting children, there is greater access now for a stranger to lure a child through developing a relationship online. 

Talking to Strangers  

Many take the stance that children should never talk to strangers. Yet, much expert advice suggests that instilling fear of all people is not healthy - for adults or children. Rather, the question becomes how should we teach children to talk to strangers?

The Polly Klaas Foundation states that using the word "stranger" can confuse a child, if a child has spoken to a person once or twice they may no longer put them in the 'stranger' category. 

in Gavin de Becker's book, Protecting the Gift, he encourages parents to teach their children to talk to strangers, and talk about strangers - who looks like a person that child could go to if they need help. Essentially, teaching children how to use their instinct and assess people. 

In particular he wrote an article with this advice: 

Start with easier situations for your child and then make them more challenging (she may need to do each more than once for practice):
  1. Have her approach a stranger to ask for the time.
  2. Have her approach a stranger to ask directions (i.e., to the nearest ice cream place).
  3. Have her enter a store with you nearby to buy gum or candy.
  4. Have her enter a store by herself to buy some gum or candy.
  5. Think of your own relevant situations.
After each situation, ask your child:
  1. Why she chose who she chose.
  2. How the exchange went.
  3. If she felt comfortable with the person she spoke with.
  4. If that person was comfortable with her approach.
  5. What, if anything, she could have done differently.

A child that feels confident talking to a stranger that they sense is a safe choice increases the odds that they would be able to get help and not become a target for a predator who may notice a scared child and approach them - which is not what any parent would want for their child. 

Go to A Woman 

Gavin de Becker admits it may come off as sexist or politically incorrect, but the reality is that more men are predators than women. 

He says,
"If your child becomes lost, the first thing he or she should do is to approach a woman and ask for help. Women are more likely than men to become emotionally invested in your child and are statistically almost never sexual predators. Plus, women are almost always around and easy to find." 

Many parents tell their child to look for a police officer, a guard, or a store clerk, but the reality is - there are not usually police officers around and many mall guards or even store clerks themselves could be a predator and take advantage of their authority over the child. 

The "tricks" of Predators 

The Polly Klass Foundation points out various dangerous behaviors children should be made aware of and how to respond - this applies not just to strangers, but anyone: 

“If any adult or older kid offers you anything without asking me, step way back, yell, “NO!”, run away, and tell.” (This applies to candy, pets, treats, job offers, photographs, rides on motorcycles, etc.)

“If any adult or older kid asks for your help without asking me first, step way back, yell “NO!”, run away and tell.” (This applies to mailing a letter, picking something up for an injured person, approaching a car to give directions, doing yard work, looking for a lost puppy, etc.)

“If any adult or old kid asks you to keep a secret, step way back, yell “NO!”, run away, and tell.”

If any adult or older kid touches your private parts (parts covered by a swim suit) or asks you to touch your private parts or somebody else’s, step way back, yell “NO!”, run away and tell.”

Trusting Their Gut

We all have instincts that warn us when a situation may be dangerous - and Gavin de Becker argues that we don't listen to it enough. He says that we humans are tJust he only animals on the planet that try to convince ourselves that our instinct is wrong - whether it's a sketchy person on a flight of stairs or a babysitter that just gives us a feeling of 'something' that we can't put our fingers on and fear more of offending that person than doing what we feel is best for our children.

Children have instincts too - and they should be encouraged to listen. Much like when a child is forced to hug or kiss a relative that they don't really know or feel uncomfortable around - a well-meaning parent may try to force that affection for the sake of the recipient, but they're ignoring the child's right to feel safe. This may be a small example, but essentially it tells a child that they need to submit to adults and that they are not in control of how people treat and touch their body. 

Beyond "Yell, Run, Tell" 

This here is our particular Mama Bear Advice: children are raised to be polite and not yell - especially at people older than them. We need to realize that it may not be so easy to expect our children to yell - we should give them other options such as:

telling the person that they need to ask their parent first, that they're sick, want some water, or need to use the bathroom. 

Any excuse they can come up with to get away from the person. 

Passcodes & Safe Words

If your child is old enough that you are picking them up from school, class, or at the library etc, you can give your child a password that if anyone other than the person they are expecting to pick them up arrives and tells them they're there to take them home, that this person should know the passcode.

Alternatively, give your child a safe word so that if they are ever in a situation where they feel uncomfortable, sad, or scared they can call you, or talk to you (if it's a group situation like a family party) and get your attention that something is bothering them, without having to announce it or draw attention to themselves. 

Go the Opposite Way 

If your child is old enough to walk home from school, to the park, or down to the convenience store and a person pulls over asking for directions or tries to get your child to come closer or enter the car, teach your child to walk in the opposite direction that the car is travelling - this way the person would have to turn the car around to pursue the child. If the child were to run in the same direction the vehicle is travelling, the car could simply continue driving and follow the child. 

The Buddy System is Still Cool 

Two heads are better than one, and two kids are harder to kidnap than one. 
Whether it's a trip to the bathroom or going to the mall, kids and teens (and adults too) of any age should know that it is best to travel in pairs and stay together. As a young adult I traveled through Europe and one of the men in our group was robbed when he went to use a bathroom by himself. Adults can be a target, too - and the more public the place, the more opportunity for predators of all kinds. 

Internet PRedators 

The number of predators seeking children online is a growing problem, and with many parents naive as to the level of access giving a child a smartphone, tablet, or unsupervised access to a computer - the threat only increases. Adam Flowers, is a Lieutenant that catches these very same predators and offers great advice on how to reduce risk. 

Take a Self Defense Class

Programs like RAD can help kids, adults, and even seniors learn how to defend themselves in many situations.

Practice, Practice, Practice 

Create scenarios at home or in your neighborhood to practice these tips.  Even practicing putting out a hand in a defiant "NO" position can be very empowering. Would your child open the door for a stranger?  If a stranger asked for help - what would they do?

Remember, That They're Only Kids 

Their brains are  still developing - they're learning a lot about the world, and even as young adults, we are vulnerable to the tactics of predators. Nice people are taught to be nice and polite - and predators know this.  A child should not be expected to protect themselves from these situations - and considering how many children are abused by the very people they know, it could be argued that we need to take more responsibility for their safety - not less. 

Overall, it could be said that parents do a great job keeping their children safe from strangers. We cannot remove all risk from life - putting a child in a bubble may keep them alive, but that isn't the same as living. 

Keep it in Perspective 

Gavin de Becker notes that the fear of child abduction should also be kept in check, a  
“child is vastly more likely to have a heart attack, and child heart attacks are so rare that most parents (correctly) never even consider the risk.”

That doesn't mean that we let our kids roam a carnival by themselves or ride their bikes all over town without checking in, it means that we have to remember that stranger danger should not consume our lives to the point where we're scaring our children to death that the second they're out of our sight they're going to be abducted, or that a young child needs to be 'taught a lesson' because he's too friendly with strangers. 

And seriously, read Protecting the Gift, by Gavin de Becker.