Here are a few suggestions of what we need to start or stop doing.
1. Destroy the taboo that makes it hard to say these three words: child sexual abuse.
People shudder at the thought. They shut down. They turn away. They close their eyes. People who are unaffected want to protect themselves from reality. But this IS reality for 1:4 girls and 1:6 boys. We have to ask ourselves, who needs more protection - children or our ego?
It's time to work up the courage to talk about it. We cannot conquer what we are too afraid to talk about. In the middle of the last century women that fought breast cancer couldn't talk about it. They didn't receive much support and there was limited funding. But then, people realized that they were losing their mothers and sisters and daughters to breast cancer. They stood up and they fought for them - so much so, that you can't enter a store during breast cancer awareness month without being inundated with pink ribbons.
We need to do this for our children. If we care about them - we need to talk about what is putting them in danger. We need to talk about it because the very people we know and trust are the ones most likely to abuse our children. We need potential abusers to know that we're aware, and those that can help protect our children should be just as educated as we are.
Child abuse prevention is like a net - the more people involved - the tighter and smaller we make the loopholes for abuse to be perpetrated. And we start by talking.
2. Stop acting like we don't have vaginas and penises.
What is the question everyone wants to know when someone is pregnant? Boy or girl!? Everyone wants to see if there's a penis or vulva down there! But then, when we raise our children, it all of a sudden disappears.
They're not going away. They're necessary. They deserve truthful explanation, respect and protection. It's called body safety. You can empower your child to understand and know their rights, as well as respect the rights of others without even using those three words we mentioned before (child sexual abuse).
We're supposed to be the adults and nurture and lead our children into adulthood, and then we completely abandon them when it comes to understanding their bodies. Does that make sense?
3. Facing the Predator That We Already Trust
Even if people are educated on how to protect their children from sexual abuse - they know the signs of abuse and the statistics that over 90% of abuse is perpetrated by people we know & trust (often family), it doesn't mean that this information is going to really sink in.
We have to accept that our parents, our friends, even our own children are capable of committing sexual abuse. That's not easy. But it is absolutely necessary.
It doesn't mean that we don't trust our family & friends with our children - it means we consider that the threat exists when anyone is alone with our child. It means we consider possible warning signs that they may exhibit. It means that even if we don't sense a threat, we still need to verify that trust by avoiding or occasionally interrupting 1:1 situations; letting our children know that we are aware the threat could come from anyone, and that we would stand by our children.
4. We Need To Stop 'Passing The Buck'
Not only do we assume our friends and family care just as much about the safety of our children - we do the same for doctors, childcare providers, schools, youth-programs, religious organizations, and even safety personnel. Too many survivors and supportive parents have found out just how many people will defend abusers. It's a real awakening that no one wants to experience.
We're afraid to ask our doctors and authority figures what they know about child sexual abuse.
Yet, my own daughter's popular pediatrician knew nothing about it and thought it mostly happened to underprivileged children. Even police officers and social workers are unaware. That's scary - and dangerous. How can they effectively serve and protect children if they don't even understand the dynamics of sexual abuse? They can't and they often fail.
We're afraid to ask our childcare providers, schools, and youth serving organizations how they screen and train staff, and what they're policies are for reducing and handling suspected or reported abuse. We assume they're doing as much as they can.
Yet, most organizations lack these critical components to reduce risk of abuse. We feel like it's 'rude' to suggest that maybe they're not doing all they can. But the reality is - we need to demand these improvements.
We assume reporting will 'solve' the problem.
But the reality is - without solid physical evidence (which rarely exists) most reports go nowhere and most abusers are walking free. We focus on the sex offender registry - but that only serves a minute fraction of all offenders.
Who cares about our children the most? We do. We need to take responsibility to ensure those that we trust with our children are educated and doing as much as they can to protect them.
5. Take Responsibility Off Our Kids
Is body safety for children important? Yes. It is essential. There are a lot of lessons that our children gain from knowing and respecting body rights.
BUT, it is not the job of our children to protect themselves from sexual abuse. Too many well-meaning parents, assume their child would tell them or escape a dangerous situation.
My kids are well-versed in body safety, but do I think my 5 year old would be able to say no or yell and run if her cousin, friend's sibling, teacher or grandparent touched her private parts? No, I don't. Not because I don't have faith in her - because I know how seriously manipulative and controlling abusers are and I accept that she is a child. I refuse to put that responsibility on her. Even if she's 15, I will feel the same. Even if she's 50. It's not her responsibility to protect herself from abuse. It will never be the 'fault' of the victim - male or female.
If someone mugs you - do you fight, or do you give them your wallet? The smart answer is - give them your wallet. People have fought muggers and been killed, and the general response from the peanut gallery is that the persona was an 'idiot' for fighting back. Yet, society has this idea that victims of sexual assault aren't victims unless they're beaten to a pulp or murdered. Someone takes your wallet - they sympathize with the hassle of cancelling credit cards and getting a new license etc. Someone molests you - people say, 'really? Well, didn't you fight? If you didn't say no, it's not rape.' It's called awareness and empathy, and our society is sincerely lacking both.
6. Stop Shame by Association
People have asked me a few times about my thoughts on the Catholic Church scandal, the issue with schools and youth-serving organizations passing abusers around and covering it up. But what is the biggest institution in society covering up sexual abuse? The family unit.
A child is sexually abused and the family feels shame. They don't want people to know. If incest is involved, there is the feeling that the family is 'dirty'. This often spills over onto the child and suffocates the healing process.
Who deserves the shame? Who deserves to feel dirty and guilty? The abuser.
Part of living a fulfilling life is being connected to others. Sharing love, happiness, pain. By feeling that a history of abuse cannot be shared - connections are not being made. Imagine having something really happy or painful in your life and not being able to tell anyone? It creates anxiety and stress. It eats away at you.
When I began speaking out about The Mama Bear Effect, I learned something very important. People that I had known for years had been affected by sexual abuse. I never knew it. All these years they kept it a secret, and now - so much of what they have been through, how they've self-destructed and struggled makes sense now.
The silence and secrecy only protects abusers and harms victims. If we want to end this - we need to put it out in the open. Shame disintegrates when spoken and accepted with compassion.
So really, if we want to protect children from sexual abuse, if we want to stand up against offenders - we have to conquer the very things within us that enable abuse. The fear, the discomfort, the denial, the blind faith. We are just as much of the problem if we cannot change the way we think, talk, and act when it comes to keeping our kids safe.