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.