April- Sexual Assault Awareness Month
This blog post is dedicated to the topic of sexual assault and sexual abuse in honor of April being the national Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It’s a topic that makes many people uncomfortable, but we can no longer afford to avoid the conversation. In order to stop the violence, we must give a voice to the victims and families of the victims.
At HeadFirst, we have dedicated therapists with experience working specifically with victims of sexual abuse and other violent sexual crimes, and we have seen firsthand the powerful effect of sharing a story and talking to others about sexual abuse. Part of our goal at HeadFirst is to shift the way people talk about mental illness- but we also want to shift the culture out of silence and get the conversation going. The only way to allow shame to grow is to keep it secret.
Let’s start off with some statistics. The latest ones (National Sexual Violence Resource Center, nsvrc.org) reports 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.
Staggering numbers like those show that sexual abuse is a problem in our country, and there is much work to be done to keep our kids safe. Children do not lie about being sexually abused. If a child has the courage to make an outcry to you, believe them- it may be the most important thing you will do for that child. Research shows us that the negative effects of childhood sexual abuse can be overcome if a child has at least one supportive person in his or her life. You have the power to be that person, whether it’s your own child, your neighbor’s child, a niece or nephew, or another child from your neighborhood. Sexual abuse knows no zip code- it happens in all types of families, across all races, and in all neighborhoods.
Ready for the good news? There are steps you can take to help keep your child safe, or make it more likely that your child will make an outcry if it does happen.
Ways to Protect Your Child
1. Talk to your child about his or her body.
It’s important for children to know anatomical names for all of their body parts, so that they can clearly communicate what happened in instances of abuse, and can communicate to people which parts of their body are off limits (see next point).
2. Teach children about Good Touches and Bad Touches.
Children need to be able to identify which touches are ok, and which ones are not. Good Touches include any touches that the child feels comfortable with- these will change from child to child. Some children are ok with people hugging them, others are not. Same for any type of physical touch. Any physical touch that makes a child uncomfortable is considered a Bad Touch. Other bad touches for all children would include any of the private areas- groin, butt, breasts, vagina, and penis. If children are aware of what Bad Touches are, they are more likely to speak up and say no to a potential perpetrator and prevent the abuse from occurring.
3. Check in with your child regularly.
At HeadFirst, we often encourage parents to have regular check-ins with their children. Simple questions such as “has anyone done anything to make you get an icky feeling in your tummy?” or “has anyone ever tried to touch you in your private areas or anywhere that made you uncomfortable?” These questions may seem intense for parents, but they are necessary. Many parents believe the myth that asking these types of questions will make children upset or suddenly make them start thinking bad things. There is no research to support that asking these questions is harmful to children- but there is overwhelming evidence that these questions help children. It takes the pressure off a child to have to bring it up to parents on their own, and gets children used to talking about sensitive matters with their parents.
4. Monitor all people your child has contact with.
We aren’t giving you permission to be a helicopter parent here. This just means that you need to be aware of all the people your child has alone time with or interacts with on an ongoing basis. Think of these questions next time you are dropping your child off somewhere:
Who all is present throughout the day at the daycare? Is there anyone else that comes and goes that I don’t know about?
Are there any older siblings present in the home during a play date?
Does your child have contact with close neighbors and go over there on his or her own?
Have I talked with my child about the babysitter and reviewed Good Touches and Bad Touches?
Has my child ever seemed uncomfortable or complained about going to someone’s house (relatives, family friend, friend’s house, etc)? If so, have I asked why and followed up with my child?
Asking these questions is a great place to start, but it also helps to monitor your child’s behaviors. Look out for any sudden changes in behavior or any unusual behavior. If you notice this, contact your child’s therapist immediately. Changes in behavior can be caused by many things (no need to be alarmed), but it’s a good idea to have a professional evaluate and investigate what the underlying cause of the change may be.
Here’s the bottom line- most people are good, some people are bad. Most people are safe for children to be around, and others are not. Trust your gut on this one and check in with your child often. Knowing that you are there for them, support them, and believe them is the most helpful thing you can do to make sure your child reports any suspicious behavior to you.
Think your child may be exhibiting signs of sexual abuse? Contact a play therapist at HeadFirst Counseling at email@example.com or (469) 665-9416 to schedule a session so a therapist can evaluate the safety and well-being of your child. If your child makes an outcry, report it immediately to the local police. Don’t try to get more information on your own- this is the job of the police and forensic interviewer. Your job as the parent is to support your child and get him or her the help needed to recover and heal.
For more questions, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or answers to your specific concerns.