Childhood Sexual Abuse Facts and Statistics
One out three girls and one out of five boys will be victims of sexual abuse by the time they are eighteen. Ninety percent of children who are victims of childhood sexual abuse are perpetrated against by someone they know, not a stranger. Nine out of ten children who are victims do not report their abuse. Families do everything they can to keep their children safe, and that is why these uncomfortable conversations have to take place. Perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse are able to groom children, in part, because frank discussions like the one we had with Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Expert, Billye Jones, are too few and far between.
In our latest podcast episode we talked to LCSW, Billye Jones. (Listen Here.) Her mission is to end childhood sexual abuse through prevention. She told us that every single one of us has a part to play in the perpetrating or prevention of childhood sexual abuse, whether we are parents or not. It is our choice what side we are on. My immediate reaction was how could I be helping to perpetrate childhood sexual abuse? I would never hurt a child. Because I don’t want to be part of the problem, and assume, neither do you, here are 5 tips we can all do to aid in the efforts of childhood sexual abuse prevention.
Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Tip #1
Teach Children it is Okay to Question Authority
Billye says, developmentally speaking, kids take things quite literally. If you say, “Listen to your [insert authority figure here, i.e. babysitter, grandparent, etc], I want to hear how good you were when I get back!” Your child believes you literally mean do whatever they say. Children do not have the innate ability to discern between listening to an adult that has the child’s best interest in mind and someone giving them directives with cruel intentions. Kids need to be taught and have it reinforced that when something does not feel right, they are allowed to question and say, “I don’t like that, I don’t want to do that.”
How we ALL can Help: If you are a teacher, a coach, medical personnel, a family member, or anyone who has contact with children, respect their boundaries. If they are expressing discomfort or seem uneasy about something you are asking of them, honor that. Discuss it. Be respectful and do not punish! If it is something that must be done and is aligned with your duties while that child is in your care, explain everything. Be patient. Do not coerce or bribe with treats and at do not force the child to do anything they are uncomfortable doing.
Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Tip #2
No Forced Hugs or Kisses by Anyone, Ever
This is a topic I have heard a lot about that Billye explains very well. By forcing kids to hug and kiss relatives or friends we are not teaching them they have autonomy over their bodies. We are teaching them that adults are allowed to touch their bodies whenever they like. When our children are forced to kiss and hug we may tell them they aren’t being good or respectful or even embarrassing us. They are getting the message that allowing themselves to be touched when they don’t want to doesn’t matter, adults have a right to their bodies.
Billye says the rule for her daughter is, she has to say hello and goodbye but the way she is greeted and greets is up to her. Sometimes her daughter wants to hug, sometimes not, sometimes it’s a high-five or fist bump, sometimes not. Talk to your kids about how they want to say hello and goodbye. Aside from teaching kids to set boundaries with their own bodies, we need to teach the adults to respect those boundaries. If the kid says no, it’s a no! This is a message about consent children will take with them whether you are by their side or not. They are allowed to decide what is comfortable for them, and the other way around.
How we ALL can Help: Respect children’s bodily boundaries. Allow children to greet you in a way they like to be greeted. Follow their lead on this one. If the child’s parent tells the child to hug or kiss you and they look like the don’t want to, say something like, “Hey that’s okay, it’s so nice to see you!” I know I have been in this situation plenty of times as a child and an adult! As a kid, it would have been a relief to have someone tell me I didn’t have to give a kiss if I didn’t want to.
For more information about teaching children consent please refer to Billye’s blog post on the topic, here.
Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Tip #3
Have Kids Call their Genitals their Actual Names
I’ve heard this one before, and knew that children should not be given cutesie names for their genitals. We’ve talked about it with Dr. Stef Ros on how to have sex talks with your kids in a previous episode. Billye clarifies why this is so important with two reasons. The first goes back to grooming. If your child refers to their genitals as penis, or vagina/vulva, a perpetrator of childhood sexual abuse will get the message that the child is having conversations surrounding their bodies with caregivers. They will likely think twice about offending against this child. The second is, if abuse does take place and the child tries to report it, they have the language.
Billye says, often children will try to report and parents or caregivers will miss it. She gave the real life example where a young girl said that someone touched her purse. The girl was taught to call her vagina a purse. She did not have the language to say, “Someone touched my genitals.”
How we ALL can Help: Now, if we are not a parent it may not be our responsibility to teach children the correct names of their genitals, and unless that actually is your job, I don’t suggest you take that on. However, we can still help. Let’s take the example Billye gave with the purse, if the child is reporting something to us, we could ask more clarifying questions. “Are you hurt?” “Where is your purse?” Even if the child is not reporting something as serious as abuse, it is important that we try our best to try and understand exactly what a child is communicating. They may not have the language we understand to communicate what happened.
Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Tip #4
Do Not Tell Children That You Will Kill Or Hurt Anyone Who Hurts Them
Billye says that children oftentimes do not report because they are afraid what will happen to the people they love if they do report. Guess what? If you tell a child you will kill or beat up someone who hurts them, they are not going to want you to be in trouble and be unable to be around for them anymore, and/or they are not going to want anyone else hurt or killed.
I was sexually assaulted when I was a teenager, by another teenager, and this is the exact reason I did not tell anyone until I was much older. At the time, I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing and was assaulted. I did not want my parent to go to jail, nor did I want the person who assaulted me to be physically hurt. I was also drinking at the time and did not want myself in trouble either. However, more about that in Tip #5.
How we ALL can Help: Whether you are grandma or grandpa, or anyone else important in a child’s life, they will take you at your word. Just like mom and dad should not threaten violence against a perpetrator, neither should you. It’s not helpful.
Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Tip #5
Have a No Secret Policy & Allow Kids to “Tattle”
The Problem With Chastising Tattling
In the episode, Billye explains this quite eloquently. Perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse use a process called grooming to target victims and eventually offend. She used the following example in the episode. Say your child is going trick or treating and your neighbor, who you know quite well, gives out the full-sized candy bars. They say to your child, “I will give you five candy bars, but don’t tell your parents because it is our secret.” If this neighbor happens to be an abuser, who will they more likely offend against? The child whose parent returns and says, “Hey nice try with those candy bars!” Or the child who snuck the candy up to their room and did not tell a soul, as instructed?
The Importance of Having A No Secrets Policy
Ninety-percent of incidents of childhood sexual abuse go unreported for a plethora of reasons. Your kids need to be taught that they can come to you, or someone else they trust, with anything. Talk to your kids about who they will talk to when they are upset or uncomfortable. Let them tell you who they will tell. In the episode, Betty talked about how she talks to her five year-old daughter about things that happen in school. Sometimes her daughter is the one who was in trouble. They still talk about it. If we are reactive and jump to punitive measures children will close off. In my case, if I had been more comfortable telling my parents I snuck out and drank, I would have been more likely to report.
Even if children are nervous about going to their parents about something, kids need to know that someone will listen. It is important that be established while they are still young. Billye also says this is a great time to teach kids the difference between a secret, surprise and privacy. Your child and your cousin got mom a present for mother’s day, surprise! That cousin is staying with you and is going to bathe and asks the child to leave, privacy. Your child and your cousin watched a video they should not have seen, secret. Surprises are okay! Privacy, understood! Secrets are not allowed and they have to tell someone, even if that someone is not you.
How we ALL can Help: Don’t ask children to keep secrets, ever. I have recently been guilty of this when I snuck my nephew an extra cookie. He told, so good for him! After the conversation we had with Billye, I see why this, however seemingly harmless, could have dangerous consequences for a child.
For more information about the problem with secret keeping, read Billye’s blog post dedicated to the topic, here.
More Information on Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention
All the information gathered for this list was taken from our conversation on Episode 20 of the Dream Chasers and Change Makers podcast, with Billye Jones. You can access the episode wherever you listen to podcasts, or right here through the blog.
Learn more about Billye and her expertise by visiting her website, which you can access, here. Additionally, you can “like” Billye Jones Consulting on Facebook, here, to be kept up to date on her blog and other services.
Alé Cardinalle | LSW