Aw, geez. Being a parent, right? So hard sometimes. But that sinking feeling that descends the minute you lay eyes on your newborn child, that feeling that says, “YOU are responsible for this little life. YOU have to protect this baby,” well, we need to nurture, embrace, and FEED that feeling. We need to always be on our guard.
I think we get complacent after a bit. Oh, there are times when that feeling comes back, like when your baby stumbles on the stairs or falls off of the couch, or your three-year-old attempts to cross the road without looking for cars, and THANK GOD you had a tight grip on his hand because you can SEE it, you can see their smashed body in some alternate universe that exists in your parental heart. Then, you get a little more protective for awhile, a little more neurotic. But you know, too, that you have to let out the leash bit by bit, you have to let your kids make their own decisions and get hurt and get up and brush it off only to fall again because that’s how they learn. You can’t protect that little life everywhere, all day long, and so you take a step or two back. And we work hard to teach our children safety, to instill in them a healthy respect for gravity, a fear of strangers and dangerous situations through conversation, through developing a trusting relationship with our children.
But get this: one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they are eighteen years old. And if you’re not parenting with that in mind, yours could be one of the statistics.
And those statistics get worse: 70-80% of sexual abuse survivors report excessive drug and alcohol use. Approximately 20% of the victims of sexual abuse are under age eight. More than 60% of teen first pregnancies are preceded by experiences of molestation, rape or attempted rape. 30-40% of children are abused by family members.
Tony and I attended a child sexual abuse prevention workshop last night where we were first horrified, then mollified, by the realities of child sexual abuse. Since my Rotary club first started talking about doing this training, I have had two adult friends tell me that they were victims of abuse as children, and one friend reveal that her daughter was a victim of abuse. The mollification at this training came though the revelation that what we can do as parents to stop child sexual abuse for our own children is So. Damn. Simple. We had already started on the right path and didn’t even know it.
Since Charles was very young, we have taught him the proper names for anatomy. We figured that we, or another adult, would be much more likely to take action or recognize a bad situation if Charles knew to say “somebody touched my penis” as opposed to “somebody touched my (insert cutesy/avoidance word here, like ding-dong).” Tony and I have discussed, even though our kids are very young, being up front about sex and sexual function and actively starting those conversations with our kids before puberty. We try to have a trusting, open family where no topics are taboo. I have asked Charles, “Has anybody ever touched your penis?” and Tony and I have both talked to him about how it is his alone and no one else is allowed to touch it, and that he should tell us if someone touches it or asks to see it. That he will never, ever get in trouble if he tells us.
But then there’s the other stuff. The stuff that’s tough because we want to go out once in awhile, we want to be able to leave our children with somebody so we can have a life outside of parenthood. So it’s about eliminating the opportunity for someone to sexually abuse our kids. It’s about vetting our babysitters and then going on to check in with them, to ask for specifics about what they did while we were gone, to ask our kids for specifics. To not allow our children to be with adults one-on-one unless they are fully and completely trusted and even then to pay attention to our kids. To look for signs that things aren’t right. To ask questions. To check in frequently to make sure they aren’t being abused or groomed. “Has anyone ever asked you to take your clothes off? Has anyone ever touched his or her privates in front of you?” To listen to our kids, to what they say and how they say it and to ask where they heard sex talk that is inappropriate for their ages.
God, it’s so hard, isn’t it? It’s so hard for me to write about this because it is such a taboo in our society. We don’t want to talk about it, we don’t want to admit the possibility that there might be family members or friends we don’t trust with our kids. We don’t want, for some reason, to talk about body parts and good touch/bad touch with our toddlers. But it is so important. So, so important. I think we need reminders like this every so often, though: reminders to embrace that feeling of responsibility so that we will take the necessary steps to protect our children. Because I’m sure the fallout as a family after the fact is much worse than talking to our kids and eliminating opportunities for someone to prey on them ahead of time.
Do you want to know what training we took? If you are local, you can do it through the Brigid Collins Center, and if not, Darkness to Light has affiliates administering this prevention program across the U.S. I don’t usually get too preachy here, but this really spoke to me because it is so awful. And we wouldn’t wish it on any child. The cost to society is high, and it IS preventable.
Tell me, how do you talk to your kids? Any tips?