Let’s face the facts and address how sexual abuse is a taboo topic for Americans. It is not something we discuss as a polite conversation but it’s also not something that is discussed behind closed doors either. We didn’t talk about it, until now. If you turn on the television or pull up a news site, you are bound to see something about sexual harassment and sexual abuse. We are starting to finally talk about it because people are coming out and sharing about their experiences. The #metoo campaign was Time’s “Person of the Year”. That was huge a win for anyone who is a sexual abuse survivor. We are just now starting to talk about it as adults but how to do we talk to our children about it. We’ve decided to get our team of experts together to share their tips on the best ways to talk to your child about sexual abuse.
A common theme I see in my therapy office is adults who were molested as children and didn’t tell their parents or another adult. Most children are ashamed about what happened or they are worried they are going to be blamed. This is a huge fear a lot of sexual abuse survivors have felt; that they would be victim blamed. This is something even children know and understand.
My first recommendation is to talk to your children about inappropriate touch and let them know that if anyone ever touches them or makes them feel uncomfortable that they need to talk to you. Assure them that they will never be in trouble for anything anyone else does to them or tries to do to them. If they come to you and tell you anything, believe them. Take the necessary steps, such as involving law enforcement or reporting the issue to the school.
My second recommendation is to use kid language to explain to them some of the things they might hear. You can say things such as “You might hear about some men doing things to hurt women and other men. It’s never okay to touch anyone without asking and it’s never okay for anyone to touch you without asking. Some of these men touched these people without them asking and now they are getting in trouble for it”. Ask them if they have any questions. Answer their questions honestly but with language they can understand.
My final recommendation is to teach boundaries within your household. It is okay to teach girls how to say no. It is okay to teach boys about what consent means. This means that it is no longer acceptable for boys to hit girls when they are young and then say “boys will be boys” or “if a boy hits you, he must like you”. This type of behavior is no longer acceptable. We need to be teaching children ways to respect each other.
Amanda Landry, LMHC, CAP decided to become a therapist while attending Nova Southeastern University. She saw the need to help people achieve the life they wanted to live, while creating a life of her own. She completed her master’s in Mental Health Counseling and started a career in the juvenile justice arena. Since then, she has started a private practice in Pembroke Pines, Florida, specializing in depression, anxiety relationship issues, and substance abuse. Amanda is a believer in holistic treatment and she practices veganism, meditation and yoga in her life. Find out more about her practice here. For a free 15-minute consultation, call or text Amanda at 954-378-5381 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We all take on the responsibility of keeping children safe, whether or not we feel prepared. Many of us fear the stranger lurking at the park and yet, approximately 90% of child sexual abuse perpetrators are known to the victims (NSOPW).
All of the steps that we take to teach children not to talk to strangers and the greatest risk is often at our family BBQ’s: How can this be the case? How can our diligence prove so fruitless given that the Center for Disease Control continues to estimate that 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. The answer is a deafening silence. Our own. Whether it is our inability or our unwillingness to do otherwise, keeping the secret of sexual abuse creates an environment that supports perpetrators in their abusive tactics of manipulation and abuse.
In my work with educators, therapists, parents and children, I speak of the dangers of “Secret Keepers”. For every perpetrator of sexual abuse, there is often a “Secret Keeper” who is aware of their inappropriate behavior (be it in specific detail or merely suspicions) and yet does and says nothing. Someone who is either unwilling or unable to confront the perpetrator and prevent that person from having access to children. Secret Keepers do not set boundaries to simply say, “I’m sorry, I believe that you are not safe to be alone with our friend’s, the neighbor’s, your sister’s, or even our child’s children.” Secret Keepers are neither evil, nor are they perpetrators, but their silence enables the abuse.
So what do we do? Challenge and empower one another. Educate Secret Keepers to the power of their silence and especially the power of their voice. Give them the language. Accept what they have to say with compassion, nurturance and in some cases authority. Secret Keepers who take the brave step to speak often need guidance on how to manage their own voice. Quite simply, we speak too.
I start by teaching them how to change their family’s culture of silence. Teaching children to that there are no secrets between them and their parents. A child needs to be empowered to simply say to everyone around them, “I’m sorry, but I can’t keep your secret. I’m going to have to tell my mom/dad now.” Teaching a child that the minute someone says, “this is our secret”, that is their alarm to run home and tell mom/dad. Even if mom asks you to keep a secret from dad! I encourage parents and children to practice this by playing a basic role play.
“OH NO! Mom broke daddy’s favorite mug, don’t tell daddy! WOOPS, that’s a secret. Mommy made a mistake. Now you have to go tell daddy. That’s ok. You’ll tell him when you see him, you promise?”
Games like these create a culture of honesty and openness that children and families can rely on to keep their loved ones safe. Of course, we continue with teaching children about personal space, private parts, the proper language for body parts, all of these things are equally as essential. Yet creating the culture of openness allows children to use that language to advocate for themselves when needed whether that is to a perpetrator when in danger or to ask for help after they have been hurt. No matter your role in caring for a child: teacher, coach, neighbor, minister, therapist or parent, we can all break the silence around sexual abuse.
Teresa Bairos is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who has worked with children and families for over 15years. Teresa relocated to SouthFlorida from New England where she ran her own practice and developed an ADHDcurriculum designed to support adults and children as they develop the life skills to overcome the challenges ofADHD. Her career has been devoted to advocating for the rights of children and supporting trauma survivors of allages. She holds a M.A. in Marital and Family Therapy and a B.S. in Family Studies from the University of Connecticut.