WARNING: Long post / Serious topic
I interrupt my fun PINK & RED valentine posts to talk about something serious, dark, and ugly: CHILD ABUSE. The mere mention of the words sends chills down my spine. I should be used to it by now. After all, I've worked in the field for over seven years now. But it doesn't. It makes me angry, sad, vigilant, determined.
First, a disclaimer...I had a WONDERFUL childhood. The best kind really. Loving family, loving extended family members, lots of cousins, lazy afternoons playing barefoot with my friends, weekly trips to the beach, almost daily bike rides with my cousin on our neighborhood street, creativity encouranged, educational pursuits emphasized, and on and on and on...I say this because lots of people assume those who work in the child abuse field do so because of a negative past experience. Not the case here - just sayin'.
I've given more presentations than I can count on the topic and it always seems the same types of questions come about. Here's the top 2:
1. How do you do this, day in and day out, and not get burned out?
2. What can I do to protect my children?
I want to focus on the second one, but to answer the first one briefly - we all have our own coping mechanisms. Although creativity is my passion, my mind is very analytical as well and that's why I can work in this field. I don't often watch the 6 o'clock news (too depressing) and I don't read child abuse books, briefs, or the like in my off time. When I feel ready to throw in the towel (not to the cause, but to the job) I'm reminded of the children that have touched my life through their situations and how important it is for people to continue fighting on their behalf.
OK, now onto the second one...What can I do to protect my children? Wow, this one is a loaded question for sure. There's so much you can do and yet sometimes even when you do everything humanly possible to protect your children, the unthinkable happens and it is through no fault of yours that it does. But since there is SO much we can do to keep our kids safe, why not tilt the scales in your favor?
Here's my #1 piece of advice for parents: Know what your children are up to and who they spend time with. Plain and simple. That, in itself, is 99% of the battle. Be nosy. You're the parent - not the friend - and it's your responsibility to make sure you minimize all risks/potentially dangerous situations. Question the motives of those adults who spend unsupervised time with your children. No, they are not all bad, but preventing child abuse is an adult's responsibility, so make sure you really know who they are.
If you think it only happens to someone else...it only happens somewhere else, then please know this:
1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will be the victim of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday.
90% of children are abused by someone they know...and may I add (and trust).
I watched Oprah's webcast of yesterday's show with great interest. Click HERE to watch it if you missed the show. It's always interesting to hear what perpetrators have to say and how they rationalize abuse...it helps us learn how to approach the epidemic and how to teach prevention to kids and adults. One statement from the show that I know many have commented on is when Oprah said something to the effect of "if you (perps) are doing a good job, then the child feels no pain" meaning physical pain. It's so hard to grasp a statement like that, but I will tell you that from my professional experience there is some validity to that statement.
One of the points I like to emphasize in my presentations to mandated reporters / parents / adults when talking about how to react to a child who is disclosing abuse is this: Do not badmouth the perpetrator to the child. While a child wants the abuse to stop, they often love the perpetrator and do not want the relationship to stop. Your reaction to the disclosure is critical - it will determine whether the child continues to disclose or does not. Think about that for a moment. Perpetrators spend so much time grooming children and gaining their (and the family's) trust that it makes perfect sense the child feels a bond with the abuser. Often, this individual has gone through great lengths to lavish love, attention, gifts, etc. on the child and work the family so that he can have unquestioned access to the child.
Teach children what to do if someone tries to touch them inappropriately or just gives them the "heevie jeevies". Teach young children NO ---->GO---->TELL! If someone tries to touch them inappropriately, teach them to say words that mean NO (practice with them), get away, and tell someone (identify people they can tell...family/friends/teachers/etc.). Please teach children the correct names for their body parts, including the private parts. Little children are not embarassed by these words, we are. To them it's just one more word, right along with eyes/nose/mouth...And remember, perps rarely go for the child who is quite vocal, who they fear will tell. They select a child who they feel they can easily manipulate to keep quiet. This is one instance where being LOUD can work in your favor!
Just this past Saturday as I was giving Grace a bath, she pointed to her chest and asked me what those things were. And I must admit I had to pause and think about how I wanted to reply for just a second. I even thought about ignoring it, but anyone who knows the little pumpkin knows her questions don't go away :) She asked me again and I calmly (on the outside only) responded "nipples", to which she said, "Oh, okay" and went on about her business of creating a bubble soap tower. Yesterday, she asked me again as I was putting on her pj's..."what are these things called again?" Sorry parents at her school if she gives your toddler a body part lesson this week.
And just to lighten the mood a bit. After she went to bed I told Lance what she said and he said to me, "Yea, she asked me that a couple of days ago...I told her she needed to ask her mother that question." Thanks, hon. :)
One more tidbit...role play scenarios with your sweet kiddos. What if you got lost and couldn't find me? What if someone asked you to help them find their dog? (still happens folks) What if someone asked you to keep something a secret? (we tell kids all the time, "it's a surprise for their birthday...ssshhh, don't tell them!" It can be hard for kids to understand the difference between a good secret and a bad secret, so maybe no secrets is better?) Anyhow, if you think it all sounds silly, let me tell you, these role-play scenarios saved my life. Read about it HERE, number 6.
And finally, Darkness to Light has a wonderful brochure entitled, 7 Steps to Protecting our Children. You can read it and even order it HERE.
Let's do all we can to keep our kiddos safe!...And yes, that's why it's so hard for us to have babysitters (an extra BIG THANK YOU to my mother-in-law Judy and to my mom for watching Grace and Hudson 3 days each week)...and it'll be especially hard to work in sleepovers at friends' houses when the time comes (have seen too many nightmare stories from that one).
Alright, back to my fun PINK and RED posts in just a few.