by Jamie Craig
Door County Coordinator/Victim Advocate with Family Services Sexual Assault Center
Every nine minutes, a child is a victim of sexual abuse in the United States. Ninety percent of child victims will know their perpetrator, as this person is usually well known to the child and in a position of trust. It is crucial that parents and caregivers have ongoing, developmentally appropriate conversations regarding body safety with the children in their lives.
Parents, guardians, and caregivers can teach children in their lives the importance of body safety using these tips and resources:
- Beginning when children are very young, use anatomically correct language for all body parts, including private parts. When children understand the correct names for all of their body parts, they are better able to identify where they might be having a problem or where someone may have hurt them.
- Familiarize and educate yourself on different prevention topics, and gather resources to reference when children have questions. Children will have questions, and some will be difficult to answer, so by having resources on hand, you can avoid becoming flustered and you will have the correct answers ready. Some good websites include: themamabeareffect.org; amaze.org; fightchildabuse.org; endsexualexploitation.org.
- Reach out to Family Services Sexual Assault Center (SAC) or HELP of Door County to assist with prevention education for your children, especially if you do not feel comfortable discussing body safety topics. It is important to encourage children to discuss body safety in a calm, confident, and honest way, so if you are unable to discuss these topics comfortably, request a professional to help you have these conversations.
- Ask prior to hugging a child. This shows them that they have the right to say ‘no’ to anyone in their life if they do not feel like hugging, shaking hands, giving kisses, sitting on laps, etc. You should also expect the kids to ask you and others prior to touching them. This can be a difficult tip to maintain or change, but once you get in the habit of asking prior to touching or hugging, it will become a natural part of your life and your children’s lives.
- Explain the differences between safe, unsafe and uncomfortable touches, and explain the clean and healthy rule.
At the Sexual Assault Center, we explain that safe touches are those that make someone feel good and don’t hurt. Some examples are hugging or pats on the back. Unsafe touches would be those that hurt or leave marks or bruises. Some examples include: hitting, kicking or pulling hair.
Lastly, we discuss uncomfortable touches. These types of touches make our tummies feel uneasy, they might hurt, but sometimes they don’t hurt. Uncomfortable touches would be touching of private parts. We teach children that ‘no one should look at or touch your private parts, and no one should ask you to look at or touch their private parts.’ The only exception for someone needing to touch your private parts is through the clean and healthy rule.
The clean and healthy rule is when a trusted, protective adult needs to help keep a child clean and healthy. The clean rule includes changing diapers, baths or changing clothes. The healthy rule refers to doctors and nurses that have to check that bodies are healthy.
Encourage children to identify safe, trusted adults in their lives. These are the adults in their lives that can help if they feel unsafe or if someone touches them in an unsafe or uncomfortable way. We teach children to keep telling trusted adults about the abuse until it stops.
A stable and consistent home environment with secure emotional, physical and sexual boundaries are fundamental to healthy development. Family Services Sexual Assault Center and HELP of Door County offer prevention education to parents and children free of charge. Contact the Family Services Sexual Assault Center at 920.746.8996, and HELP of Door County at 920.743.8818.
This column is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Teams and the Door County Elder and Adult-at-Risk Interdisciplinary Team.